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Cyclist charged with manslaughter

Posted by on September 12th, 2005 at 11:46 am

Tough punishment has been given to a cyclist in Corvallis who ran a stop sign and killed a 71 year-old woman.

From the Associated Press:

A bicyclist was charged with manslaughter after he ran through a stop sign and struck and killed a 71-year-old woman, police said Monday.

Jean Calder died at Good Samaritan Hospital after she was struck Friday night as she crossed a street at an unmarked crosswalk, Corvallis police Capt. Ron Noble said.

Christopher A. Lightning, 51, was charged with manslaughter and reckless driving.

“A car and a bicycle are both vehicles and if they are operated in a way that could be criminal, then charges are filed equally in both situations,” Noble said. “He was going right through a stop sign.”

Lightning was being housed in Benton County jail with bail set at $57,500. He will be given a court-appointed lawyer at his arraignment in Benton County.

Wow, that’s pretty tough talk from the police. I’ve never heard such swift action coming down on a motor vehicle driver that kills a cyclist. Perhaps the circumstances are different in this case..but of all the severe and fatal bike/car incidents we’ve had in the Portland area this year, how many motor vehicle operators have spent one minute locked up in jail!?

One thing’s for sure, this incident will galvanize the cry from the community calling for cyclists to be more vigilant in obeying the same laws as motorists. I can already see the anti-bike editorials with titles like, “Crazy bikers need to obey to law!” Sure, I want everyone to obey the law, be it pedestrians, cyclists, or motorists. But I sincerely hope the discussion doesn’t devolve into talking about how law-breaking cyclists are making our streets unsafe. The real issue here is the swift and severe punishment given to the cyclist and lack of that kind of response when the tables are turned and a motor vehicle kills a pedestrian or cyclist.

So the question I have is: Is their instituionalized bias/insensitivity between the police and cyclists? If you look at the record you’d have to say yes.

Let’s see…despite rampant law-breaking, maiming and killing, how many motorists have spent time behind bars this summer? How many motorists have been followed for no reason while driving through the city and told how to operate their vehicle by intimidating members of the police bureau (like cyclists are each month during Critical Mass)?

Bottom line is that if you’re on a bike, you’re treated differently, no matter if you’re breaking laws or not. And most of the time you’re not treated as well as someone in a car for no other reason than your chosen mode of transport.

It sort of seems like tranportation racism to me. Transportationism.

I’m also curious how Corvallis’s bike community responds since they are (along with Portland) one of only four cities in the country to be designated as a “Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • david September 12, 2005 at 12:13 pm

    First off, this is a very sad incident for all involved.

    On the Car vs Cyclist compared to Person vs Cyclist I think Car vs Cyclist is treated as vehicle vs vehicle while Person vs cyclist is Person vs vehicle.

    I’m just curious how the police will react… I am prone to usually slowing to a crawl then proceeding through stop signs if prudent. I bet there will be lots of ticketing for not coming to a complete stop.

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  • Pete September 12, 2005 at 12:59 pm

    david keyed, “On the Car vs Cyclist compared to Person vs Cyclist I think Car vs Cyclist is treated as vehicle vs vehicle while Person vs cyclist is Person vs vehicle.”

    This may be true, but when is the last time a motorist was arrested for killing a pedestrian, other than when the motorist fleed the scene or was impaired?

    I believe it is an aspect of our society that cars will kill and it is somewhat accepted as the nature of the beast.

    And as to the ticketing for not coming to a complete stop, if the police institute this “crackdown”, are they going to target bikes, or ALL vehicles that don’t come to complete stops. Would that be a prudent allocation of personnel, given the amount of downtown shootings that have occurred in the last 2 months?

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  • Kent September 12, 2005 at 2:10 pm

    First of all, it seems apparent from the description of the incident that the fatality was the direct result of a cyclist failing to obey the traffic laws.

    That isn’t necessarily the case in every example of cyclist fatality due to being hit by cars. I’ve been hit by cars on three separate occasions over the past 20 years and in each instance it was the result of inattention by the car driver and they were at fault. But in each instance, the driver was not overtly and recklessly breaking a traffic rule such as running a stop sign or red light.

    So perhaps there is something about the reckless nature of this incident that made the police action more immediate and severe? I’m just guessing and asking.

    In any event, drivers who cause fatal accidents by running stop signs or red lights tend to be dealt with pretty harshly no matter whether they hit a pedestrian, biker, or another car. Remember that case in North Dakota a year or two ago when a former governor and sitting congressman was tried and convicted of manslaughter after running a stop sign and killing another driver?

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  • juan September 12, 2005 at 6:19 pm

    As far as whether or not a motorist gets arrested when the KILL someone on a bike- Of course they get arrested! Do you honestly believe that if you were driving your car, ran a stop sign and killed a person that the cops would say, ‘woops!’, clean up the mess, and let you go?

    The kind of bald-face prejudice you are suggesting exists against bicyclist doesn’t exist. It would be easy to think that it does. But it just doesn’t. I run stop signs on my bike all the time- but I do it knowing that I may pay the price for it…not because the MAN hates bikes, but because its against the law to run stop signs.

    As far as RACISM goes- be really careful about how you throw around words of which (I assume by the way you use it) you have NO direct understanding!

