Road rage tragedy raises questions, concerns

Friday’s tragic road rage incident against two bicyclists on SE Clinton Street has left the community with more questions than answers.

Following the incident, news outlets immediately reported that one of the cyclists kicked the car, but that detail has still not been confirmed.

I spoke with one of the cyclists, Ben Ramsdell from his hospital bed on Saturday. Ramsdell said he tapped on the car’s window and “might have sworn” at the driver, but he reported no further provocation.

Did the second cyclist, Timothy Mastne also interact with the driver before the collision? So far it’s not clear what happened. The details of the exchange that led to Eschweiler’s rampage will be left to a Grand Jury to figure out.

Over the weekend, my post on the incident got over 80 comments. Many issues and concerns have been raised. The community is sounding off on everything from the role of advocates and driver education to the design and efficacy of bike boulevards.

Here is a sampling of the responses:

From “felony flats:

“How about an organized effort to educate drivers… The problem is with people who drive into Urban areas from the suburbs or rural areas (the driver was from Oregon City). They’re just not educated/trained enough on how to maneuver around bikes.”

From “Cøyøte”:

“To call this an “attempted” assault is a joke… Scott Bricker you are at helm (of the BTA) now, it is time for your organization to step up and make the DA/mayor/police chief/city councilors know that many people are watching this very closely.”

From “Duane”:

“If there was ever a time for a mass showing of outrage then this is one. Call it “mass justice” or legalpaluzza or whatever but it’s a great opportunity to expose the conflicts and create peace (hopefully) and change.”

From “zilfondel”:

“I’m afraid we will probably see more of this happen if we don’t get more designated space on the roads for bikes. Why don\’t our “bike boulevards” (yea right!) get some lines or something to denote they’re for bikes?

One of the reason Europe has a superior biking environment is due to extraordinarily clear & consistent signage.”

From “Tbird”:

“I think the only real long term resolution, short of SEPARATED BIKE LANES is severely limiting auto traffic on “bike blvds”… riding this exact route daily along with Ladd’s Ave (both of which are virtual raceways at some times), makes me think that we need our own space free of cars.”

Given the nature and severity of the collision, we are fortunate no one was killed. Now, we are left with two bruised and broken cyclists that — in addition to trying to get back on their feet (and bikes) — will likely face a major legal battle.

Stay tuned for more developments and coverage of this story.

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dr. monkey
dr. monkey
15 years ago

How about a bike legal fund? If it is determined that one or both of the cyclists has a shot at fairly punishing the driver I\’m sure many readers would help donate some money to get the best representation possible. Something like that could draw some attention to the issue and help some fellow cyclists get compensated.

FeralCat
FeralCat
15 years ago

Well, from a personal injury standpoint, they would not be paying from pocket for representation, as the lawyer would be working for a percentage (generally 33%) of the damages settlement or court case. As for the criminal case, these guys would be the prosecutors, who should be the DA or someone from the state prosecutor\’s office. Do you have to hire a separate lawyer for the prosecution of a criminal case, or is that taken care of by the state/city gov\’t? I thought it was only the latter…

andy
andy
15 years ago

Seems to me we need some stronger laws, as in zero tolerance for any injury caused by the operator of a vehicle (and yes, that includes bikes) to any person within the public right-of-way – but only if the operator of that vehicle is at fault.. First infraction: suspended license for six months, vehicle impounded, monetary damages, fine. Second infraction: suspended license for two years, vehicle confiscated, monetary damages, fine. Third infraction: license permanently revoked, vehicle confiscated, monetary damages, jail. Plus: driving without a license or with a suspended license is jail time. It should be made clear: operating a vehicle of any sort in the right-of-way is a privilege, not a right, and with that privilege comes the responsibility to operate that vehicle in a safe manner. If you are not willing to exercise that privilege responsibly, you will lose that privilege. $242 – or even $1000 – for \”reckless driving\” does not come close to sending that message.

rixtir
rixtir
15 years ago

FeralCat,

The \”people\” prosecute criminal cases. In addition, the injured cyclists may prosecute their own cases in civil court. The D.A. is the attorney representing the people. The injured cyclists would need their own attorneys to represent them in a civil trial.

rixtir
rixtir
15 years ago

Andy, I agree that we should reinstitute the notion that driving is a privilege. However, this particular incident was not the result of negligent behavior– it was intentional, and should be treated differently than negligent behavior.

I think a good argument could be made for permanent revocation of this guy\’s license to drive– after he finishes his prison sentence.

rixtir
rixtir
15 years ago

Follow-up to Post 4:

The cyclists also have a right under Victims Rights laws to be represented by their own attorneys for purposes of ensuring that the D.A. and the judge are taking the cyclists interests into account.

andy
andy
15 years ago

rixtir,
Sorry, I didn\’t intend to suggest that the driver actions were not intentional, or that he shouldn\’t be charged with assault (and hopefully convicted).

