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Beaverton Mayor responds to crash concerns

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 14th, 2006 at 2:53 pm

Citizen bike advocate Susan Otcenas just forwarded along an email response she got from Beaverton mayor Rob Drake.

The email (full text is below) was also sent to several other citizens who had written Drake about their questions and concerns regarding the recent death of Mike Wilberding.

Most notable is the mention that the "failure to yield to a bicycle" ticket has been thrown out and the case has been turned over to the District Attorney for, "possible prosecution for criminally negligent homicide."

Thank you for your recent e-mails. I appreciate hearing from each of you. The content of your e-mails was very similar, so for the sake of efficiency and time I'm choosing to send one response. I've talked with our City Prosecutor, City Attorney and Police Chief as a follow-up to your e-mails. I've taken your comments very seriously, but also wish to correct some outdated or outright inaccurate information from some of you.

I'm a member of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), ride a bike frequently and also run most every day. I value exercise and conditioning, recognize that more people than ever do bike and have actively supported Beaverton's efforts (the last 14 years as Mayor) in advancing biking in this community. I'm very proud of the fact that the League of American Bicyclists has named Beaverton a 'Bicycle Friendly Community' annually from 2003-2007.

All that said, it is tragic what happened to Mike Wilberding. Some of you are incorrect about the disposition of this case. Because of Mike's death and the nature of the accident, the City actually sent the case to the Washington County District Attorney for review and possible prosecution for criminally negligent homicide. It is now in the hands of the DA and it will be their examination and eventual decision whether to prosecute. I'm not in a position to say whether the driver was or wasn't blinded by the sun.

Beaverton and surrounding areas have grown considerably in the last decade and also has a huge amount of traffic going through our community coming from other places. We have major State highways and County roads, in addition to City streets to patrol. Our Police Department Traffic Team works hard to enforce all laws, regardless of the mode of transportation. If you have ideas for improving enforcement, please contact our Police Dept. Traffic Team to suggest ways to focus enforcement and improve.

We are also open to driver and bicycle awareness and training. One potential source could be our Bicycle Advisory Committee, which is a standing commission of the City and annually seeks new appointees. Our City Transportation Engineer, Randy Wooley, is an active bicyclist who understands the biking community and the many issues faced when taking to the streets.

I think the need for education goes both ways. Being a biker, I also notice bicyclists who run stop signs and lights regularly. I nearly hit one Saturday morning at 6th & Menlo St. after he drove through a stop sign as full speed, though I had already stopped and entered the intersection. I honked at him and he promptly gave me the middle-finger salute.

One of you commented about dirty roadways. Three jurisdictions clean and maintain streets (State, County & City), so you'd need to be specific about which street needs more frequent cleaning. City boundaries are awkward, so you may be outside one of the cities and not know it. The real root of the problem is that people disregard their trash indiscriminately and don't care enough about others.

Mike Wilberding's death was a tragedy and he seemed like a quality person. If the driver was negligent, I believe the DA will prosecute him. Again, thank you for writing me and sharing your concerns.

Sincerely,

Rob Drake, Mayor
City of Beaverton

Given this response and the other recent activism around this issue, I feel like the Wilberding tragedy will be forever remembered as a catalyst for positive change in Beaverton.

There's a lot of work to do, but we've got to start somewhere.

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Comments
  • Tankagnolo Bob August 14, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    As a driver and cyclist since 1960, I have seen the world from both viewpoints. As the population here gets more crowded, and the alternative types of transportation increase, we have to learn to look for more things.

    As a cyclist, I have almost crashed into other cyclists as I am busy watching cars. It is a treat to have more cyclists, but in earlier days, one did not have to watch so much for another one, we were scarce and cars were the issue.

    Driving, I have to watch sidewalks more as I pull out of mall parking lots, before crossing the sidewalk to enter the road, checking the bike lane, the car lane, the turn lanes, the lights, etc etc.

    I was so busy doing that this last year, that I got in my first auto wreck. I was so busy checking things to each side that I eased out into a car waiting to turn left into a mall. "No bikes, no pedestrieans, clear to the left, clear to the right, go.....crunch !!...