    What the police hate about cyclists is that they often don’t obey the laws, and then get upset for getting caught. We (as cyclists) gloss over the real dangers (to ourselves, others, property) of riding while intoxicated, recklessly, selfishly. While we don’t weigh 3000+ lbs, nor routinely drive 60 mph, we are still potentially dangerous. A REAL problem is that cyclists in whole, or in part, believe that they are, by virtue of being cyclists, without fault.

    Consider everytime you have ducked through an intersection in front of a car- thinking you were going fast enough- but that car had to hit its’ brakes. You just did something unsafe- you broke the law! Everytime you make a left through an intersection through the cross walk you did something unsafe- and broke the law! People see each of us setting an example- good or bad. Cyclists play a part in this whole thing. For the same reasons you think motorists are ‘bad’, the motorists think you are bad.

    thats my spew

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  • Dave September 12, 2005 at 9:08 pm

    I’m glad to see the tone of the comments so far. If, as Jonathan fears, there is an outcry against cyclists due to this, I think Kent and Juan have already identified the correct response: write a letter to the editor pointing out that both cyclists and motorists are prosecuted whent here is an obvious component of recklessness or intent to injure. Where we all need to co-exist better is in the area of paying attention while operating our vehicles and taking the extra time to make sure those around us are not put in harm’s way by our actions.

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  • Aaron September 13, 2005 at 6:14 am

    Man, I was convinced for a minute that all the comments were going to be along the same idiotic alarmist “cars don’t get this treatment” lines as the original post, but I’m thankfully disappointed.

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  • Jonathan Maus September 13, 2005 at 8:04 am

    Thanks for all the comments.

    I agree that cyclist vs. person is much different that car vs. cyclist. However it is obvious to me that bias exists against bicyclists in our system.

    Juan, I’ve never said “the Man” hates bikes. I do however feel that “the Man” does not understand/respect them as a transportation alternative to cars.

    I have also never said cyclists have the right to break laws. This talk about how bikes must obey the laws is just a smokescreen to avoid talking about the real issue…which is that cars and the law are not as respectful of bikes as they should be. And I myself have never “ducked through an intersection” causing a car to hit its breaks.

    Aaron, I hardly think saying cars get treated better than cyclists is “idiotic and alarmist”.

    Here is a very interesting excerpt from a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News (reg.). It gives you an idea of what we’re up against in the quest for fair and equal treatment. The second part is most telling:

    “prosecutors have filed vehicular manslaughter charges against just four drivers in 25 (bicyclist) deaths — and murder charges against only one driver. In four of the 25 cases, prosecutors declined to file charges, and in one instance they pursued lesser charges than manslaughter.

    Even when the cyclist is clearly the victim, prosecutors may opt not to bring charges because, they say, jurors tend to sympathize with drivers. They say, `Gosh, I do that all the time,’ ‘’ said Peter Lynch, a deputy district attorney in San Mateo County.”

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  • Fritz September 13, 2005 at 11:42 am

    Pointed out in the Yahoo CarFree list was this fact: About 120 people are killed everyday by automobile drivers. Almost none of these drivers are charged with manslaughter or any other crime, except *possibly* a moving violation of some type.

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  • parker September 13, 2005 at 5:59 pm

    The cyclist has been arraigned on a charge of criminally negligent homicide:


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  • Jonathan Maus September 13, 2005 at 9:34 pm

    Thanks for the update. Seems like he’ll end up getting off not as bad as first thought. I guess this is typical. I recently spoke to a local police officer about this, and he say even when the cops want to press serious charges, the burden of proof is often so high that the charges are usually reduced drastically.

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  • Patrick Cassidy September 16, 2005 at 10:50 am

    Sorry, but anytime any one of us chooses to bend the rules we have to be prepared to live (or perhaps die) with the consequences. The cyclists have been at fault in about half of the recent car-bike collisions, including the fatalaties.

    I commute 25 miles a day and nearly every day I see other cyclists do INCREDIBLY stupid things. We need to put righteous indignation behind us and ask what we can each do PERSONALLY and individually to make ourselves safer.

    I feel much, much safer since deciding that nobody else on the road is responsible for my safety – I own it, and I will not surrender it to anyone.

    I have no sympathy for this cyclist in Corvallis. He blew a stop sign, and if he hit this unfortunate woman hard enough to kill her, it seems he could not have even slowed much. That is just asking for trouble.

    And YES; it is criminally irresponsible.

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  • parker September 20, 2005 at 2:36 pm

    Another update about this accident, FYI:

    “A Benton County grand jury has deemed a Corvallis cyclist not at fault in the bike versus pedestrian crash that killed 71-year-old Jean Calder.

    Christopher A. Lightning, 51, was released from Benton County jail Friday night, soon after the grand jury returned a “not true bill. …”


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  • Scott November 17, 2008 at 4:23 am

    I see from parker’s link that he was found not to be doing anything illegal that they could prove. Not sure from that if the ‘running a stop sign’ or whatever traffic control was originally reported was bogus or just not provable for the charges filed.

    It did note that the lady killed did have right of way.

    What I got out of the story was that she was obviously at fault because she should have been wearing a helmet…

    Ouch. Kidding sort of there… but a bike helmet would be more likely to save a pedestrian than a cyclist. Amazing how many pedestrians slam their heads into concrete.

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