Tragedy and outrage in Texas

Posted by on October 10th, 2009 at 10:59 am

I don’t usually share news from other cities, but a story out of Helotes, Texas (22 miles northwest of San Antonio) has grabbed my attention and won’t let go.

Via the Tucson Lawyer Bike blog with photo credit to Tom Reel of San Antonio Express News.

(Photo: Tom Reel/San Antonio Express News)

Folks, that is a photograph of seven year old Kylie Bruehler. She is at a funeral service to bury her parents, both of whom were killed last week when a driver veered onto the shoulder and drove his pickup truck into them.

They were riding together on a tandem.

The local news reports that “investigators say there are no charges on the driver. They believe this was an accident and that somehow the driver lost control of his truck.”

Texas’s governor recently vetoed a law that would mandate a safe passing distance for cyclists, saying it was unnecessary.

A local news outlet has more from the police and the community outrage this incident has triggered.

On how it happened:

“”He looked off, he was looking at something else and realized the curve in the road came a lot faster than what he anticipated,” explained Deputy Chief Dale Bennett”

And the outrage:

“…the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office is also dealing with a lot of angry e-mails and phone calls.”

And the legal situation (emphasis mine):

Deputy Chief Bennett told News 4 WOAI the office’s hands are tied. He said under current law, unless a driver is drunk or high, it is difficult to prove recklessness. And legally, charges can not be filed for “an unfortunate accident.”

“Was he texting? Was he on the phone? What was the issue? Why was he distracted? Why did he go off the road? Driver inattention…is basically what it amounts to,” Deputy Chief Bennett said. “And there’s nothing we can do about drivers not paying attention.”

An amazing, tragic and frustrating story on many levels. I hope this story sparks a new urgency in reform of vehicle laws not just in Texas, but in all states (despite progress, Oregon’s aren’t nearly as strong as they should be).

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Answer The Call
Guest
Answer The Call

Sad indeed. I saw this yesterday or the day before via another news outlet.

I hate to say it but that guy needs to be “ended”. No ifs, ands or buts, he should exist no more.

No, it’s not enough that he has to live with the guilt of killing those people.

But that’s just IMHO. Now back to your regular programming.

Julia W
Guest
Julia W

I live in Austin and sadly this is quite typical in Texas.

We had a 3 foot passing law all passed by the legislature and ready to be signed by our Governor Rick Perry… and then he vetoed it! He claimed that “an operator of a motor vehicle is already subject to penalties when he or she is at fault for causing a collision or operating recklessly, whether it is against a “vulnerable user” or not.”

Yes it is frustrating, and downright depressing to see drivers in this state get away with killing cyclists time after time with no penalties whatsoever.
Apparently a Texan’s life loses its value as soon as he or she hops on two wheels.

Paul
Guest
Paul

Perhaps he should lose his license for a few years at minimum, and have lots of community service. This should go for all “accidents” that harm someone.

VeloBusDriver
Guest

Being both a cyclist and a professional driver creates an internal conflict on this issue that I struggle with every time I read one of these stories. Yes, this driver obviously should have been paying better attention and should be sanctioned in some way other than just the emotional turmoil caused by taking a life.

The question is, how far do you go? Fine? Jail? Caning? In the absence of malicious intent or gross negligence, jailing seems too stringent. Distractions outside the control of the driver occur all the time and can lead to such accidents.

On the other hand, not even receiving a citation for distracted driving after killing 2 people is an injustice that cries out to be remedied. At a minimum, cell phone records should be subpoenaed. Any proof of texting or cell phone use would constitute gross negligence in my mind.

Quentin
Guest
Quentin

So sad. I hope she has some other family members who will take good care of her. This is yet another disgusting example of how society is not willing to hold people accountable to a reasonable standard of skill and good judgment when operating an automobile.

We need a federal law that if a driver kills or maims someone due to negligence, their driver’s license will be permanently revoked, their automobile will be confiscated, and if they are ever caught driving another vehicle, it will be confiscated regardless of who owns it. Maybe then people would f. pay attention when they drive.

John Lascurettes
Guest

I had a friend in San Antonio who knows I’m a bike advocate send this story to me and say, “THIS is why I won’t ride a bike in Texas.”

I say, “call that governor and your reps and get that law passed again! The Governor cannot veto it again without committing political suicide.”