    Soo, double check and double check again before making fast moves by bike or car. It would be soooo easy to be that one in court for causing a bad wreck with another car, or a bike, moto, or pedestrian.

    Tankagnolo Bob

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  • Cate August 14, 2006 at 3:19 pm

    He mentions education for bicyclists and drivers, but not education for the police. Maybe there's a better response to a driver killing a bicyclist than citing the driver for "failure to yield to a bicycle"?

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  • West Cougar August 14, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    The cyclist didn't die at the scene. Can't cite someone for criminally negligent homicide if there was no homocide.

    As a practical matter it also makes a difference in how the police investigate. I suspect they won't bring in their crash investigation A-team unless/until someone actually dies. Until someone dies, it is treated as mostly a tort matter.

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  • Eric August 14, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    Cate-

    Read the sentence before that paragraph...

    "If you have ideas for improving enforcement, please contact our Police Dept. Traffic Team to suggest ways to focus enforcement and improve."

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  • JB August 14, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    I believe the law in Oregon states that it is illegal to use your horn other than to prevent personal injury or damage to property that couldn't be avoided in any other way. Honking at someone who has run a stop sign is simply honking out of aggrivation or "road rage". I'd've given the mayor the salute as well.

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  • Brian August 14, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    First, I'm really tired of Bicycle safety education that is so cyclist centric. For the most part it is not the cyclist doing the hitting.... In my book, in MOST cases if you drive into something you have done something wrong. Our culture is way to eager to dismiss these occurances as 'accidents'. We need laws with teeth. We need enforcement beyond the speed trap. Other countries have effected change we could do it if we moved passed the 'Yukon' and the cell phone.

    Second, I'm impressed that the Mayor is a member of the BTA and a runner. Bravo. I sincerly mean that. I've felt that things would not change until politicians got out of their vehicles. Unfortunately, I've lost confidence in that plan.

    I bike commute in this city of Beaverton. I run in this city of Beaverton. It is VERY dangerous out there.

    For instance, there is a bike lane on Hall. I can name several places where the white line seperating the bike lane from cars cutting through the bike lane.

    For instance, there is NO way to get from North of Beaverton center to South of Beaverton center.

    I won't go into the speed of cars on surface roads, complete disrespect of peds at crosswalks, and the 'ignoration' (I just made up that word) of stop signs in the areas where I run near Conestoga and Greenway.

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  • Joe K August 14, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    It sounds like the Mayor has been an advocate for change, so I respectfully submit that the "...start somewhere.." comment should be corrected to read that it's good to see the evolving changes for the good of both that are taking place.

    The Mayor has a valid complaint: Too many cyclists ignore the law.

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  • Cate August 14, 2006 at 5:37 pm

    West Cougar, thank you for the clarification. So if a driver causes major injuries but not death to a bicyclist at the time of the crash, a citation is an appropriate response?

    Eric, I did read it.

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  • jami August 14, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    it'll be great if beaverton ends up a safer place for non-cars after this. at least mr. wilberding's death will amount to something.

    (west cougar (and cate), people get charged with killing someone even if the person dies later. mr. wilberding would not have died in the ambulance/helicopter/hospital had this driver not decided to make a left turn without looking.)

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  • Preston August 14, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    Indeed, Joe. My wife and I were returning from bailing out on the Bridge Pedal yesterday when we encountered two people in the bike lane going the wrong way. This is how things went with the first guy.

    Me as he's coming headlong towards my wife and I, not budging: "You're riding on the wrong side, get over."

    Him: "F' you. You get over."

    And there you have it. Can't argue with that logic. I know you are, but what am I?

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  • Corky August 14, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    Bicyclists are their own worst enemy. Don't blame drivers for hating us, and I ride my bike more than I drive.

