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ODOT employee dies after being hit while riding on rural Salem road

Posted by on January 30th, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Streetview near location of collision.

57-year old Dave Apperson, an employee at ODOT since 2006, was struck and killed by someone driving a car while he pedaled his recumbent on a rural road near Salem Friday morning.

According to the Polk County Sheriff’s office the collision took place around 10:30 am on Hopewell Rode near Spring Valley Lane about 10 miles north of downtown Salem. Apperson was struck from behind by 26-year old nearby resident John Taylor, who was driving a Dodge Ram pickup.

New Yamhill County reports that Apperson was riding a “‘sit down’ style recumbent bicycle.” Here’s more from their coverage (emphasis mine):

Deputies say David Epperson, 57, of Salem, was headed eastbound… Taylor said the sun was blindingly bright for a moment and then he heard and felt the impact. Bike rider Epperson was pronounced dead at the scene.

Deputies say “sit down” recumbent bikes are very low profile and therefore can be a lot harder to see on the side of the road, and with a blinding sun, conditions would have been very hazardous for the bicyclist. Deputies also said Hopewell Road has a lot of de-icing pea gravel on the shoulder so it would not have been rideable by a bicyclist. So, they said, Epperson would likely have been riding partially in the travel lane.

As you can tell by that characterization of the incident, Polk County Sheriff’s have not issued a citation in the case.

Apperson was employed by the Oregon Department of Transportation. According to an email sent to co-workers this morning, he had been a traffic signal technician for ODOT since May 2006. “He was an avid cyclist,” read the email, “and he spent many of his hours away from work riding the roads throughout Oregon.”

UPDATES: As pointed out by a commenter below, according to the Corvallis Gazette Times, this isn’t the first time Apperson was involved in a collision while biking:

From the Corvallis Gazette Times – “VAN VERSUS BIKE: 10:51 a.m., 1238 N.W. Independence Highway, Albany. Wilbur Wayne Neal, 81, of Lebanon, was driving south on Independence Highway when he came up behind David Lawrence Apperson, 56, of Salem, who was riding his recumbent bicycle. Apperson was riding on the fog line because there was no shoulder. As the van passed Apperson, the passenger-side mirror of the vehicle struck Apperson’s shoulder, throwing him and his bike into a ditch. Apperson was taken to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center. Neal was cited for unsafe passing of a bicycle.”

Note: When I talked with Polk County Sheriff’s office today they referred to this most most recent collision as Apperson’s “fifth accident with a car.” “It makes you wonder,” the officer said, “Was he cheating into the lane more than he should be?”

Read more coverage on this Salem bike blog.

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Comments
  • Chris January 30, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Seems like at 10:30 AM the sun would be high enough to not create this issue (even though the sun is at a relatively low angle this time of year). Very, very sad.

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    • Art Fuldodger January 30, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      yeah, i had that thought too.

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  • Carlsson January 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    It’s unconscionable to think the driver wouldn’t be charged with anything. If he were unable to see because of the sun, perhaps he should have slowed down? If the sun were “blinding” wouldn’t it be considered reckless to operate a 2-3 ton motor vehicle essentially with your eyes closed?

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    • was carless January 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm

      This happened on a corner gaining elevation… it is very easy to turn a corner and the sun is suddenly in your eyes, especially in winter, when the sun is barely above the horizon. Truly tragic…

      As a cyclist, we do need to be very careful on these rural highways! As drivers, it is also imperative to be paying extra attention going around curves. I’ve come across children and deer smack in the middle of a 55-mph highway before.

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      • 9watts January 30, 2012 at 8:00 pm

        “This happened on a corner gaining elevation.”
        I am curious how you know this. The map here http://tinyurl.com/6mtomen indicates a point along the road where it slopes down. You may be correct but I know the area well and I’ve not found enough information to pinpoint the exact location beyond the map linked to above.

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      • Goodgulf February 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm

        This means the driver was not driving within his sight-lines, which is just about the most basic responsibility motorists have. The other one is to not hit other things. Basically, this “excuse” is actually an admission of guilt

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        • 9watts February 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm

          “Basically, this “excuse” is actually an admission of guilt”

          Actually it is a bit of theater.