Jebus
Guest
Jebus

And another kid grows up not wanting to ride their bike. My condolences to her and whats left of her family.

naomi
Guest
naomi

Speechless. Saddest thing I’ve read in years.

f5
Guest
f5

How is this not involuntary manslaughter? He killed two people. Is there ANY other type of legal precedent where someone can be operating a _______ (fill in the blank) and kill someone because they weren’t paying attention, and get off scott free?

I just don’t see how not operating the vehicle in a manner prescribed by the license test is legally permittable.

mabsf
Guest
mabsf

I am with f5 – we cutesfy, humanize and pad our cars to a point where we forget that they are heavy machinery that needs to be operated with care…

VeloBusDriver
Guest

Involuntary manslaughter requires a “willful disregard for life”. While it is possible that the driver in this accident acted in a callous and indifferent manner towards the cyclists’ lives (eating, texting, cell-phone use, petting their dog, etc… while driving) it is equally possible that there was not a “willful disregard” in this case. (Car in opposite lane swerving into the truck’s lane because of a blown tire, an undetected medical condition in the driver, or any number of other situations outside the control of the truck driver.)

The real tragedy is that the police and/or media don’t seem to care to investigate the true cause of the accident. Both seem content to write it off as just another tragic “accident”.

Jeff M
Guest
Jeff M

What the…? It’s ok to kill people if you’re distracted? So, as long as you are sober, you can mow down as many people as you’d like?

I always thought that if you’re driving, your job is *safely* maneuvering that vehicle to your destination. Distractions are not an excuse! That’s why five-year-olds aren’t allowed to drive.

are
Guest
are

comment 11, I absolutely disagree that operating a vehicle at speed while looking off somewhere else does not in itself show a willful disregard for others’ lives.

but I do recognize that prosecutors in this country at this point in our cultural history will not prosecute because juries will not convict.

a three-foot passing distance law is not a panacea. what is the penalty for failing to leave a safe passing distance.

probably in the long run what we have to get past here is focusing on criminal punishment. the important thing is to get these people off the road. the driver has already in effect admitted negligence, so if he has insurance and/or financial resources he is a good target for a civil lawsuit to get some money for the little girl.

Larey
Guest
Larey

This is heartbreaking.

I don’t see where a 3-foot law would have done anything to prevent these deaths. Sure, you can write the guy a ticket after the fact, but that doesn’t help much.

“He looked off, he was looking at something else…”

Like at a text message? If so, we should all be working for a cell-phone ban and that might actually save lives.

I did a Google news search and found a story that said the county DA is investigating and might still file charges. I sure hope so.

VeloBusDriver
Guest

Whoops… I missed that 2nd article. Yeah, you’re probably right. The other infuriating quote, “According to deputies, even if the driver had been texting or using his cell phone, that would not be enough to file charges against him.”

Killing somebody while using your cell phone seems to be pretty much the definition of “willful disregard” in my book.

vanfunky matthew
Guest
vanfunky matthew

having lived in dallas, tx in the late 80’s i witnessed the flagrant disregard for cyclists down there and it seems little has changed. even thier govoner seems to dismiss the whole concept of “vulnerable users”. yes accidents do happen but there needs to be consequences for someone’s actions. consequences that reflect the seriousness of the incident. two people died and a little girl has to grow up without her parents. a life changing event that should be punished in a fashion that corresponds to the level of this tragedy.

please wear a helmet and ride safe.

TW
Guest
TW

Anybody know Dutch law well enough to know what the legal consequences would be had it happened in the Netherlands?

Matt
Guest
Matt

Does anyone know if a fund has been set up for the daughter? She is definitly deserving of some of my paycheck to aid with the rough road ahead

anon
Guest
anon

Nice. If I ever need to murder someone, at least now I know how to do it and get away with it.

david
Guest
david

Oh it would be so easy to go of on a tirade about Texas and cowboys and everything else. Lets not forget, not that long ago a log truck driver in this fair state just outside of Eugene, hit and killed a bicycle rider on a rural road with no shoulders. The driver was heard to explain he, did’nt even feel the impact. It’s just common curtesy, and caring for others, on bicycles or anything else. Many people just don’t consider what could happen due to their negligence, whether they are the Govenor of Texas or a older person with poor eye sight pulling out of a parking lot with out looking. Everything we do impacts someone, somehow.

Devian Gilbert
Guest

i will not move or visit Texas.

i don’t understand how this is not either
criminal negligence
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_negligence
or
vehicular manslaughter
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manslaughter

Big_E
Guest
Big_E

How can driver inattentiveness while driving not be a crime? You mean to say that an operator of a motor vehicle does not have to be attentive while driving or does not have to see where he/she is going? That’s a load of hogwash!

