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Bee blamed in Vancouver fatality

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 4th, 2007 at 9:24 am

On Friday night in Vancouver, Washington, a teenager struck and killed a cyclist with his car. The driver claims he was distracted when a bee entered his vehicle.

Here's an excerpt from the KOMO-TV news report:

"Gabriel (the driver) told investigators that a bee flew into the vehicle, and he veered into the bicycle lane while attempting to get the bee out. Investigators did find a bee in the backseat of the vehicle.

No citations were initially issued, and Gabriel and Galegos were released to his parents."

An investigation is underway.

I realize this is a tragedy on many levels, but I get concerned when I read a news headline that says, "Bee blamed for causing fatal bicycle crash."

As if there were no other factors in this tragedy.

I can relate to how a bee would cause someone to swerve, but should we put 100% of the blame on an insect? Surely there are other factors that might have been involved:

  • Was it a safe bikeway?
  • What if there was a wider shoulder?
  • Would a physically separated bike lane have protected the cyclist?
  • What if there was a safer, alternate route away from motor vehicle traffic?

I also wonder if the pending Vulnerable Roadway Users bill would apply to this case. I asked lawyer Ray Thomas, who helped draft the bill, and he said the driver would have to be cited for careless driving before the bill would be triggered (it would also obviously only apply in Oregon).

At this point, we don't have the facts to know whether or not the driver acted carelessly. How long was the bee in the car before the crash? Should he/could he have pulled over to remove it before he became distracted?

Hopefully the investigation will take a very serious look at these questions.

It's obvious the driver did not mean to cause this crash, and he will no doubt face a lifetime of mental anguish, but sending the message that the death of a bicyclist is merely unfortunate collateral damage because a bee flew into someone's car just doesn't seem right at all.


UPDATE: Here's what the BTA's Scott Bricker says about how H.B. 3314 (the Vulnerable Roadway Users bill) would come into play if the proposed law were on the books:

"It depends on the behavior of the driver and ultimately what the officer cited him with... if the driver was at fault and careless, then yes it would apply. Careless is not a criminal charge, so these are the types of cases that often end with the violation of Careless and only up to $720 fine. If 3314 passed, the person would also be required to complete 100-200 hours of community service and a driver education course. If they failed to do that, they would face a max. fine of $12,500 and a 1 year license suspension.

Finally, and very importantly, 3314 would require this kid to show up in court twice. Currently with Careless, you can just mail in a fine and call it a day."

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Comments
  • Tomas Quinones June 4, 2007 at 10:32 am

    If it were a bee, I don't blame him for freaking out.

    I was stung on the arm while riding StP last year and almost went into a ditch from the pain before I was able to come to a stop.

    Bees freak people out.

    I even have one friend that practically goes catatonic near bees due to allergies.

    Whatever happened, it is just plain tragic.

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  • rixtir June 4, 2007 at 10:49 am

    I agree Tomas, there have been times where I've struggled to maintain control of my car while trying not to get stung. And my worst biking accident was when an insect flew into my helmet vent and I tried to shake it out.

    This is a sad accident. But I think Jonathan is also right with the questions he raises. I agree 100% with you, Jonathan.

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  • josh m June 4, 2007 at 11:10 am

    If the cards were flipped, and the biker rode into the street after getting stung, or avoiding a bee, causing the driver to swerve and have an accident resulting in some sort of death, I am sure the headlines would be quite different and the mention of the bee would be an afterthought.

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  • felix June 4, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Lets all try to bee nice about this story.

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  • Fred June 4, 2007 at 11:40 am

    Obviously if the bee stung a cyclists that then hit a pedestrian that cyclist would probably end up doing prison time. The legal system is stacked against us.

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  • Anon. June 4, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Removing the cyclist for a minute don't you think the driver would have wanted to bring their vehicle to a safe stop for no other reason than to not destroy their own car?

    I guess count me among those who are not too scared by bees to merely bring their car/bike safely to a stop.

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  • JE June 4, 2007 at 11:46 am

    I'm also not a big fan of bees. I've been stung riding and had them fly into my truck. I've also had spiders drop from the headliner while driving. But neither for bee nor spider did I veer or swerve or hit anything. I made sure there was no one close by and brought the truck to a fast stop on the side of the road. What the vehicle does is the operator's responsibility.

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  • tonyt June 4, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    Felix, while I'm all for civility, this is not a joke. Someone is dead.

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  • wyatt June 4, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    I've been stung by bees many times (twice on the lip while biking on two separate ocassions), had bees get caught in the vents of my helmet. I do not understand why people freak out as the pain isn't exactly unbearable. Of course if there are severe allergies involved, please, freak out.

    Was the kid driving the car deathly allergic?

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  • Bob June 4, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    So who is responsible for this death? The bee? Must have been a BIG one. To be excusing the automobile driver from responsibility is ludricous.

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  • Steve June 4, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Ok... Bee (and other bug) phobes, stay indoors and drive with your windows up so the rest of us can safely enjoy the outdoors. There is no excuse to swerve out of your lane (cyclist or motorist) because of an irrrational fear.

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  • anon June 4, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    sometimes an accident is just that.

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  • Dustin Kent June 4, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    I'll have to agree with Bob. Although the bee did put the driver in an awkward situation, that is absolutely no excuse to lose control of your car. I am sure there are dozens of better reactions the driver could have taken.