          Within the context where we have law enforcement and drivers and journalists mostly agreeing (if sometimes tacitly) to the same asymmetric script, wherein bogus explanations like ‘the sun was in my eyes, then I felt a bump’ are code for ‘like you I drive; stuff happens,’ and no one is looking for what you are identifying as an ‘admission of guilt.’ In fact those three parties: police, drivers, journalists are by their actions, their acting out this script, complicit in reproducing this situation in which justice is nowhere to be found, and what’s worse, the fact that it is missing isn’t even remarked upon (except here).

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  • Chris Daniel January 30, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    It’s the responsibility of all road users to compensate for low-visibility conditions by shading your eyes, driving more slowly, or not driving at all. If you can’t see because the sun is in your eyes — especially if you are operating a multi-ton killing machine — GET OFF THE ROAD.

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  • beelnite January 30, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    “I didn’t see him” is an admission of guilt. It’s a driver’s responsibility to see objects in the road.

    Either way – it’s horrifying to think what this kid has to live with for the rest of his life. I feel for him and the victim.

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    • JRB January 30, 2012 at 5:07 pm

      True, but not necessarily an admission to a crime. For a crime to have been committed, not only must there be an act that consititutes a crime, but that act or omissio, must also be committed with a criminal mental state, usually some form of intent. Under the Oregon criminal code, negligence is in most instances not a crime.

      The driver is almost certainly liable for civil damages, but the driver’s admission that he did not see David Epperson is not enough to prove that he had the requisite mental state for his actions to be criminal. Remember also that most traffic infractions are not crimes but “violations” a legal construct that occupies a space between civil and criminal law.

      My deepest sympathies to Mr. Epperson’s friends and family. Yet another preventable tragedy on our roads.

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    • Spencer Boomhower January 31, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      @beelnite

      Thanks, I was racking my brain trying to remember an article I’d recently read that had addressed these issues, and your comment helped me track it down:

      The “Ignorance is Bliss” Defense (bicycling.com)
      http://bit.ly/wvrs06

      “You’re supposed to be able to see what’s on the road in front of you and you should only proceed when it’s safe to do so,” Outagamie County Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Jobe said. “When you run into another vehicle or in this case, a bicycle you should have seen, then obviously it’s our view that the only reason you didn’t see it was because you weren’t paying attention.”

      It’s worth checking out.

      The question is does the sun being in one’s eyes qualify as an excuse for not paying attention? I don’t think so. Of course I can see how sudden unexpected blinding glare might happen; the more I get around via bicycle, the more anxious I get when driving about how suddenly visibility can vanish in bad weather, or because of the low winter sun.

      But it seems like we need to start sticking to a standard that says there’s no excuse for overdriving the available visibility, just like you shouldn’t overdrive your headlights.

      There will always be some unavoidable accidents, but at the very least the first assumption – especially on the part of law enforcement – should be that collisions are preventable.

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  • RonC January 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    I don’t doubt that bright sun could have been a factor. But I’m concerned about blaming the low seating position of a recumbent. What about the fact that a Dodge Ram pickup has a very high protruding hood that might be difficult to see over? Depending on the type of recumbent being ridden, a seated recumbent rider can be as high as (or higher than) a person seated in a small car. I just wish truck designers would pay better attention to sight lines. I bet some of these big trucks have really terrible designs for seeing the road immediately in front. Even for drivers in smaller cars, it can be difficult to see over/past the large hood of one of these trucks in an adjacent lane. It’s a sad story. Probably lots of contributing factors.

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  • Dabby January 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    The one time I rode distance on a “sit down” bike ended at the General Store in Hopewell on my 40th birthday ride…

    This is sad to hear about…..

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  • Dick Pilz January 30, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    An adult on a recumbent is approximately the same height as a small child. Wider, too. Just how big a target do I need to be?

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  • Joe Rowe January 30, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Cops keep blaming cyclists in greater numbers.

    We need to call the Oregon Attorney General

    a) investigate the Polk County Sheriff
    b) get the OHP to take over the investigation and subpoena for the cell and ping records of the car who ran down the bike.