However, I think that there\’s a larger issue of general permissiveness for out-of-line behavior which makes it more difficult for non-motorists (in particular) to be taken seriously when they are injured in the public right-of-way. (Look at the chatter about the cyclists \”kicking the car\”! – it makes them the aggressor, not the motorist.) That, in turn, could make it more difficult to prosecute more serious crimes such as this one. For instance, if this altercation is seen as only a step or two up from a $242 fine, the penalty will probably be less severe than if this altercation were viewed as a step or two up from a suspended or revoked license, monetary fines, and other penalties.

rixtir
rixtir
15 years ago

I agree Andy. I think the first assault in this incident occurred when the driver buzzed the cyclist with .5 inch to spare. And how many times does that happen, every day, across America?

We shouldn\’t have to wait until a driver intentionally hits a cyclist before we can do something to rein in these out of control drivers. You\’re right, we need laws on the books that reflect both the seriousness of the crimes committed, and an intent to revoke the driving privileges of those who abuse their driving privileges.

Dabby
Dabby
15 years ago

By the way, this is far from the first time, even this year alone, that a cyclist has been intentionally hit by a motorist.

I have heard of a number of incidents.

It happens all the time. It is only when there is serious injury that we even hear about it in the press, or from the police.

John
John
15 years ago

Regardless of the circumstances…

Kicking a car is not assault, and doesn\’t justify self defense with lethal force. Why are cars being treated as equivalent to the operator? They\’re property. Replace the kicked car with any other piece of property, keep the same response, and suddenly the driver\’s a homicidal maniac. But even then, replace the offending car with something much less dangerous, like smacking someone with a baseball bat instead of a car, and the assault is treated far more seriously.

We\’ve got a hell of a long way to go.

t-rex
t-rex
15 years ago

Aren\’t bikes allowed to take the whole lane? Aren\’t cyclist\’ doing drivers a courtesy by riding off to the side? Which drivers then take as permission to illegaly pass in no-passing areas. Isn\’t this similar to a motorcyle splitting lanes? If it\’s illegal to lane split on a motorcyle in Oregon, why isn\’t it illegal in a car? If bikes are truly to be treated like vehicles, then shouldn\’t cars need to change lanes or pass by using opposing lanes in legal areas?

rixtir
rixtir
15 years ago

t-rex, bicyclists are allowed to take the entire lane when no bike lane is present, OR when one of the circumstances specifically enumerated in the bike lane law are present.

If a cyclist has a legal right to take the entire lane, it would usually be under circumstances which make riding further to the right unsafe, in which case, when a cyclist is riding to the right, it\’s by law, not by courtesy.

When a lane is wide enough to safely share, the cyclist and the motorist are both within the law if they choose to share the lane. If the lane isn\’t wide enough to safely share, then a motorist attempting to pass within the lane would in fact be making an unsafe pass.

VR
VR
15 years ago

Zero Tolerance laws are a terrible thing. They take away the court\’s ability to take into account individual circumstances.

The courts are designed the way they are because not all crimes are committed equally nor are all damages equal.

When you set up a zero tolerance law, or minimum mandatory sentencing, or any such legislative political tools – you take away some of the ability of judges and juries to weigh each case on it\’s merits.

You end up with a lot of people who commit very small offenses doing hard jail time because it classifies under some poorly written one-size-fits-all law.

Each case, person, defendant, and victim deserve to have their case heard and judged accordingly – not sentenced years prior by politicians trying to get re-elected or angry activist groups with axes to grind.

Mr. Viddy
15 years ago

So what I am hearing is that one of the cyclists may have had words or not? He possibly tapped on the motorists window or he may not have. He may have just been pedaling along and was taken out by Mr. Eschweiler?

Either way, the driver chose to assault both of the cyclists and we are all up in arms over this and want to see justice served in this case. But let us also take a moment to remind ourselves that it is sometimes better to let things go.

What I mean is in the same situation I would have felt pissed off towards the driver of the car and I know I would have loved to kicked the door or thrown my u-lock at him but cyclist vs. heavy vehicle is a no-win situation. Better to have held in any urges to speak up or act out and avoid a dangerous confrontation.

Who knows, maybe this is what happened.

Anonymous
Anonymous
15 years ago

How do people feel about a group ride along Clinton? Perhaps from 11th ave up to 42nd and back. This would be very easy, and a strong visual support for our attacked comrades.

Jimbo
Jimbo
15 years ago

If I am on my bike and have an altercation with a vehicle…..if I can, I take the licence # of the vehicle. If I am driving my truck and have an altercation with a bike….if I can..I take down some mental notes of the rider and what happened and report either events to the police. If I am sitting in my truck and some rider gives me grief…well hey, maybe I did do something wrong…but due to the craziness of folks out there, I am not going to settle it in the street. And if I am on my bike and get cut off, forced off, buzzed, or whatever….. I will not escalate the situation at that point. \”Pick your battles\”…….

Anyone who commutes to work by bike has these occurrences on a daily bases. Anyone who commutes to work by vehicle has these occurrences daily. Part of life.
But no one what so ever should ever use their car or their brute strength from a bike to \”settle\” a situation.

Good luck to the injured parties! I do hope the A-hole that could not control his temper gets his. Really sounds like he has other issues…..