Q`ztal
Guest
Q`ztal

I think that the driver involved needs to at least have remedial training, or revocation of his license, the police in this case, and most likely all of Texas, need to be punished for facilitating the manslaughter of this couple.

Some will argue that traffic “accidents” will happen and that “roadkill is the price of progress”. I argue that police are guilty of ignoring thousands deaths that are directly caused by auto drivers. It’s a well known fact that when police fail to enforce speed limits that drivers frequently go over the limit. By systemically failing to prosecute the deaths of vulnerable road users police are effectively saying “there are no consequences for killing someone if you do it with your car.”

jeff
Guest
jeff

This is basically saying that if a person in Texas wants to kill another human they simply just need to run them over in their car and then claim it was an accident. Wow, another reason why texas is the most pathetic state in our country. I believe that this guy really did do this on accident and that it is a sad situation however there still needs to be a punishment so that other people take driving a car serious.

Duncan
Guest
Duncan

I think the problem is that Texas culture is all about driving fast- having driven across, through and around Texas and the rest of the US there is nowhere else I have encountered such a feeling of having a God-given right to go as fast as the vehicle will allow. Even when speeding I would regularly have people crawling up my ass expecting me to drive on the shoulder while they passed.

Also the land of super-rude driving, and I learned to drive in Boston. I already wasnt planning on going there but now I will make doubly sure to avoid it.

Larey
Guest
Larey

2008 Colorado, Gold level bike friendly city, a woman texting on her cell phone drives into the bike lane and kills a 9 year old girl. She was charged and got 2 years probation, $300 fine, 150 hours community service… plus she had to write a letter.

The driver in Texas still might get charged, but so what? Even when convicted the penalties in these cases are trivial.

The only time it “counts” is if the driver is drunk.

Disastronaut
Guest
Disastronaut

I almost got shot for accidentally knocking on the wrong door one day, in Texas. The owner of the house went into great details as to how it was his right to kill anyone that comes onto his or his neighbor’s property, as long as they feel “threatened” in any small way.

Unfortunate disregard for life appears quite rampant in Texas. From their epic death penalty numbers and their “castle” laws, to this specific tragic story, Texas appears to be stuck into a wild west mentality.

I wish I could act surprised that killing a couple people while driving and playing the “distracted card” gets you out of any kind of legal trouble in Texas, I really wish I could.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Remember, human beings and motor vehicle operators are often NOT the same species.
There are drivers who are just simply not people.

fredlf
Guest
fredlf

It’s my hope that that amazingly powerful, moving photograph can do some good in encouraging people to share the road and treat each other respectfully and carefully.

Marcus Griffith
Guest
Marcus Griffith

The loss of both parents so young is a heart break no should have to endure.

As for the police in Texas, if recklessness could not be proved, than how come negligent driving was not cited?

A driver not paying attention where his or her vehicle is going is the epitome of negligent driving.

My thoughts and prayers go out the the child.

PDXbiker
Guest
PDXbiker

That photo says it all.

shetha
Guest
shetha

Somehow not surprising, but very, very sad. Near my parents’ home in TX there is a 3 lane each direction + wide shoulders + center turn lane highway, that has a speed limit of 60 mph and huge yellow diamond “bicycles on roadway” signs. Very incongruous in my opinion…

I have also heard many sentiments (from acquaintances in TX)of “bikers on the roadways must have a death wish” and my response is always “yes, that father/brother/son wants to DIE, that is why they are riding their bicycle… that makes a LOT of sense”. Fact is, most people in TX don’t believe that bicycles belong on the road and then do brainless things like not keep their lane around blind corners (in their very large trucks). And somehow it is *always* the cyclist’s fault. Because they have a death wish. *sigh* Maybe the next generation will “get it”. I’ve lost most hope for this one.

Opus the Poet
Guest
Opus the Poet

OK I live in TX and I have been the victim of a terrorist act against bicyclists. But what gives me the most agita is the cavalier attitude of LEO about vulnerable road users. I have a son-in-law that works for a small town PD, and the attitude is that if you don’t have a car, you don’t count. Well not with my son-in-law, he’s seen my scars and watched me limp around when I’m not on my bike. He knows the pain it caused with my daughter when LEO showed up with the remains of my bike asking if I lived there. He knows the pain of not being able to work at what I spent a lifetime learning how to do.

