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 new ebike that she was very proud to have. “Uju”, as her mother Pauline and the rest of her family called her, was about a quarter mile from home when a vehicle driven by Chrissy Rawlins of Winder, Georgia, ran into her from behind and killed Miss Osuegbu. Miss Osuegbu was hit from behind when she was about 50 feet away from making the left turn that would have taken her home.
Driver Visibly Impaired
Ms. Rawlins was visibly impaired at the scene of the crash and was arrested on the spot, charged with both DUI as well as endangering the lives of her two minor children that were in the back seat of her car. Blood was drawn and toxicology results later revealed that she had a mixture of drugs in her body at the time of the crash including Methamphetamine and Valium, among others.
Police Report Wrong
Yet what started out as yet another tragedy involving the death of a bicyclist has become so much worse in the aftermath of Obianuju’s death. The investigative report prepared by the Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team (SCRT) of the Georgia State Patrol (GSP) was riddled with blatant errors and misstatements of law compounded by both the misapplication of the facts as well as the absence of many significant facts. The GSP blamed the bicyclist for causing the crash that killed her, completely excusing Ms. Rawlins’ conduct. It’s hard to say what the worst part of the report is, because it’s grossly wrong in its conclusions, but we will attempt to lay out a few of the awful examples.
Misstatements and Misapplication of Georgia Law
The Police got the law wrong on every important point.
1) Red Reflector
The GSP report noted that Miss Osuegbu’s bicycle “did not appear to have any functional taillights” even though it had a red rear reflector, and goes on to list that as one of the contributing factors in making her at fault. Yet Georgia law (OCGA 40-6-296(a)) states that “Any bicycle equipped with a red reflector on the rear that is approved by the Department of Public Safety shall not be required to have a light on the rear of the bicycle.” So the bicycle was in compliance with the law requiring a red rear reflector, yet the GSP Trooper used the lack of a rear facing red light as one of the justifications for faulting Miss Osuegbu for causing her own death.
2) Taking the Lane
The GSP report stated that another factor in placing the blame on Miss Osuegbu was “due to the fact Ms. Osuegbu violated state law by not riding her bicycle as close to the white line as possible…” Yet that is not the law in Georgia. OCGA 40-6-294(b) says in relevant part “Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, except when (a) Turning left.” The use of the word “Practicable” means that it’s up to the bicyclist to determine where they choose to ride within the lane. In other words, the bicyclist may take the lane. Yet the officer imposed a standard on Miss Osuegbu that doesn’t exist in the law.
To make things worse, the SCRT report prepared by GSP was finalized close to 4 months after the crash, yet the GSP officer says “It is unclear where exactly Ms. Osuegbu was traveling from or where she was traveling to when this collision occurred.” How was it unclear? Pauline Osuegbu, Obianuju’s mother, told investigators the night of the crash that her daughter had been at work at the local grocery store and was headed home. Why did they leave that fact out of the report? Perhaps because if the report contained that detail, then they would had to have acknowledged that this crash occurred only 50 feet from where Obianuju was making her left turn to go home. 50 feet away. Of course she wasn’t pressed to the far right side of the roadway.
3) Driving Too Fast For Conditions
The GSP officer noted that “There is a slight grade at the intersection of Georgia 11 and Pendergrass Road where the collision occurred” and concluded that “due to the limited sight distance with the grade of the highway and lack of reflective clothing or lights on the bicycle, the collision could not have been avoided.” (For the time being, we will ignore the fact that Georgia law does not require a bicyclist to wear reflective clothing, so once again, the Trooper is imposing a standard on on Miss Osuegbu that doesn’t exist in the law.)
But Georgia law NEVER excuses a driver from being able to see the road ahead of them and to drive their vehicle at a reasonable speed for the conditions. The relevant statute, OCGA 40-6-180, even anticipates the exact scenario of this case where is says “No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard for the actual and potential hazards then existing. Consistently with the foregoing, every person shall drive at a reasonable and prudent speed…when approaching and traversing a hill crest.” Yet, shockingly, the GSP Trooper used the grade of the road as an excuse for blaming the cyclist for causing her own death instead of the driver that failed to drive her vehicle at a speed that was safe for the conditions.
