Call

Blog

Law
02

Blog

The Tragic Death of Gunnison Bicyclist Dale Thomas

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.

bicycle accident, bike crash, bicycle accident attorney, bicycle accident lawyer, Colorado bicycle accident, Colorado bicycle accident lawyer, Gunnison bicycle accident, Gunnison bicycle accident lawyer, Brian Weiss

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.

Comments

Family bicycle charity
Bike Law Aug 17, 2021

GUEST POST BY BIKE LAW AMBASSADOR KURT AREHART The bike charity Raleigh Community Kickstand, or just Kickstand for short, is a four year-old project organized under Oaks & Spokes, a 501(c)(3) engaged in fostering cycling in Raleigh. Kickstand channels donated bicycles to low-income and homeless members of our community whose lives can be improved with […]

Read More
Contributory negligence Bike crash
Ann Groninger May 08, 2021

If you’ve met me, you’ve heard talk about contributory negligence many times, including here and here and here. My vocation and my passion as a bike crash attorney is representing injured bicyclists and families of bicyclists who have been killed by careless drivers. Contributory negligence severely impairs the right of these individuals and bicyclists to […]

Read More
Asian-American Triathlete
Rachael Maney May 04, 2021

Bike Month 2021 is setting the bar pretty high. Two days ago, Sika Henry became the first Black woman to earn her pro card in the sport of triathlon. And today, Bike Law and I are honored and excited to announce our sponsorship of the only Asian-American racing on the professional triathlon circuit, Clarice Chastang […]

Read More
Cycliq video close call
Rachael Maney Apr 22, 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 23, 2021 Jon Korin, President Bicycle Advocates for Annapolis & Anne Arundel County (‘BikeAAA’) 443-685-4103, [email protected]   Rachael Maney, National Director Bike Law 410-382-7803, [email protected]   DRIVER CONVICTED ON CYCLIQ VIDEO EVIDENCE Christopher Lee Bradshaw of Lothian, MD was convicted of violating Maryland’s 3-foot bicycle passing law and negligent driving on […]

Read More
cycling friendship
Ann Groninger Apr 21, 2021

Cycling friendships are wonderful benefit to our sport and community.  A major part of our work as bicycle “accident” lawyers means putting a value on losses that our clients suffer as a result of injures from crashes. When it comes to past and future medical expenses, lost income and other financial losses, the job is […]

Read More
Contributory Negligence
Ann Groninger Apr 08, 2021

There is finally a positive development in the fight against Contributory Negligence in North Carolina. Last week a bill called the “Victims’ Fair Treatment Act” was filed in the North Carolina Senate. If passed, the bill would finally bring North Carolina into line with all but 3 other states by eradicating this deeply unfair law. […]

Read More
Bike Shop with wheels
Danny Feldman Apr 04, 2021

Birmingham is blessed to have a number of great bike shops.  Two of these shops, although very different, are the focus here.  Future blog posts from Bike Law Alabama will focus on some of the other great shops in Birmingham and throughout Alabama. A NON-PROFIT BIKE SHOP: REDEMPTIVE CYCLES Why choose Redemptive as your Bike […]

Read More
Dooring of bicyclist
Charlie Thomas Mar 24, 2021

Buena Batiste did not plan to be “doored.” She was knocked off her bike by a car door and then yelled at by the woman who opened it. Fortunately, we were able to take Buena’s dooring case to trial and win. And in doing so, we set a new precedent for bicyclists who suffer a […]

Read More
Bike Hand Signals
Peter Wilborn Mar 12, 2021

Before you get a driver’s license, you typically have to take a test that demonstrates your understanding of the rules of the road. This includes the importance of signaling your intentions when you are turning or changing lanes. Across the United States, bicyclists are required to use signals to let others know what they plan […]

Read More
Load More