Dave
Guest
Dave

What’s the quote of Mark Twain’s–that if he owned both hell and Texas, he’d rent Texas out and live in hell.

chrehn
Guest
chrehn

This is heartbreaking and just plain wrong. I have emailed the 3 following offices.
1. Bexar County Sheriff at mmeachum@bexar.org
2. Texas State Attorney at greg.abbott@oag.state.tx.us
3. Federal Department of Justice at AskDOJ@usdoj.gov

jim
Guest
jim

Driving is a privilage- not a right. This guy should have that privelage taken away.

Q`ztal
Guest
Q`ztal

Gotta agree with Opus on #33
My experience with cops and other drivers while cycling in SC, MS and NE convinced me to come to Portland. The main advantage here being critical mass. Not the ride CM but the amount of potential witnesses in the Portland metro area who the average auto driving cro-magnon have to worry about reporting lynching like behavior.

Had cop in SC drive along side me, match my speed, then slowly shove me in to the curb.
Same town, different district (while obeying ALL traffic laws), had little ol` me pulled over by two cop cars on a vast unoccupied stretch of road. Pulled guns and treated me in a way that I might consider profiling if I wasn’t white as a vampire.

The attitudes of some police officers back east make the Oregonian anti-bike trolls look like Bike lobby stooges in comparison.

Joe Rowe
Guest
Joe Rowe

this sad story is the tip of our American iceberg.

I’ve lived, trained, raced and commuted in Houston and all over Texas. Everyone there accepts the highway culture.

Even David Byrne rips on Texas for too many freeways in his blog. But when I wrote him a letter so that me and other activists could setup an ANTI CRC table at his book event, the answer was no. Hmmm.

Bonnie Tinker of Portland was recently killed by a dump truck on the Campus of VA Tech. The final police report is a joke and says a witness saw her wobble into the truck. Yup, one witness and no other data, no record of the driver, no cell phone records, no records of the other witnesses.

hmmmm. sleep on that.

Tacoma
Guest
Tacoma

@TW #17:

I’m wondering too what the penalty would be in any civilized country in the world.

Kevin Buchanan
Guest

As a resident, I can indeed vouch for the “driving everywhere, quickly, is a God-given right” attitude that prevails here in Texas. I’ve seen people get in their cars and drive 300 feet down the street to visit relatives.

Attitudes about bicycles in Texas can often be summed up as “those things don’t belong on the street, and if somebody is riding one, it’s OK to act like a jerk to them, because they need to learn to get out of the road – for their safety.” Yes, many Texas drivers either believe or rationalize treating cyclists like garbage because they’re trying to teach them a lesson. I’ve heard it with my own ears. Otherwise, it’s a fairly shocking disregard for human life without even a semblance of rationalization – “they shouldn’t be riding in the street, so I don’t care about passing too close or knocking them over.” People here get delusional behind the wheel of a car and don’t seem to realize the danger they put people in. Anything that might delay them by just a second or two in their drive is considered the enemy.

It’s not all bad – we’ve made progress, and in some Texas city urban cores things are better, but there’s still a massive gap between us and other places, even in the United States.

If you want to be depressed about humanity, try running a blog that promotes (among other things) bicycle usage in Texas – you’ll quickly get acquainted with some really scary points-of-view.

Brian
Guest
Brian

This makes me me sick to my stomach.

If you are operating a moving vehicle and you look away long enough such that you hit something. That is negligence pure and simple.

wtf America. Killing people while operating a motor vehicle is killing. ‘Duh I was not looking where I was going’ should not be a legit defence.

I’m ashamed and disgusted that this sort of thing is not pursed by law enforcement and the courts.

Joe Rowe
Guest
Joe Rowe

Hey Jonathan and Elly.

Can you add a keyword like
“bikevictim”

…to you wordpress system. All these stories should be linked. You’ve got one called “sprokettes” so that all those articles are linked, and that really is handy.

Victim Bonnie Tinker, no ticket
http://preview.tinyurl.com/bikevictim1

Victim Bret Jarolimek, no ticket
http://preview.tinyurl.com/bikevictim2

The list goes on an on, and on very rare cases does the driver serve any time.

2 cyclists killed by cop car
http://preview.tinyurl.com/bikevictim3

cop keeps job, pleads guilty, gets 3 years probation. The day of the collision ( before witness accounts were made public )the CHP got the press to blame cyclists for riding 2 by 2 and even said the cyclists collided with the police car.

