Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 30th, 2007 at 10:45 am
(Photo courtesy of Bob’s friends)
On Thursday, October 18, Bob Verrinder was seriously injured when he and a motor vehicle collided on NE Marine Drive.
Unfortunately, because a separate tragic event occurred the following Monday, I have been unable to follow-up on this story.
First, I want to share an update on Bob’s condition. Then, I want to share details of the crash that were for some reason left out of the Police Bureau’s media statement.
According to his wife Jan — whom I met several weeks ago when I gave a talk at a meeting of the Vancouver Bicycle Club — Bob’s condition remains very serious.
As of Sunday (10/28), Jan says he is still floating in and out of consciousness, although she reports he has, “had good moments where we are positive he knows us.” The high-speed collision left Bob with swelling in the brain, a leg and arm broken in two places and broken bone in his shoulder and ribs.
Bike Safety Press Conference at City Hall.
(Photo © Jonathan Maus)
I spoke with Jan at the recent Bike Safety Press Conference and I could tell this has been a very trying time for her, the Verrinder family, their close friends, and the entire Vancouver bicycle community.
Members of the Vancouver Bicycle Club have told me they consider Jan and Bob “the backbone of the club.”
Unfortunately, their grief has been made worse because of the community conversation surrounding her husband’s collision.
Here’s an excerpt from the statement made by the Police following the collision:
“Based on information from the scene and two independent witnesses, investigators believe that…The bicyclist was in a marked crosswalk but failed to stop for a stop sign prior to crossing the street. Prior to the collision, the bicyclist was also westbound next to Northeast Marine Drive on the bike path.
The two witnesses stated that the bicyclist was traveling very quickly and did not appear to slow or hesitate at the stop sign. Because of the incline at the crosswalk, investigators believe the motorist may not have seen the bicyclist until he was directly in front of her. The bicyclist was immediately taken into surgery at Emanuel Hospital with a life-threatening head injury.
The motorist remained at the scene and is cooperating with the investigation. Speed and impairment do not appear to be factors in the collision.”
Explore it for yourself on Google Street View.
Based on that report, the community drew the conclusion that Bob Verrinder made a mistake in judgment that nearly cost him his life.
However, I spoke to several people (who requested anonymity) who had conversations with officers on the scene and they shared several key facts that were not included in the initial Police media statement.
I followed-up and have now confirmed with both the Captain and the Lieutenant of the Police Bureau Traffic Division that:
- The marked crosswalk (shown in photo above) had flashing yellow lights that were activated at the time of the collision.
- A pedestrian (and dog) headed in the same direction as Bob (from north to south or right to left in photo) had just finished crossing (and had likely been the ones who triggered the flashing lights).
- A truck headed eastbound was stopped while the pedestrian finished crossing.
These facts, coupled with the knowledge that Bob Verrinder had 55 years of cycling experience, was a daily bike rider/commuter, had logged nearly 6,000 miles on the road in 2007, and according to his wife Jan, rode through this crosswalk frequently and “always crossed it carefully”, made it hard for those who knew him to make sense of what happened.
“I felt the need to defend my husband.”
Perhaps Bob Verrinder did not come to a complete stop before entering the intersection (there is a stop sign on the bike path). However, if the facts above would have been included in the initial Police statement, I feel it would have changed the community dialogue considerably.
Or, as one of Bob’s friends put it, “It is too bad that this information had not been published and all the stories make Bob out as the person in the wrong.”
If you don’t think the Police Bureau’s initial crash statements matter, think of Jan Verrinder, sitting in the ICU as her husband clings to life.
“Your two main feelings are grief and fear. You come home exhausted and then read judgmental comments about your loved one made by your fellow cyclists even though they don’t know him and acknowledge that they don’t know the facts.”
She told me she, “felt the need to defend my husband,” after reading comments that referred to him as being, “impatient”, “above the law”, “lacking common sense”, and “willing to risk his life.”
According to the Police Bureau’s Public Information Officer Sgt. Brian Schmautz, he simply relays information given to him by officers on the scene. When I asked Traffic Division Lt. Mark Kruger why these facts had been left out of the report, he replied that they, “wouldn’t have changed the facts in the case”.
*[Lt. Kruger stressed that these facts will be a part of the full report and investigation. However, my concern is that we live in a culture of quick judgments and that’s why the initial media statements are so important. Several weeks from now, when the report is made public, no one (except the family) will read it, and no media outlets will cover it (hence, the damage has been done).]
Head of the Traffic Division Vince Jarmer also confirmed these facts were left out of the initial statement. He says due to the seriousness of this collision, they initially treated it as a fatality and therefore only released a “certain amount of information…the basic facts, nothing more.”
I appreciate Jarmer’s point, however the problem is that in this situation, as well as the two fatalities this month, much more than “just the basic facts” are being communicated to the media. Police Bureau personnel, primarily Lt. Kruger, have made many quotes to local media outlets this month that go beyond what is appropriate given the nature of the crashes and the status of the investigations.
His quotes routinely go beyond “just the basic facts” and they have had a significant impact on how the community copes with and tries to make sense of these tragedies.
The Police Bureau defends their policy of not issuing citations because these investigations are ongoing. I would like to see them use the same reasoning and sensitivity with their public statements.
As a journalist, I would much rather have just the absolute most basic facts of a crash (where it happened, who was involved, etc..), instead of having Police investigators pick and choose which facts they release.
Perhaps it’s time for the City of Portland to take a closer at the communications policies of the Police Bureau.
What do you think?