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  • Aaron August 14, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    I respect Mayor Drake's active lifestyle and being a member of BTA. However I do find the letter VERY defensive. He seems to be making a concerted effort to whitewash himself and placing blame on anyone else he can (including the tired rhetoric about bikes breaking laws). I would reiterate JB's comments on that one (very well said)
    Does Mayor Drake have a say in the education within Beaverton Schools? I don't know, but I think that educating young people is the best way to achieve respectful cyclists as adults.

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  • Reallymad August 14, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    Here is Aaron Hessel's address and phone #
    *this has been deleted by the editor*

    In case you have any questions or comments for him. Hopefully he will look for bikes in the future.

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  • Clarissa J August 14, 2006 at 10:15 pm

    Beaverton was nominated as a bike friendly community?!!! (please sense my sarcasm here) Seriously, Beaverton is not a bike friendly community at all. I ride at least 30 miles a day in this area (for this is where home, gym and my office are located)...I face irresponsible motorists everyday. Our society needs to make a change from the mind-set that motorists have free range of the road. AND!!!! There needs to be a change in the process by which these accidents are handled...WHY NOT MAKE THE CHANGES TO PREVENT DEATH IN THESE ACCIDENTS...Yes, we all need to slow down a bit...

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  • Jonathan Maus August 14, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    Reallymad,

    I have deleted the home address and phone number of Aaron Hessel because I don't feel it's appropriate for this site. I hope you understand.

    Thanks.

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  • Jeremy August 15, 2006 at 7:42 am

    Regarding the tone of the Mayor's message, I don't disagree with his approach. He probably received innumerable messages ranging from articulate to obscene. I respect his tone and his candor.

    I know the mayor a bit as I worked with his wife for years. My impression of the mayor is such that I believe that when he states that he is taking our "...comments very seriously," he means it. As you can see in the remaining text of his email, he makes solid efforts to lay out pro-active suggestions for helping the situation.

    I'm not sure he could ever craft a comment that would satisfy everyone (some people will never be satisfied), but he did make comments that I believe to be his and his alone. I suggest we take him up on his offer to work with the burb to accommodate Beaverton's growth without forcing cyclists out of the picture due to safety issues.

    Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.

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  • West Cougar August 15, 2006 at 8:57 am

    Cate,

    I was stating how the situation *is*, not how it *should be*. Unless and until someone dies the police and courts treat accidents largely as tort matters to be handled amongst the insurance companies. They make an initial and perfunctory finding of fault to help smooth the process. Nothing more.

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  • West Cougar August 15, 2006 at 9:04 am

    Preston, Corky, et al,

    There are two kinds of cyclists. Those that want to be on the bike and those that don't.

    For those that don't, they don't know much less respect any laws. What little knowledge they have is going to be more applicable to pedestrian users. Their sole concern is themselves and their personal safety. They don't want to be out there, don't want to talk with those "rich SOB's" that *choose* to be out there, and are jealous of all the car drivers that they want to take every (personally safe) chance they have to be disruptive.

    I don't consider them cyclists and get really bothered when folks (such as the mayor in his letter) try grouping them with me.

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  • Doug August 15, 2006 at 9:39 am

    JB,

    I think your response is typical of the type of biker that gives us all a bad name. The guy runs a stop sign and has the temerity to flip the mayor off even though he was breaking the law, and you side with HIM?

    Stop being a hypocrite and start taking responsibility for your actions.

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  • Cate August 15, 2006 at 1:26 pm

    Thank you again, West Cougar. I guess I don't understand the world I live in. If a person is careless with firearms or explosives and someone gets seriously injured, the person is arrested and charged. If someone is careless with a car and someone is seriously injured, the driver might get a citation.

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  • Nit Picker? August 15, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    "...and he seemed like a quality person."

    I'm not sure I see the relevance of whether he was or was not a "quality" person. I might even venture that such a statement (and attitude) is somewhat alarming.

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  • Concerned Citizen August 15, 2006 at 8:17 pm

    It concerns me that we have someone taking a "vigilante" attitude in regards to this issue. "Reallymad" has taken it into his or her own hands to condemn and harass the driver in this unfortunante incident, and has openly invited others to do the same. This is an issue for the judicial system to decide. We need to be sensitive to *all* of the people surrounding this tragedy.

