Last night, KGW aired a report about Friday’s road rage incident. The headline of the story on their website is “Driver frustrated cyclist wasn’t sharing road”.
Reporter Jane Smith presented the incident like this:
“Police say he (Eschweiler) got into a confrontation with bicyclist Ben Ramsdell. Investigators say Ramsdell kicked Eschweiler’s vehicle. Eschweiler than struck Ramsdell with his SUV. A second bicyclist coming from the opposite direction pedaled straight into the path of the collision…”
The piece then featured this statement from Portland Police Bureau (PPB) PR guy Brian Schmautz:
“We have our motorist giving us an indication that he’s had some frustrations with bicyclists in the past, he doesn’t feel that bicyclists..really, move to the right as they should, and that creates quite a bit of conflict.”
KGW’s story and Schmautz’s comments have already raised concerns from two BikePortland readers who watched it last night.
One commenter said they were “particularly peeved at the Police Spokesman’s comments,” and another said, “I noticed the seemingly biased reports,” and then added, “are the police reports just as one-sided?”
I spoke to the PPB’s Schmautz this morning and expressed my concerns with what I heard in the story. Specifically I asked about KGW’s claim that “investigators say” Ramsdell kicked the SUV.
I’m concerned that this is being perpetuated as fact when in reality it is merely the testimony of the driver and remains unproven.
Schmautz clarified that PPB investigators on the case, “have seen no foot marks or anything that support this theory”. He said KGW asked why the driver did this and that he answered the question based on claims made by Eschweiler.
So, is it accurate to say that “investigators say Ramsdell kicked the SUV”? Or should KGW have said, “investigators say the driver claims Ramsdell kicked his SUV”?
Schmautz also expressed challenges faced in dealing with this case.
He said the collision was initially responded to by Traffic Division investigators. Then, once it was clearly seen as an intentional act, a criminal investigation crew came in. At that point, he said there was a “disconnect between the two disciplines (criminal and traffic investigators)” and because of that, all the evidence, information, and witness interviews had to start from scratch.
There are clearly many pieces left to put back together before we have a clear picture of what happened in this case. In the end, Schmautz said, “it will eventually all come together.”
In the meantime, we should watch closely how the media reports about this case. They play an important role in how the general public perceives this incident (which impacts their behavior and attitude toward cyclists on the roads).
Let’s hope the reporting is sensitive and as balanced as possible.