Call

Blog

Law
02

Blog

“Blinding Sun” is Never an Excuse to Hit a Cyclist

How Public Safety Just Got Burned by the State of Maine’s Recent Plea Agreement Involving the Death of Bicyclist Carol Eckert

In 2016, Dr. Carol Eckert was struck by a driver while she was riding her bicycle on a rural Maine roadway.   According to media accounts of the crash, the driver who struck her with his truck claimed he did not see her and was blinded by the sun.  Dr. Eckert died three days later, but the State of Maine’s investigation of the crash and its legal case against the driver went on for years.

My firm and I did not represent Dr. Eckert’s family in the civil action, nor did we represent them as victims in the criminal proceeding, but I tracked the State’s processing of the case out of personal and professional interest.

For the first several years after Dr. Eckert’s death, the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office grappled with what to do with the case.

Then, in May of 2018, the District Attorney’s office announced that the State would not be pursuing manslaughter or other criminal charges against the driver.  Upon learning of the decision, many people within the cycling community were outraged and had a hard time understanding why the State was not taking a harder stance against dangerous driving around bicyclists.

It was at that time that I felt compelled to explore the decision for myself and others in this piece entitled, Reflections on the Tragic Death of a Beloved Cyclist, which can be found in the Maine Cyclist, a publication put out by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.  The piece examined reasons why the prosecutor may have elected against filing criminal charges in Dr. Eckert’s case, described the differences between criminal and civil proceedings and burdens of proof, and ultimately asked readers to think about whether the State’s charging decision may have been motivated by our society’s acceptance of dangerous driving norms.

After I was done writing the piece, I still did not agree with the District Attorney’s decision not to bring any criminal charges, but I could certainly understand it better.

Last week, however, I was at a loss for how to respond to respond to the ultimate outcome of the State’s case, which concluded with a mere $1,000 fine and a 90-day loss of license for the driver who had struck Dr. Eckert with his truck.  Then, this media coverage of the plea agreement added insult to injury by giving airtime and the last words to the driver’s defense counsel, who described the deadly crash as “an accident” that could have happened to “literally anyone out there.”

The media coverage of the recent plea agreement failed to appropriately cover the substantial impact of this crash on Dr. Eckert’s family and community.  Further, it did not discuss the appropriate standards of care for drivers when sunlight impacts, or is reasonably expected to impact, vision. It also did not report on the details about the driver’s speed at or before the time of the crash and/or investigate whether the driver’s chosen speed on the day of the crash involving Dr. Eckert was safe given the conditions at that time and place.  Instead, viewers of the news clip were left with the message that the State is not going to seriously pursue drivers like the one who hit Dr. Eckert, even if their operational decisions lead to the death of others on the roadway.

This morning, on my way into work, and less than a week after the plea agreement was accepted by the Court, handfuls of drivers went speeding past me into the blinding morning sun.  This was so despite children heading to school and patches of black ice all around us. Given the State’s plea agreement, the Court’s acceptance of the deal, and the media’s coverage of the case last week, the other drivers’ actions did not surprise me one bit.

While feeling quite jaded, I return to the same conclusion I reached at the end of the piece I wrote for the Maine Cyclist.  The hard truth is if we want prosecutors to start seeing crashes like the one that killed Dr. Eckert as crimes, we need to start treating behaviors such as driving blind, driving distracted, and driving inattentively as crimes ourselves.

Comments

Ebike crash
Bruce Hagen Apr 26, 2022

DRIVER ON METH KILLS 17 YEAR OLD BICYCLIST, BARROW COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY REFUSES TO CHARGE DRIVER WITH FELONY.   On August 23, 2020, at approximately 8:40pm, 17-year old Obianuju Osuegbu was on her way home from her summer job working at a grocery store. She had earned enough money that summer to buy herself a […]

Read More
Stop as Yield
Brian Weiss Apr 25, 2022

Finally, “Stop As Yield” (the much sought after common sense traffic law for bicyclists) is coming to Colorado in 2022, likely July 1st.   Stop as Yield, aka the “Safety Stop” After the Governor Polis signs the law and the Safety Stop becomes effective, anyone who rides a bicycle or scooter on public roads will […]

Read More
Contributory Negligence
Ann Groninger Apr 25, 2022

It took losing at trial and a long appellate process, but it ended in a blow to contributory negligence in North Carolina. We just won an appeal on a bicycle crash case that happened in 2016 and came to us in 2018. The case went to trial during the spring of 2021. Our client was […]

Read More
WALLER CRASH
Rachael Maney Nov 08, 2021

WALLER 6 UPDATE: November 20, 2021 The teenage son of Jason and Jennifer Arnold, who, with their permission, was operating his parents’ F-250 diesel truck when he plowed into our 6 clients while they were riding their bicycles on September 25th, 2021 in Waller, Texas, was released to his parents on Thursday afternoon (11/18/21) after […]

Read More
Atlanta Bike Crash
Peter Wilborn Oct 25, 2021

Many of you have heard about the horrific multi-victim crash from October 7, 2021, in which a Chattanooga driver brutally plowed her car into a group of 5 pedestrians as they were crossing a street, causing catastrophic and life changing injuries. In the chaotic aftermath of running a red light and almost killing an entire […]

Read More
Waller Bike Crash Carnage
Rachael Maney Oct 02, 2021

PRESS RELEASE FROM BIKE LAW’S NATIONAL DIRECTOR RACHAEL MANEY In light of the recent Waller Bike Crash in Texas, and in an effort to help untangle and unpack some of the emotionally-charged comments, questions, and inaccurate assumptions being made, we want to update you on the parts that we can share. I hope that this […]

Read More
Brother James
Peter Wilborn Sep 29, 2021

23 years ago today, the world lost my brother Jim. He was killed on his bike by an under-aged driver who blew through a red light. While the years don’t really blunt the loss, they foster gratitude for the gifts left behind. My brother blessed me with so much, but 3 things stand out:   […]

Read More
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
Load More