At a press conference this morning held at a law firm in downtown Portland, Mary O’Donnell — whose husband Tim was killed while riding his bike — told reporters and news cameras that her push for a vehicular homicide law is “definitely what he would have wanted.”
Facing a packed room full of reporters and television cameras, O’Donnell seemed pensive as she marked the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death. “He said that if he did ever get hit, at least he would die doing something he loved.”
On June 9th, 2007, Tim O’Donnell was struck from behind while riding on a rural road in Washington County. Jennifer Knight — the woman who hit him — had her license suspended in Oregon, then went to Idaho to get another one. Six days prior to colliding with Tim O’Donnell, Knight was involved in another crash which was attributed to her “inattentiveness” by investigators.
Since then, Mary O’Donnell has become active on several issues as she tries to improve traffic safety and bring more closure and accountability for what happened to her husband.
In the 2007 legislative session she tried to push for a bill that would have allowed bereaved families to request memorial signs to be placed at intersections, but that law failed to pass on two different occasions (once in the regular session and again in the shortened session early this year). Also in 2007, O’Donnell’s testimony to Salem lawmakers was key in getting the vulnerable roadway users law passed.
Now, Mrs. O’Donnell — along with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) and Lawyer Ray Thomas — is standing up for a vehicular homicide law that aims to get delinquent vehicle operators off the roads.
At this morning’s press conference, noted bike lawyer Ray Thomas said the new law would go way beyond the vulnerable roadway users statute. That law, he says has “limitations” because offenders could “opt out” of the community service provision and get away with a fine ($12,500). In contrast, the vehicular homicide law will be a Class B felony which would carry a ten-year maximum sentence.
“Of course,” added Thomas, “we all know that often the maximum sentence is not issued, but this [law] would send a serious message to law enforcement, to the public and to judges.” Thomas added that what’s important about this proposed vehicular homicide law is that it recognizes the vehicle itself as being a dangerous weapon when combined with choices like using drugs or alcohol, driving with a suspended license or without insurance.
Thomas, O’Donnell, and the BTA’s government affairs director Karl Rohde will work to pass this law during the 2009 legislative session.
— The Portland Mercury blog has some good coverage of this morning’s press conference.