    There is a law about driving too fast for conditions.

    try the quote this way: frozen Windshield “conditions would have been very dangerous for the cyclist”

    The use of “most likely” here is worthy of a tort lawsuit. How would the cop feel if someone in his family was killed and a liberal cyclist felt free to use his government PR job to say what “most likely” could be used to blame the dead family member.

    If the Oregon BTA does not step in on cop and reporter bias the activists will have to take to a media campaign of our own.

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  • 9watts January 30, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    (a) I am going to assume there were no witnesses, and that determining the speed of the truck after the fact is difficult to impossible.
    (b) The sun and the low height of the bicycle both are mentioned in all news stories in a manner designed to minimize culpability on the part of the driver, reassure the readership, which is assumed to also drive, that this could easily happen to anyone. Our attention is directed at the particulars of the now dead David Epperson, who was in the way, too low, or whatever.

    But what if the driver wasn’t paying close attention, or his windshield was dirty, or his truck was so big, as others have pointed out, that it posed a hazard? And there are several dozen other possible factors that could
    (c) point to the driver’s negligence rather than Dave Epperson’s actions or height or mode.

    Why is this all so predictable!? Why am I not reassured that the law enforcement took as much care in assessing the situation as they might have if this were not someone on a bicycle? Oh, right. We live in a culture that reifies cars and their occupants as normal and every other way of getting around as suspect.

    At least two things contributed to this tragedy that are not mentioned in any of the news reports: speed and the insulating effect of today’s cars and trucks. How hard can it be?

    FWIW, it is Spring Valley *Road*, not Lane.

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    • JRB January 31, 2012 at 8:14 am

      Accident reconstruction investigations are actually quite sophisticated and much of what you refer to can be determined if a police agency with the expertise and technology decides to do so. The Oregon State Police come to mind, but they may have to be invited in by the Sheriff’s Dept.

      I’m not a personal injury attorney, but this seems pretty much a slam dunk as a civil case, absent evidence that Mr. Epperson was at fault for the collision, e.g. swerving into the path of the truck. As many have mentioned, the duty of care requires motor vehicle drivers to maintain and operate their vehicles such that don’t hit other road users who are operating their vehicle legally.

      Money damages are far from adequate compensation for the sensely and unnecessary loss of a loved one, but it’s the best our system can do at present. I wonder if as part of a civil settlement, a defendant could also agree to surrender his or her driver’s license for a period of years?

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  • Joe Rowe January 30, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    How would the cop feel if his family member were killed and someone on paid government time sent messages to the press blaming the victim, using a personal guess like “most likely”.

    If the car windshield was icy would a cop send out a press report that said…

    the icy window “conditions would have been very hazardous for the bicyclist”

    This pattern of cops and the press blaming cyclists who are run down is growing and needs to stop ASAP.

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  • Keith January 30, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Dave was a great guy. I’ll miss him.

    I’ve driven that stretch of road many times – too many people going too fast. I drive the speed limit and get passed often.

    This was not the first time Dave had been hit by a car while riding his bike. He was hit August 6th 2010

    From the Corvallis Gazette Times – “VAN VERSUS BIKE: 10:51 a.m., 1238 N.W. Independence Highway, Albany. Wilbur Wayne Neal, 81, of Lebanon, was driving south on Independence Highway when he came up behind David Lawrence Apperson, 56, of Salem, who was riding his recumbent bicycle. Apperson was riding on the fog line because there was no shoulder. As the van passed Apperson, the passenger-side mirror of the vehicle struck Apperson’s shoulder, throwing him and his bike into a ditch. Apperson was taken to Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center. Neal was cited for unsafe passing of a bicycle.”

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  • Jeff Wills January 30, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    As an adult recumbent bicycle rider I’ll say this: when drivers *do* see me from behind, they tend to move over further than if they’re passing upright riders. The “low riding bicycle” excuse is just that- an excuse. What kind of bike he was riding is immaterial.

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  • Pat Franz January 30, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    My heart goes out to Dave and his family. That you can be so carelessly killed in the public space is horrifying to contemplate.

    The bias in the coverage and the statements by the officers, though, are truly chilling.