    This is not the time to start a lynch mob, those went out of style with the KKK.

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  • Reallymad August 15, 2006 at 10:16 pm

    All the posters on this topic seem to be passing blame to the wrong people: the Mayor, rude cyclists, each other, etc, etc, etc. The sole person responsible for another's death in this situation is Aaron Hessel. I have not contacted or harrassed anybody, nor will I. I just wish that people could be held accountable for their actions. I see way too many multiple offenders killing and causing mayhem. (reference the recently released con who killed a police officer in Seattle.)

    http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=officer14m&date=20060814&source=st

    While I am a believer in our constitution and our freedoms, I don't believe in the freedom to kill "on accident." Our judicial system is not geared to handle this.

    Sensitivity is reserved for those who deserve it.

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  • Concerned Citizen August 16, 2006 at 4:35 am

    Reallymad-

    If you think the judicial system can't handle the responsibility of determining someone's guilt or innocence, perhaps you should get involved in changing the judicial system.

    Or perhaps you should be judge, jury, and executioner in all of the legal matters that touch your life.

    Somehow, I don't see that as being a positive change in the courtroom.

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  • sc August 16, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    This is for "Really Mad". How can you even compare this with a case of "multiple offenders". You don't even know this guy! This could have been any one of us and we all should realize this. It was an accident, no one ran a red light, no one was drinking. Lets go after the real criminals and better educate the public on bike saftey for both the driver and the cyclist instead of harrassing someone who will have to live with this guilt the rest of his life. Let the judicial system do its job.

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  • Brad August 16, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    Don't assume the driver is going to carry a lifetime of guilt. Today's society places very little emphasis on the notion of personal responsibility and it is now easier and quite acceptable to blame the blinding hot sun, the cyclist, not being hugged enough, etc. for your actions.

    A quick Google search suggests the driver might be a local law student. Not to paint all with the same brush but the "sun" excuse seems like a good place to start the "I wasn't responsible because..." campaign favored by most legal weasels nowadays. I imagine this is taught first semester: creating plausible denials of fault.

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  • Law Student August 16, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    As a law student, I can tell you that no such "plausible denial" is taught in any "required" course. Unscrupulous lawyers are not the norm, and in fact tend to come to school predisposed to such behavior, or develop later out of desperation or cynicism, and who wouldn't be cynical about a system that punishes drug addicts and prostitutes more vigilantly than it punishes people who risk others' lives by driving cars dangerously.

    I know Aaron and can attest to his charachter - he is nothing of the sort of unscrupulous individual described above. I feel as though I have been kicked in the stomach, and I feel terrible for him (though not nearly as bad as I feel for the victim and his family). I'm sure he'll feel enormous guilt forever.

    In the end, Reallymad is right. Aaron Hessel, a friend of mine, is ultimately responsible for this tragedy - he was driving, and the legal system, if it has anything, has a good guiding principle: who was in the best position to prevent the injury? I have made similar errors in judgment, whether it be in my car or in other areas of life, and I have been lucky not to cause any injuries. I find it hard to believe that any sane person would not feel the guilt, even in a world that desensitizes its citizens to gruesome actions.

    While vigilante justice is certainly not called for, the judicial system will hold him responsible for pain & suffering, loss of companionship, etc., even if he is not found criminally liable. It is likely his insurance will max out, and he will suffer financially, as well as emotionally. Though this is little solace, it is our system. Concerned Citizen made the best point - if one finds himself "really mad," one should get involved and be a part of making a positive change. I am really proud of the positive discussions here. Bicyclists rule.

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  • Cate August 16, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    Law student - thank you for your voice of reason and perspective.

    Would you consider forming a group of bicyclist law students (assuming there are others) who would work to change some of the state laws that affect bicyclists? Since we have a bicyclist state senator, Jason Atkinson, it seems like we might stand a chance for positive change in the laws if a group of motivated legal minds got determined to make it happen.

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  • Russell August 16, 2006 at 10:07 pm

    I appreciate the post by “law student” but I must say whether Aaron Hessel feels bad or not should be legally irrelevant in determining negligence.

