Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) on August 11th, 2006 at 8:26 am
Photo: Dayn Wilberding
The crash in Beaverton last week that claimed the life of Mike Wilberding has sparked outrage and spurred action from citizen activists.
The incident has caused some cyclists to question the priorities of bike advocates and city planners. One commenter asked,
“what is the more important fight at this time: more bike infrastructure or vastly improved law enforcement to protect cyclists?”
Many people are fed up with what they consider just the latest example of too lenient punishment doled out by authorities for fatal crashes that involve cyclists. In the case of Wilberding, the motorist at fault was issued a $242 ticket for “failure to yield to a bicyclist.”
The motorist—25 year-old Aaron Hessel—claimed he couldn’t see Wilberding because the setting sun was in his eyes.
This excuse riled up Beaverton resident Susan Otcenas. Otcenas, owner of an online cycling apparel business, decided to do some detective work and returned to the scene of the crash to photograph the sun at the same time the incident occured (see photo at right).
Otcenas sent the photo (and two others) to the Mayor of Beaverton and a representative from the Beaverton Police Department. She hopes to demonstrate that the driver’s claim of being blinded by the sun was simply not a valid excuse for his actions. In her email to the Mayor she said,
“As you can see, the sun is quite high in the sky, well over the height of the trees.”
And she also cited Oregon law (ORS 166.635) which states that someone is considered “criminally negligent” when they:
“fail to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists.”
The last sentence of her email read:
“I would urge the DAs office to pursue this case to determine if criminal charges will be filed. Mike Wilberding, his family, and cyclists who use the road everyday deserve no less.”
Brian Scrivner—a long-time bicycle activist who recently organized a traffic safety education action at NW 9th and Lovejoy—has decided to organize and rally the community around this issue. He has gotten the ball rolling by establishing an email list to organize future actions. According to Scrivner,
“(this new email list is) for those who want to work to make reduce dangerous motorist behavior to make streets safer…We’re going to find out how to have motor vehicle drivers held accountable for criminally negligent driving, and MAKE IT HAPPEN. We’re going to find out how to create a traffic education media campaign that is so intense, every driver will hear five times per week that:
- cyclists are traffic
- cyclists have a right to occupy a lane and in fact should for safety at times
- cyclists have the right of way in a bike lane
- driving is a privilege, not a right
- you should never drive where you can’t see
- when you exceed the speed limit, or fail to yield when the law requires, or drive while distracted and you kill someone, you are a murderer
As of this morning, Brian’s new Traffic Safety list already has 18 subscribers.
Whether you think the motorist in this situation is a murderer or just someone who made a tragic mistake, there are several lessons to learn from this tragedy:
- driving a motor vehicle is a huge reponsibility that must be undertaken with utmost care and understanding of the serious consequences that can come from a moment of carelessness.
- as cyclists, we must remain vigilant, aware and defensive at all times.
- as a community, we must continue to increase the awareness of traffic safety issues and pressure our leaders for new legislation that holds careless drivers accountable for their actions.
I am proud that my community is turning this tragedy into a point of positive action, and I think Mike would be proud too.