    Dave was an experienced cyclist. He would have been riding carefully. It makes no sense to insinuate he probably caused this. To paraphrase one of the statements, it makes you wonder “why is the officer cheating into justice more than he should be?”

    Officer judgement has it’s place. Officer bias does not. What is said in the first interviews and announcements frames the incident in the public’s mind and sets the tone for how the survivors will be treated. Conduct as unprofessional as this deserves to be immediately corrected and very public reprimanded.

    Dave deserves better. We all deserve better. And Dave is dead.

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    • matt picio January 31, 2012 at 5:18 pm

      Chilling indeed – another example of officials believing that bicycles do not have a right to the road.

      The average person sees this as a bike problem, not a car problem. Unless and until someone is successful at convincing people that vehicle operators are responsible for seeing and avoiding object (people), these unfortunate and tragic events will continue. Yes, the law says that operators are responsible for avoiding objects (people!) in their path, but there’s a definite disconnect in the minds of many motorists.

      Instead of thinking “that could have been me – I should be more careful when I drive”, the thinking is “that could have been me, what are all these cyclists doing in the road? They should take a less busy road!”

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  • steve scarich January 31, 2012 at 8:01 am

    The sun in the Southwest sky is absolutely blinding over here in Bend the last half hour before sundown. I am very aware of that when I am riding, and try to plan my routes accordingly. I also always use a high-power blinky light; I think this is absolutely essential when riding when the sun is low on the horizon. As a driver, I have almost hit bike riders in these conditions, and I am actively looking for cyclists!

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  • Spiffy January 31, 2012 at 8:52 am

    “It makes you wonder,” the officer said, “Was he cheating into the lane more than he should be?”

    wow, um, NO! he wasn’t “cheating” into the lane at all actually… since he has a legal right to be there he doesn’t need to “cheat” anything… that kind of comment is incredibly outrageous…

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  • Spiffy January 31, 2012 at 8:53 am

    tell me again why it’s not an instant manslaughter charge and jail time for killing somebody with your motor vehicle?

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    • Chris I January 31, 2012 at 8:55 am

      Tyranny of the masses.

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    • JRB January 31, 2012 at 11:21 am

      I can tell you why it isn’t under current law, see note above. If you are asking why we as a society do not have harsher penalties for drivers who kill that’s another discussion and debate which I am more than willing to engage in. Each needless death is yet another painful reminder why this discussion is long overdue.

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  • Dave Palmer January 31, 2012 at 9:41 am

    I sent a letter to the Polk County District Attorney’s Office last night expressing my concern over the handling of this death by the Sheriff’s Office. To think that a driver killed someone who was riding legally on a road that I’ve ridden hundreds of times, and not be charged is appalling. I encourage everyone to contact the Polk County DA and Sheriffs Offices asking that this death be investigated further.

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  • craig harlow January 31, 2012 at 9:49 am

    ODOT leadership, please step up and honor Dave Anderson publicly, and defend his right to have been riding in the road without fear of mortal peril.

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    • K'Tesh January 31, 2012 at 2:28 pm

      It would be appropriate for them to do something for their own.

      RIP Dave

      God Bless

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  • Doug Morgan January 31, 2012 at 10:00 am

    I live in Longview and there was a fatal accident last year between a power wheelchair and SUV in an crosswalk. The driver got off with nothing but a traffic citation. The SUV was so huge the driver probably couldn’t even see over the hood of the behemoth vehicle, but the sun got the blame.

    I am afraid that “The sun was in my eyes” is a perfectly acceptable excuse for killing human beings with automobiles in America today. The only drivers that ever seem to be held accountable for anything are drunk ones or the ones that leave the scene. Seems like everyone else gets a free pass.

    Look at the police statements, not much understanding of the basic law let alone any empathy for the victim. Couldn’t a couple weeks as a bicycle officer be included in officer training. Not likely to ever understand all the factors until they’ve rode a mile in our shoes.

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    • Nathan January 31, 2012 at 11:02 am

      For sure. Unless the police officer in question rode a bike to the scene of the crime, there probably won’t be much in the way of empathy for the cyclist. The officer was probably thinking, “Glad it wasn’t me who smeared this guy.”