    I don’t think the law should be applied based on how “bad” one feels about what they’ve done. I’m not a fan of throwing everyone who makes a bad decision that kills someone in jail for life, but I also think that a $242 ticket, the possibility of getting sued by the family of the victim, and “feeling bad” for a “long time” isn’t justice either.

    It’s not outrageous to say that if I kill someone doing something dangerous (and driving is the most dangerous thing most of us will do in our day to day lives), the event ought to be investigated thoroughly and if it’s determined that I broke a law in the process of killing the person, there ought to be legal consequences beyond a ticket and civil court. How badly I do or do not feel about killing or maiming another person can’t be a part of that math if for no other reason than how would a system go about quantifying inner trauma?

    It’s amazing to me the destruction I couldn’t dream of getting away with outside of a metal box on wheels that my hands can be cleansed of by simply being behind the wheel. Is it just that so many otherwise law abiding people kill so many other people with cars every year that the system has simply decided to let the civil courts deal with the bloody aftermath?

    I want people to think to themselves: “kill a biker, go to jail”, and not “kill a biker, get a ticket”. That position shouldn’t be controversial, especially here. “Kill a biker, feel bad for a long time” just doesn’t cut it for me.

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  • Law Student August 17, 2006 at 10:01 am

    Cate - there are many cyclists at our school. They are busy advocating like most others, for local improvement. I respect my fellow students' time limitations, and have confidence that they will all be lifelong advocates.

    Russell - you're right, remorse is irrelevant in determining negligence. It is, however, relevant in sentencing and financial liability. How much so is determined either by a judge or jury.

    I haven't taken criminal law, and know very little about criminal negligence, but I'm pretty sure that one must take some calculated risk, aware that the action may result in injury (recklessness).

    You seem to be arguing for a strict liability standard, of which many exist, where the result is all that matters (much like rear-ending someone in your car - I think the trailing vehicle is ALWAYS at fault because he was following at an unsafe distance).

    Just driving a car does not seem to me to be enough to impute strict criminal liability. It is just my opinion. I understand and respect your opinion, and I cannot say you're wrong. It just seems to me that in life, not just in driving, the standard of strict liability must be reserved for something to which there can be no excuse whatsoever. I can't say whether Aaron really couldn't or didn't see the driver. I can't say whether he was distracted or driving recklessly. All I know is that I can envision scenarios where a driver does everything right and still kills a cyclist, pedestrian, or other driver. Yes, a driver can always drive slower, but fatal accidents occur in driveways, and crazy, unexpected things happen (I'm not referencing the case at issue). Fatal traffic accidents happen all the time, and only a fraction of the surviving drivers are at fault. A strict liability system clearly doesn't apply there, even though the result is the same. What if somebody swerves to avoid an opening door, or a deer, or a child in the back seat hits the driver in the head with toy? I don't have the answers.

    I think criminality in such a situation should depend on some form of recklessness. The DA will have to make that call, and if he so finds, his judgment will be evaluated by a jury or judge.

    I think the victim's family will have quite a bit of input on this decision. At first the family, through Mike's son, seemed to suggest they felt it was only an accident. It will be interesting to see whether their opinion changes over time.

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  • Russell August 17, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    Assuming Mr. Hessel’s version of what happened isn’t a lie, if he turned through several lanes of traffic with the sun obscuring his vision, I’d say he took “some calculated risk, aware that the action may result in injury” - unless of course he’s only driven on private unpopulated roads before this month.

    Any collision involving serious maiming or death ought to be investigated for possible negligence or other criminality. This doesn’t seem to happen now, and was one of the main reasons so many of us sent letters to the mayor of Beaverton and the DA. about this collision. Without the letters and media interest, it’s possible that this crash never would have been investigated. I hope that’s not true, but that’s what it looks like from here.

    I’m not arguing for strict liability per say, I’d just like to see the law on ordinary negligence changed so that it could rise to the level of criminality when the outcome of the negligence resulted in disability or death. What others see as a way for a person not to be destroyed by an honest mistake, I see as a loophole that allows someone to avoid consequences for their actions after taking another’s life.