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  • John June 4, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    The driver is young. This probably was the biggest factor in all of this because with years of driving experience, you learn how to deal with stuff like bees flying into your car.

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  • Fred June 4, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    The driver is a murderer, no matter what his age. He needs to be locked up.

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  • tonyt June 4, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    If you cannot handle a momentary distraction, then you need to slow down.

    This is why you must drive slower than you think you need to; it is the unexpected that you need to allow for.

    The speed limit, is just that, the LIMIT. You do NOT need to drive that fast and the heck with the idiots behind you who expect everyone to speed so they can get to nowhere on time.

    S L O W D O W N

    I wouldn't call the guy a murderer, but some jail time might convince others to take the responsibility of driving a bit more seriously.

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  • ME June 4, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    I don't think bees should be allowed to drive...period!

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  • Disco D June 4, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Murderer? Wow...

    As a cyclist even I get sick of listening to some of you guys fly off the handle.

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  • organic brian June 4, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    Here is a tip for all drivers of motor vehicles: if you encounter any circumstance that would distract you from paying attention to your driving (screaming child, flying insect, the SUN IN YOUR EYES) you should stop the vehicle immediately. Nothing is as important as ceasing forward momentum in that case. Don't get behind the wheel if you can't maintain control, don't have a window open if flying insects are that terrifying to you.

    On another note, I find it interesting that some people have been stung so many times. I've only been stung when I was very young and tried to handle a bee. I thought it was more that bees didn't sting unless provoked rather than just being lucky, but apparently I'm wrong about that considering all the stories here.

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  • revphil June 4, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    following up on jonathon's ideas about the road conditions...

    is there anyone who has been on this stretch, as a driver or biker? what are the conditions like?

    to his friends and family.

    /pours a cold one out

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  • pdxrunner June 4, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Why should I be responsible for my behavior behind the wheel? If I hit a cyclist while talking on my cellphone, isn't it the cellphone's fault? Better yet, isn't it the maker of the cellphone's fault? I don't see how anyone in Oregon or Washington can be found guilty of doing anything wrong behind the wheel.

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  • JeremyS June 4, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    I have to agree with organic brian's comment. It seems to me that cars and traffic are perceived both internally and externally as a "I must get there on time at all costs" mentality. Innumerable traffic deaths fade into memory as long as traffic keeps moving. People keep driving no matter how high gas prices go, no matter how high insurance gets, no matter how expensive vehicles get. How can we change that?

    Love and prayers to the fallen cyclist and his family.

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  • tim June 4, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    bees don't kill cyclists, drivers do.

    this whole thing is unfortunate, but the onus lies on the shoulders of the driver. the driver should be charged with a inattentive driving, at a minimum.

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  • Todd Boulanger June 4, 2007 at 9:11 pm

    This portion of 136th Avenue is a wide 5 lane arterial with modest bike lanes. As reported by the TV station it seems that the crash occurred in the section where the road shifts to the left towards Mill Plain.

    There is no other convenient quick north south bikeway with lanes other than 136th Ave. unless one is willing to ride on i-205 or ride out of their way...and weave through local streets, as the street grid and interstate access control makes this part of town difficult to navigate by foot or bicycle.

    As other posters have mentioned...limiting one's speed is critical if one is to stay in control of their motorized vehicle during such situations.

    This is sad news for all the families involved plus the larger family of the Evergreen School District.

    Perhaps this will be Vancouver's first ghost bike site?

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  • Peter P. June 4, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    NE 136th Ave is the safest north-south route in Vancouver. It is wide open, very few driveways and access. I rode past this spot 2 hours earlier that night. The city swept glass from the path at my request just the Monday before. As far as riding in a bike lane goes, it doesn't get any better. It makes me furious that this could happen and paper says a bee caused the accident.

    Peter

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  • JJ June 5, 2007 at 10:17 am

    I have had some friends who are allergic to bees – they’ve been told a bee sting can kill them.

    If the kid is allergic to bees and has the notion that the bee could kill him - I would much expect the driver to freak out.

    However, I do not imagine that would remove responsibility from the motor-vehicle operator.

    The article leaves out many critical questions (many which have been mentioned) - was there a helmet? If not, could that have made a difference? (I am not implying that we should have to don anti-suv armor when we ride by that question either...)

    Perhaps the system was going soft on the kid because he may be weeks from graduating, was not intoxicated, nor was he apparently high, seems to have stayed at the scene, and perhaps he has bee allergies... In such a case, I blame the media for framing the bee and ignoring the issues...

    I just don\'t know what happened from their article..

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  • Dave November 4, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Lame excuse, I'm not buying. I have been stung by bees that have flown down my shirt, into my helmet vents, for Christ's sake one flew behind my glasses and nailed my eyelid (Davis Double, '97) and I didn't run my fucking bike off the road. Maybe his underage boyfriend's mough was on his schlong at a critical moment and distracted him.

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  • RPM November 4, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Whatever the cause of a swerve into the bike lane the result is the same. It might make us feel better to be outraged but it doesn't make any difference. When your on a bike you are car meat. Expect that people will swerve into your lane, will not even see you, will be drunk or old or young. Being right isn't worth a damn if your dead. Besides which, as someone pointed out there are these things called accidents. Who among us is without sin?

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