      If he had hit a Crown Vic and caused a death, we probably wouldn’t be seeing lines about how the Ford was “cheating into the lane.” It makes me sick.

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      • matt picio January 31, 2012 at 5:21 pm

        Absolutely. I’d love to see every police officer as part of their training be made to cross Highway 101 in Lincoln City as a pedestrian (at an unmarked crosswalk) and to ride a bike 10 miles on a rural road in Clackamas, Washington, or Yamhill county. (obviously while NOT in uniform)

        For that matter, I’d love to see every member of the public be forced to do the same before they could renew their driver’s license. It isn’t likely to happen, but there really is something to be said for walking a metaphorical mile in someone else’s shoes.

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  • Joe January 31, 2012 at 10:53 am

    So sad RIP bike friend, we all think these roads are for all but when speeding cars take over its just maddness. * also ending sholder lane is not good * if the bike is in the lane cars need to understand we have right to the lane too. right?

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  • El Biciclero January 31, 2012 at 11:39 am

    “I didn’t see him!”
    “The sun was in my eyes!”
    “He came out of nowhere!”

    Here is what I would like to see: in any case where any such excuse as the above is proffered by a driver to explain why they injured or killed someone, it should be an automatic “negligent assault” (if there is such a thing) or “negligent manslaughter” (again…) charge. The burden of proof should then be on the driver–not the victim–to show that the victim truly behaved in a manner so careless or erratic that the driver could not have done anything, including merely pay more attention, to avoid the collision.

    I too have ridden this road many times; this is a sad, sad story.

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  • Joe January 31, 2012 at 11:51 am

    we need signs that says slow down bicyclists on roadway. flashing lights solar controlled something.
    Wilsonville rd is awesome TOO but same blind spots and speeders get away.

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  • Thomas January 31, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    It was this comment from the article that caught me: Note: When I talked with Polk County Sheriff’s office today they referred to this most most recent collision as Apperson’s “fifth accident with a car.” “It makes you wonder,” the officer said, “Was he cheating into the lane more than he should be?”

    Exactly what defines “in the lane more than he should be.” He’s a vehicle for goodness sake, he is supposed to be in the lane. Perhaps the Polk County Sheriff’s offices needs a refresher course in traffic law.

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  • GlowBoy January 31, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    “Was he cheating into the lane more than he should be?” NO! It is not illegal to ride in the lane, if the shoulder is unusable! Sheesh, that cop needs to go back for retraining in Oregon traffic law.

    Echoing some of the above comments, when I grew up and when I learned to drive (in a state far from) I had the impression that if I killed someone while driving — even if it wasn’t my fault, such as a kid darting out into the street — I could be charged with manslaughter. Maybe that should be the case, but once again we see that it is not. Not even a ticket for Failure to Yield.

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    • matt picio January 31, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      It isn’t illegal to ride in the lane, period. (unless a bike lane is present and safe to use) There is no state or local law which requires a bicycle to be ridden on the shoulder.

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    • Doug Smart February 1, 2012 at 8:26 am

      The roadway is the area where vehicles normally travel. The shoulder of the road is delineated by a four inch stripe and is not a part of the roadway. Bicycles are permitted to use the roadway and are not required to ride on the shoulder.
      A bicycle lane is delineated by an eight inch stripe. In Oregon bicycles are required to use a bicycle lane if it is present, subject to a few caveats, and it is considered part of the roadway.
      The officer’s use of the term “cheating” indicates an ignorance of the law and an investigative bias.

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  • K'Tesh January 31, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Perhaps the family can pursue a Citizen’s Initiated Citation?

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  • Opus the Poet January 31, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Can somebody do something about that LEO that doesn’t know the laws he is supposed to be enforcing? I mean seriously, this guy did not know that when the lane is too narrow to safely share the bicycle gets the full lane? That is the law in all 50 states, even if it is unenforced 99% of the time.

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  • Charley Gee January 31, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    As a former Polk County boy, I can tell you that the attitude towards cyclists down there is not nearly as enlightened as up here so I’m not holding my breath for a reversal on the part of the sheriff’s office. Nonetheless I’m hoping that we can all do something to educate the folks who enforce our laws.