    I too can envision scenarios where a driver does everything right and still kills a cyclist, pedestrian, or other driver. In that case, the driver wouldn’t be negligent, but I still want the collision investigated fully.

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  • level headed August 19, 2006 at 8:09 am

    I read everyone's comments. Do any of you know the family? The wife? The children? Did you go to ICU the week Mike fought for his life? Did you go to the funeral? Have you consoled his wife? Have you seen his memorial she set up?

    I am a friend of the family. The family believes it was an accident, which it was. This man did not intentionallly kill Mike. It was a senseless death. It is the family's decision to judge or press charges against the man. Will that help the wife to heal? She says, "No," She does not want the man prosecuted. We have no right to even be in this discussion. It is her right and decision. Let them heal. I see them everyday and their grief. This is not going to help them with their loss. They are not asking anyone to take up this cause and they don't want anyone to take up the cause.

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  • Jonathan Maus August 19, 2006 at 8:15 am

    level headed,

    With all due respect. The only "cause" we're taking up is to try and make the roads safer for everyone...so that crashes like this don't happen again.

    Wouldn't Mike's family appreciate that?

    Also, many people on this site have lost friends and/or loved ones in similar situations so I think they have every right to share their feelings.

    Thanks for your comment.

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  • Russell August 19, 2006 at 10:27 am

    Level Headed

    It is the state who decides to press charges, and it is a judge and/or jury that makes judgments, not a family in a matter like this. The family rightfully has input in the process many times, but they don't make legal decisions for the DA. In a case like this, cyclists also can’t make the decision to charge someone or make a final judgment, (nor are we trying to) but we have a right of input ourselves also as community members. What happened to Mr. Wilberding nearly happens to many of us on a daily basis, and furthermore we believe that part of the reason our lives are risked is that the law and the administrators of the law are weak when it comes to road death.

    What many cyclists I've spoken to regarding multiple deaths over the last few years want isn't for drivers who accidentally kill to be automatically pilloried, they want two very simple things:

    1. Accidents that involve death or serious maiming need to be investigated. Believe it or not, this doesn’t always happen. It’s an unfortunate fact that many times an investigation happens only because the cycling community pressures political and legal figures.
    2. When an investigation finds that a death was wrongful, either due to negligence or worse, we want the driver prosecuted. Amazingly this doesn’t happen all the time either.

    It’s a shame that Mr. Wilberding died in this accident. I feel empathy for the family, although I am not going to give up pushing for thorough investigations in every bicyclist’s death because the victim’s family doesn’t want one. I’m very sorry for your loss. From everything I’ve read Mr. Wilberding was an amazing and accomplished guy who had a lot going for him and many who loved him; but will all due respect, what happened to him is bigger than the just the event that took his life.

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  • SKiDmark August 20, 2006 at 7:51 am

    Personally, if I am ever hit and killed by a negligent car driver I would hope that SOMEBODY cared enough to make sure that they were prosecuted.

    .

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  • Reallymad August 23, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    To all,

    In retrospect, posting his address and phone # was a mistake. It is something any of you could find on Yahoo Yellow pages and not something I needed to bring up. My bad. Of course, with our legal system, there will be no reprocussion for my actions, and I couldn't think straight cause I was tired, or drunk, or my children were screaming at me...

    As far as a punishment, I'm a proponent of putting the guilty in the victims shoes. I don't think that any legal system anywhere would run over a this dude with a car (except in the Middle East, surprisingly they have a very low crime rate...) but why not take away his "right" to drive. Put these people who run bikes over and off the road onto a bike themselves for a while, this would probably be enough to ensure they don't commit the same crime twice.

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  • WHATAJOKE September 6, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    I know a close friend of Aaron's and I can personally attest that all he cares about is the financial fallout from his actions. That is all we have heard about since Mike's death.
    It really is sad.
    I hope they throw the book at him. I didnt know he was in law school, but I guess he is a typical law student, just trying to get away with something.

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