Then again, we don’t know the speed of Ms. Rawlins vehicle because the SCRT team officer, trained in the science of accident reconstruction, did NOTHING to determine how fast Ms. Rawlins was driving, nor to determine the speed at which Miss Osuegbu was going when she was hit. The photographs of the vehicle make it clear that the crash was at high speed, but the Trooper did not do any analysis of speed.
Failure to Properly Investigate
The Impact of Meth and Valium. Chrissy Rawlins was visibly intoxicated at the scene. She admitted to having taken some medication. She was charged with DUI and her blood was drawn and sent to the GBI for testing. All of this was known to the GSP Officer that prepared the SCRT report.
Despite his knowledge the Ms. Rawlins blood had been sent to a lab for testing, the officer wrote in his report that “At the time of completion of this report, the toxicology report for Ms. Rawlins was still pending.” So understand this: The SCRT Team officer from the GSP, the highest trained law enforcement officers in the State of Georgia, concluded that Ms. Rawlins only had a “short reaction time when she first observed Ms. Osuegbu” and that “ Ms. Rawlins striking Ms. Osuegbu was an unavoidable collision.”
YET HE NEVER CONSIDERED THE EFFECTS OF THE DRUGS IN CHRISSY RAWLINS SYSTEM BEFORE REACHING HIS FAULTY CONCLUSION.
The officer’s opinion is that Ms. Rawlins did not have sufficient time to perceive or react to Miss Osuegbu, yet never considered the known impact that drugs have on a person’s perception and reaction abilities.
Beyond that, there were many other flaws in the investigation. For example, the report repeatedly mentions that the darkness was a factor that helped to excuse Ms. Rawlins from being at fault. But was it actually dark out? Sunset in Georgia on August 23 is at 8:15pm. This crash happened at approximately 8:40pm. There still would have been a fair amount of evening dusk lighting that would have made Miss Osuegbu visible.
First the report states that it is unknown what clothing Miss Osuegbu was wearing, then it goes on to blame her for failure to wear reflective clothing. Again, there is nothing in Georgia law that dictates the clothing to be worn by someone on a bicycle.
As mentioned above, Miss Osuegbu was making a left turn. Had the officer made the slightest effort to learn what she had been doing that night, he would have known that. It only matters in the context of then having the officer use a false legal standard to blame Miss Osuegbu for not being as far to the right of the roadway as possible.
What now? A Call To Action
What can be done now? The Barrow County District Attorney has refused to do anything with this case based on the SCRT report. Why? The DA has the authority to do their own investigation. They have 20 people working there and a budget of over $1,000,000, don’t the citizens of Barrow County deserve a proper investigation in the actions of a DUI driver that killed someone while driving on Meth?
We are calling on Barrow County District Attorney Brad Smith to prosecute Chrissy Rawlins for Felony Vehicular Homicide. DA Smith should demand that the State Patrol retract the faults SCRT report and have a new, independent investigation done, whether by GSP, GBI or an independent accident reconstructionist. The DA should demand to have a toxicology expert issue an opinion of the effect of the drugs in Ms. Rawlins’ system on her perception and reaction times.
Solicitor Kyle Sharry and his office have been very sympathetic and helpful to the Osuegbu family, but they only prosecute misdemeanor cases which offer minimal punishment for Ms. Rawlins’ heinous actions.
Quite simply, we are calling on DA Brad Smith to do the job that he was elected to do. If you care to do so, you can also encourage the Barrow District Attorney to pursue Felony Vehicular Homicide charges against Chrissy Rawlins.
Barrow County District Attorney
Barrow County Courthouse
652 Barrow Park Drive, Suite A
Winder, GA 30680
We will not stop fighting for Pauline and her child until there is Justice for Obianuju.
Bruce Hagan’s cyclist law firm is fully committed to representing Georgia bicyclists. “All of our attorneys and most of the staff are full-time riders,” he says. Bruce has handled hundreds of bike crash cases and actively helps bicyclists understand Georgia’s bike laws.