Kt
Guest
Kt

That’s terrible.

It was NOT an accident– it was a CRASH.

Accident implies a lack of choices, that it was unforeseen and unavoidable.

This incident was NOT UNAVOIDABLE. The driver had a choice, lots of them, and chose the one that deprived this little girl of her parents.

If nothing else, he should be required to post that picture in all vehicles he uses– whether as a passenger or a driver– to remind not only himself, but everyone else, what happens when you choose blatant disregard for human life.

Maybe a nice vinyl wrap on all vehicles he owns with this picture, so everyone else will maybe get a clue.

Terrible. Just terrible.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

It is a sad, sad, statement when two people are killed as a result of someone else’s inattentive driving, and it gets no more attention from law enforcement than if the driver had run over an armadillo.

A few of the commenters above have zeroed in on the cultural issue here in the US:

We do not take driving seriously.

Even though it is a huge PRIVILEGE and grave responsibility, most people consider driving to be a right. If we tended to think of driving more like juggling hand grenades, we’d probably all be a lot safer. The bigger the vehicle, the more hand grenades you are figuratively juggling. You don’t have to drop them all–just one can be deadly.

The bar for entry into the “driving club” should be raised substantially, and the bar for having one’s license revoked should be lowered. Killing someone due to your inattention while driving should at the very least be grounds for getting your license revoked. Not suspended, revoked.

I am incredulous at the lack of legal boundaries, and the seeming inconsistency of legal treatment of drivers when they kill other drivers as opposed to non-motorists. Would this driver have been cited or arrested if he had drifted over the center line and killed two people in an oncoming vehicle?

I don’t even want to think about how a jury of Texas drivers would rule in any civil suit. I have to think about something else now.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

A commenter to bikeforums safety and advocacy category went to the crash site and photographed pictures of the roadway (I posted a link to the page they’re on in portland bikeforums).

This appears to be a big, wide road with a generous roadside shoulder. The curve in the road that the cop in the tv station article mentions appears to be hundreds of feet from the crash site. His suggestion that the roadway just …came up too quickly-driver inattention… doesn’t wash too well.

I hope someone got around, or gets around to closely questioning the driver about what might be responsible for him having drifted off a section of the road that looks much more like a straightaway than the end of a curve.

Larry Mastin
Guest
Larry Mastin

The death of cyclists by “inattentive” drivers is a serious problem that law enforcement officers and state legislators shrug off too often. On August 29, a relative, Dane Harmon, was also killed by an “inattentive driver outside of Dade City, Florida, on a straight road with wide shoulders. In the newspaper account (below), there was no mention of any consequence to the driver.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/avid-pasco-county-bicyclist-is-mourned-by-family-friends/1033000

Waltzing Matilda
Guest
Waltzing Matilda

Harrisonburg Virginia had a cyclist killed by an inattentive driver about six weeks ago now. No charges were filed against the driver.

When my little brother lost control of his car and hit a fence he was charged with reckless driving. Isn’t a human being worth so much more than a fence?

chrehn
Guest
chrehn

Earlier on #35 I had posted some Attorney General e-mail addresses, however the Bexar County District Attorney Office (Susan Reed) does not have an e-mail but she can be reached at (210)335-2311. Also the Governor of Texas (Rick Perry) can be e-mailed by googling the Governor of Texas. I believe that is important to hold these people’s feet to the fire and make some changes.

MikeOnBike
Guest
MikeOnBike

We had a similar case of inattentive driving that killed a cyclist here in Boise. The bus driver was charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. Many think the misdemeanor category is too lenient.

http://www.idahostatesman.com/newsupdates/story/910817.html

jarrod
Guest
jarrod

I used to live in Texas, and yeah, Rick Perry is awful, but there’s a problem with the law that he vetoed, too, which deserves to be mentioned. It would have made passing too close not a typical traffic infraction, but a class B misdemeanor. I personally have a class C misdeanor in Texas – that’s a lesser offense, in this case for walking in the street when a sidewalk was available – and it is something I’m legally required to disclose on employment applications, and it precludes me from, for instance, particpating in programs to teach English in foreign countries. It’s pretty scary when someone passes too close, I know, but I wouldn’t pin that kind of penalty on anyone for it unless I felt it was deliberate antagonism. The bicycle advocates in this instance aimed too high. Perry may have passed a law that mandated a more reasonable penalty.