From a slap on the wrist to a revoked license. How a thorough investigation resulted in justice.
On November 21, 2017, I saw a TV news story about how the Broomfield District Attorney’s Office was routinely offering lax plea deals to drivers that injure cyclists. In bicycle crash cases with injuries, the DA was offering plead deals to “broken headlight” or “defective vehicle” charges. A “defective vehicle” sentence is one of the lightest plea deals; it is not considered a moving violation and does not put points on the at-fault driver’s license. Thus, the driver gets off easy, and there is no justice for the victims. I wanted to do something about these unfair plea deals.
Before I describe what my team and I did, consider the case of 29-year-old bike mechanic and cyclist Jake Lally. TV Channels 2, 31, and KDVR.com reported that the driver who was not held accountable for striking Jake (apparently intentionally) and then leaving the scene. To add insult to literal injury, the serious charges against the driver were dropped when he accepted the pleas deal of having a broken headlight. See this link for full news story.
I represented a woman who hurt was in a bike crash in Boulder, Colorado which is about 14 miles away from Broomfield. Knowing Lally’s story and the large caseload that the Assistant District Attorney has to work through, I wanted to explain how my client’s case was important not just to her but to the community at large. I wanted to make sure that there were serious charges against the driver, and that the charges stuck.
Here’s my client’s story from July 15, 2017. Five witnesses saw a car parked behind a bicycle at the traffic light in the middle of the day. When the light turned green, the bicycle rider pedaled forward, but the driver of the car did not see or react to the bicycle. Seconds later the driver accelerated and still did not see the bicycle. The driver then rammed the bicycle with the car, ran over the bicyclist, and DRAGGED the bicyclist. Fortunately, a witness ran to the car and banged on the car several times until the driver stopped. The driver appeared oblivious and the befuddled.
When this case went to traffic court, the Boulder Deputy District Attorney wanted to quickly plead this case out with a small fine. I wanted more and knew it was time to get involved for this bicyclist and the safety of other bicyclists and pedestrians. I also felt the need to really figure out what happened because this was so horrific. The Boulder Deputy District Attorney (DDA) said it is very difficult to take away someone’s driver’s license and this driver did not want to give up his driving privileges.
So I took upon myself to hire a private investigator to research this driver’s past driving history and other crashes this driver caused.
I contacted fellow bicyclist Jennifer Flood at PI2 Investigations. Jennifer helped me in the past and I knew that she had been a Law Enforcement Officer who understood how traffic violations are initiated. Jennifer and I had a hunch that there was either a physical or mental problem with this driver that made him a danger to society and himself. Jennifer found prior traffic cases in which plea deals to “defective vehicle” were made so it was not clear to the DDA about how unsafe this driver really was. Jennifer told me that she saw “red flags between charges and outcomes” which deemed it necessary to contact individual agencies in Northern Colorado to obtain the actual reports, and only then we saw the pattern of terrible driving.
Jennifer located three prior crashes in the prior three years where this driver was more than careless – he was clueless. In the 3 prior crashes, the drivers had no idea of why the crashes occurred. In one crash, he hit a parked car. In the next, he hit a stopped car. Finally, he crashed into a building.
I presented this information to the driver’s criminal defense attorney, the Boulder DDA and to the Boulder Victims Advocate. I told the DDA and the Victim Advocate that the injured bicyclist and I wanted to see the driver’s license revoked. The driver, through his attorney, refused my request.
After four criminal court hearings and some additional research over the course of six months, we were able to accomplish our goal at the time of sentencing. In the end, the driver had his license taken away and was ordered to do 40 hours of community service after he pled guilty to careless driving.
Bike Law’s own Timmy Finch was a former prosecutor who told me that he always met with the victims in his cases to understand how they were affected a both physically and mentally. In response to this story, Finch points out that the prosecutors have discretion over the fate of their cases and it helps to remind them that the safety of the public is their most important role.