reckless driving and assault.
A man has been convicted on assault and reckless driving charges for driving his car into two women as they rode their bicycles on the Oregon Coast Bike Route last fall. The collision occurred on October 3rd, about 11 miles north of Gold Beach on Highway 101.
30-year-old Martha McClean and 26-year old Essya Nabbali were on a bike tour of the Oregon Coast and were pedaling southbound on a very narrow part of the highway known as Ophir Dike, when 62-year-old Neal Lawson struck them from behind with his PT Cruiser traveling at about 55 mph.
“A prudent driver would have slowed down.”
— Everett Dial, Curry County DA
According to the Curry Coastal Pilot newspaper, Lawson was convicted on April 26th of two counts (one for each woman) of “assault by use of a dangerous weapon” and reckless driving. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, five years of probation, ordered to pay over $250,000 in restitution and compensation to the women, and his driver’s license was suspended for five years.
Curry County District Attorney Everett Dial told me via phone this morning that the case took such a long time to reach sentencing because Mr. Lawson is suffering from severe liver cancer. At the time of the collision, the DA says Lawson was using chemotherapy drugs, which might have contributed to his actions (but because they are not considered narcotics, he was not charged with DUII).
Also, because of his cancer, his 90 day jail sentence was changed to house arrest.
The DA said he doesn’t feel that Lawson struck the women intentionally, but he said the assault charges were warranted because Lawson admitted to seeing McClean and Nabbali bicycling in front of him from at least 1/4 mile away. “He saw them and looked around to see if he could pull over, and then drove straight into them… He was going 55 mph and that’s the Ophir Dike, the shoulder and the road is very narrow in that spot. A prudent driver would have slowed down.”
DA Dial added that the case was “just a tragedy” and that, “There’s nothing that those girls could have done differently.”
McClean and Nabbali are still recovering from their injuries, and some of them are likely to be permanent.
Nabbali read a Victim’s Impact Statement during the sentencing hearing back in April. And last night she commented on BikePortland to share more of her thoughts:
“The assault, if not manslaughter or murder, that can take place on the road needs to be given much more emphasis and weight in driving lessons, policy-making, and social dialogue more generally. So as to avoid such tragedies as the one being discussed here that claimed the life of WOU professor, Hank Bersani; or the nightmare that Martha and I continue to live. For Mr. Neal F. Lawson’s actions on Oct-03-2011 are the most grotesque demonstration of the deaden [desensitization] that I am referring to, as he made the selfish decision to keep driving despite reportedly swerving all over the road some time prior to hitting us; and his passenger (Robert B. Anthony) – equally as culpable, if you ask me – for not demanding that he pull over immediately.
Even uglier, Mr. Lawson acknowledged to the OSP [Oregon State Police] that he saw us both along the Oregon Coast Bike Route, which was straight, level, dry, and in full daylight. And if this does not appall you enough, he is said to have done little-to-nothing at the scene of the accident. There is even a picture on Jim and Mary’s blog of him just casually strolling towards Martha’s stock-still body on the asphalt with hands-in-pockets, while everyone else is in utter pandemonium. It is unacceptable! And “ongoing” investigations are only as valuable as the questions being asked, the answers being uncovered (until saturation and clarity), the critical reflection that then follows and is put into action… somehow… some way… It should not take an accident to call upon us to help advocate for change! And thoughtful language should only be an expectation, especially of those in positions of authority, whose words are well heard and often well received.”