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  • Ted Buehler February 1, 2012 at 1:48 am

    Yah, I’m unimpressed with the “The sun got in my eyes” statement.

    Mr. Taylor (and the law-enforcement officials that haven’t pressed charges yet) would do well to review a few passages in the Oregon Drivers Manual ( http://www.odot.state.or.us/forms/dmv/37.pdf ).

    Page 33 states:

    ***************

    “The Basic Rule Law”
    “The basic rule states [bold] you must drive at a speed that is reasonable and cautious for existing conditions [/bold]. The basic rule applies to all streets and highways at all times.”

    “To obey the basic rule, you need to think about your speed in relation to other traffic, pedestrians, bicycles, the surface and width of the road, hazards at intersections, visibility, and any other conditions that could affect safety.”

    *************

    Mr. Taylor — if the sun is in your eyes, then you need to slow down until you’re traveling at a safe speed for existing conditions.

    Law enforcement and elected officials — if this law was enforced, we’d save a lot of lives.

    Rest in Peace, Dave…

    Ted Buehler

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    • Alan 1.0 February 1, 2012 at 12:31 pm

      In a recent Portland DUI case involving one Lisa Erb, her driving record as presented in http://www.criminalpages.com/ suggests that the Basic Rule may actually be enforced in some instances.

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      • El Biciclero February 2, 2012 at 11:08 am

        Gee Whiz. Hope I never run into (figuratively or literally) Ms. Erb on the road…

        Yes, VBR is enforced, mostly to issue speeding citations, I think. The scope is pretty narrow when it comes to practical application, though. Things that never seem to result in a VBR citation:
        – Driving at the posted speed with the sun in one’s eyes
        – Driving at the posted speed in dense fog
        – Driving at the posted speed when roads are icy
        – Driving at the posted speed on a dark, rainy night

        All of the above conditions require that “reasonable and cautious” drivers slow down, and even driving the speed limit in such conditions could be considered VBR, but never are citations issued for such unless the driver is going 15 over the “limit”.

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        • 9watts February 2, 2012 at 11:16 am

          VBR?

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        • Alan 1.0 February 2, 2012 at 11:25 am

          I see “too fast for conditions” used in reporting on accidents and I think that might refer to Violation of Basic Rule (VBR) infractions.

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  • Kristen February 1, 2012 at 10:45 am

    I’ve ridden this stretch of road, many times. RIP, bike friend.

    “Cheating” into the traffic lane? As if we’re committing adultery on the shoulder, of which there is none here?

    I think ALL police need to be required to take a test on the laws of the road every year, so they can be aware of what’s allowed and what isn’t. Maybe then they wouldn’t show their ignorance so much.

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  • Atbman February 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Using http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/astronomy.html?n=221&month=1&year=2012&obj=sun&afl=-1&day=1
    sunrise on that day was 7:38 and the azimuth (geographical angle) of the sunrise was 116 degrees (i.e. 26 degrees south of due east – which is 90 degrees).
    Since the collision was at 10:50 am, may I suggest that Portland activists contact the nearest university astronomy department and check exactly where the sun was, in relation to the accident site in both height and direction?

    I don’t know what your FOI laws allow in getting details of the accident report, but it might be useful to cross check it against the astronomical information and thus assess how valid the claim by the only surviving witness, i.e. the driver, might be.

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  • Jim February 2, 2012 at 4:51 am

    What the hell does he mean “cheating into the lane”? The cyclist is *supposed* to be there in this circumstance – to imply that this is wrongdoing and that the cyclist is at fault for the truck running him down is ridiculous and offensive, the officer who made this statement needs to be named so the rest of us can comment to his superiors and with any luck, get him fired immediately.

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  • eric February 3, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    proving once more that if you want to kill someone, do it with your car.

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    • 9watts February 3, 2012 at 1:46 pm

      I seriously doubt Dave Taylor wanted to kill Dave Epperson, and you probably didn’t mean to imply this, but perhaps a better way to capture this deplorable state of affairs is,

      ‘Killing someone with your car seems to carry the fewest consequences to you, when compared with most other methods involving negligence.’

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