The owner of an asphalt company told an unlicensed teen to drive a truck pulling heavy equipment, and a cyclist died as a result. Now the truck owner is fighting criminal charges -- and his insurer says the biker was at fault.
Friday, June 19, 2015, was a beautiful summer day in Gunnison, Colorado. Dale Thomas, a popular 40-year resident and local artist, decided to head out for a bike ride. He was wearing a helmet and his favorite bike jersey, the one that his wife, Ellen Petrick, had given him for Christmas.
It would be the last bike ride Dale would ever take.
Dale headed north on Highway 135, a familiar training route that took him to Taylor Canyon. Dale was probably not in a rush. He often said he simply liked the feeling he got as he pedaled through the wide open spaces of the Gunnison Valley.
Many local cyclists ride along Highway 135 because it is well maintained and has a wide shoulder. On any given ride on that highway, Dale might see other riders he knew, including the Griggs Orthopedics riders (The GO Team), students from Western State University, pro racer Brian Smith, Jefe Branham, Leadville 100 winner and West Elk Bicycle Classic Organizer Dave Weins, local rider Debby Phelps, as well as cyclists who were traveling through on bike tours or events such as Ride the Rockies.
Dale was tragically killed as he headed home to Ellen at their home on Gunnison’s Main Street.
Dale’s death was no ordinary accident.
Unlicensed Minor, Pick Up Truck, Trailer with Skid Steer
Dale’s fate was sealed by the decisions of John Michael Collins, the Manager and Owner of AZ Asphalt LLC. Collins ordered a 16-year-old unlicensed minor to drive a full size pickup truck hitched to a massive trailer loaded with a Case Skid Steer to Collins’ property on County Road 730. It was illegal for the teen to drive Collins’ Dodge pickup truck and trailer, but the teen simply did what his boss told him.
Collins’ Dodge pickup had a cracked rear view mirror and metal bars over the rear cab window, making it difficult for the teen to see behind him. Both Collins and the teen knew that the brake lights and turn signals on the rusty old metal and wood trailer were not working properly, but that did not matter to them as it that was their “business as usual.”
Tragedy At County Road Intersection
The minor driver was blasting the radio as he headed south on Colorado Highway 135 toward Gunnison. The minor recalled seeing an old tire in the grass next to the paved shoulder as he passed Dale, who was riding his bicycle on the right shoulder.
Tragically, the teen did not appreciate the spacing between the pickup truck and trailer and Dale. He angled onto Gunnison County Road 8 and turned right in front of Dale as he also entered the intersection.
Dale was run over by the front wheel of the trailer and killed. He had no warning and had no chance to avoid either the truck or long trailer.
The teen driver gave the Colorado State Patrol a written statement that said he was turning the truck and trailer when the biker “got sucked under and the trailer ran over him.”
Coroner’s Report, Eyewitness Statement
The Coroner’s Report confirmed Dale’s death was caused by severe traumatic injuries from being run over by a heavy trailer. Dale’s chest was crushed, and sternum, ribs, arms, elbows, and vertebrae were fractured. Also, his aorta from his heart was torn as well as the pericardia sac.
The Colorado State Patrol Report listed one eyewitness to the tragic loss. The eyewitness was driving directly behind the teen driver on Colorado Highway 135 and saw the horrific fatality that has forever changed his life. The witness saw the tragedy clearly — so clearly, in fact, that the witness felt the need to write to the Colorado State Patrol at the scene on 6/19/2015 the following in all capital letters:
“THE CYCLIST WAS OBEYING ALL TRAFFIC LAWS AND COULD NOT HAVE PREVENTED THIS IN ANY WAY.”
Collins And Auto Insurer Are Not Accepting Responsibility
The truth needs to come to full light on this unacceptable fatality to a Colorado cyclist. Both Collins and Collins’ liability insurer State Auto Insurance Company have not accepted responsibility for this tragedy.
State Auto Insurance Company feigned sympathy and asked if there could be a settlement conference. As a result, a settlement conference took place in Denver, Colorado on December 15, 2015.
Dale’s grieving widow Ellen Petrick and Dale’s adult children, Leah Thomas and Jake Thomas, attended the settlement conference at the scheduled time. Unbelievably, State Auto Insurance Company failed to appear as promised. The liability insurer subsequently ordered an attorney to attend for her. Their attorney showed up two hours late — only to convey the insurer message that Dale was to blame for his own death.
State Auto Insurance Company assertion is directly contradicted by the Gunnison District Attorney’s Office. The Gunnison County District Attorney filed criminal charges against Collins and the teen.
Faced with overwhelming evidence against him, the teen pled guilty to Careless Driving Causing Death. He is currently serving his criminal sentence.
Two Criminal Counts for Collins
Collins was charged with two criminal counts:
- Count 1 was for employing or directing a person to drive on a highway contrary to law.
- Count 2 was for Conspiracy to Commit, or Aiding and Abetting in the commission of No Operators License when the teen drove a motor vehicle on the highway without having a valid license or permit.
Collins is challenging the District Attorney’s Office’s two counts against him. A copy of the criminal charges against John Michael Collins is at the end of this article.
Since State Auto Insurance Company chose not to take this tragedy seriously, Ellen’s attorneys have filed a Wrongful Death lawsuit (see the PDF at the end of the article) in the United States Federal Court for the District of Colorado. Ellen, Jake, and Leah along with Crawford Weiss, LLC, seek justice for the loss of their beloved Dale, whose death was caused by the reckless choices of Collins and the careless driving of the teen.
The law firm of Crawford Weiss, LLC, from Colorado and the Bike Law attorneys in Colorado and across the country are united in our goal to make sure Dale’s family gets justice in criminal court and civil court.
Our thanks to Ellen Petrick for the pictures used in this post.
PDFs of Criminal Cases, Wrongful Death Lawsuit
For more information, please see the supporting documents, including a PDF of the criminal charges and a copy of the wrongful death lawsuit.