Polk County DA: ‘Insufficient evidence’ to charge truck driver in death of Adam Joy

“I’m angry because they are treating Adam like a roadkill.”

– Gina Wilson, Adam Joy’s sister-in-law

Robert Weeks, the driver of a truck involved in a collision that killed bicycle rider Adam Joy on June 10th, was found to have no criminal liability for his death.

Joy was riding behind his 15-year old son about 10 miles south of McMinnville when the collision occurred. They were training for the Seattle-to-Portland ride.

Joy’s family is outraged by the DA’s decision and is moving forward with their civil lawsuit against Weeks.

According to the Oregon State Police, the decision to not charge Weeks was made on August 22nd by Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton. They say there was “insufficient evidence to support criminal prosecution.” While the DA and OSP felt the driver’s actions did not rise to the level needed for criminal penalties, they have issued Weeks two traffic citations: one for Careless Driving (ORS 811.135), and one for Unsafe Passing of a Person Operating a Bicycle (ORS 811.065).

A Ford F350 similar to the one driven by Robert Weeks.

Since Weeks’ careless driving led to the death of a “vulnerable roadway user,” (VRU) the citation triggers a stronger consequence. Bike advocates amended the careless driving law in 2007 for precisely this type of situation. Since the legal bar required for criminal penalties is so high, they sought to narrow the gap of consequences and bring more justice to families through the traffic citation. Violation of 811.135 with a VRU allows a court to require the driver to take a traffic safety course, perform up to 200 hours of community service, pay a fine of up to $12,500 and suspend their license for up to one year.

Even with those stronger penalties, Joy’s family is very disappointed with how the DA has handled this case.

As we reported, police initially stated that Joy “fell over” in front of Weeks’ large, Ford F350 truck just prior to being hit. They also said Weeks slowed as he passed. But a witness who was traveling on the same road at the time of the collision told BikePortland that they felt Joy was riding along normally and that Weeks was going very fast and appeared to never move over.

Joy’s family alleges that the DA handled the case in a way that protected Weeks.

“I’m angry because they are treating Adam like a roadkill, and the driver is getting away with just a couple of traffic tickets. How is a person only given fines for taking a human life?,” Joy’s sister-in-law Gina Wilson shared with BikePortland after learning about the DA’s decision. “How do I prove to my nephews that their father’s life mattered after the state is giving this man fines? Sure, one of them is large. But excessive speeding fines did not stop him before!” (a reference to Weeks’ prior citations for speeding).

I reached out to DA Felton multiple times in the past few months to find the status of this case. The most recent time was September 5th. On that date, DA Felton stated via email that, “We are still at the stage of an open, active investigation so I am not going to be making any comments.”

However, according to the OSP, the charging decisions in the case were made on August 22nd.

BikePortland filed a public records request to see a copy of the police report and investigation. Yesterday I received a response from an OSP legal specialist that the records are still part of an ongoing investigation and that they now consider my request for the police report closed. The next step will be to file an appeal.

It’s unclear why the Polk County DA has not been forthcoming with BikePortland about the details of this case.

Joy’s family still has an open civil lawsuit against Weeks, so perhaps we will learn more through that process. In the meantime, his family is still grieving and is left with no justice for his death.

“Monetary compensation will never be enough for Adam’s life,” Wilson shared with BikePortland. “The boys, these brilliant young men, they deserve more than this.” 

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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dw
dw
7 months ago

It really is true that if you want to get away with murdering someone, do it with a car (or oversized pickup truck)

J1mb0
J1mb0
7 months ago

The precedent is this. We value supporting dangerous and reckless drivers behavior over human lives. There is very little incentive for drivers to be safe.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

There is very little incentive for drivers to be safe.

There are lots of incentives, ranging from the mundane to the existential. Not everything needs to be framed in terms of criminal prosecution.

socially engineered
socially engineered
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

And yet traffic deaths in the USA are on the rise while continuing to fall in all other wealthy countries. Curious.

Jeff
Jeff
7 months ago

What type evidence would be needed to pursue criminal charges?

Watts
Watts
7 months ago

The DA needs to believe it, and also be convinced he can produce enough evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

cc_rider
cc_rider
7 months ago

The DA gets their iformation from the cops. The cops reported Robert Weeks story/excuse as fact.

The cops rolled up, saw a collision between a monster truck and a bike, and asked the driver of the monster truck what the cyclists did to cause their own death, and then wrote it down. There was never any chance Robert Weeks would be prosecuted. There was never any real investigation into the collision in the first place.

Robert Weeks committed manslaughter regardless of whether a DA wants to prosecute it. If Robert Weeks had been operating his monster truck in a safe manner, Adam would have had space to fall and not get hit. Obviously Adam didn’t fall and Robert Weeks just plowed into him, but either way, Robert Weeks is to blame for Adam’s death.

I hope Adam’s family takes Robert Weeks for every single penny he is worth.

And this should be a lesson to everyone who bikes, do not go to Polk county to recreate.

1kw
1kw
7 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

comment of the week

9watts
9watts
7 months ago
Reply to  cc_rider

And some of us predicted this at the time of the crash. And were chastised for saying what some folks didn’t want to hear.

The fact is this is *all* about what Alan Durning called Car-head https://www.sightline.org/2007/04/19/car-head/ back in 2007.
We can have reassuring language in statutes, but if the cops, the DA and, by and large, the media shrug, well then the statute isn’t worth much. Folks in this country mostly all drive as a matter of course. They identify as drivers and with the kinds of situations one might encounter behind the wheel. El Biciclero was always excellent at articulating this systemic problem here in the comments.
Nothing is going to change until we make a big enough stink that those who are being derelict can no longer get away with this, So far we have failed.

Chris I
Chris I
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

This would be a hard case in Polk County. Defense lawyer paints Weeks as a hard-working local family man, and the victim as an outsider. I don’t think it would have been successful, IMO. This is just the cold-hard reality of America’s urban vs. rural divide, identity politics, and local bias.

The civil case should be a slam dunk for the family, though.

John V
John V
7 months ago

So what this says is that a “reasonable person” can’t be expected to know to safely pass a cyclist. That’s what it’s saying. This needs to change and I don’t know how. If a reasonable person can be expected to know that shooting a gun blindly into the city might kill someone, they have to be expected to know that they can’t drive 55+mph past a cyclist on a road with no shoulder.

Serenity
Serenity
7 months ago
Reply to  Jeff

Adaam”s blood & fingerprints?

Mark Remy
Mark Remy
7 months ago

This is infuriating.

blumdrew
blumdrew
7 months ago

Awful, feckless stuff from the DA here. I hope the family can find the justice they deserve in the civil suit

SD
SD
7 months ago

The other obvious bias is that the DA is an elected position and Felton would be prosecuting a Polk county resident who drives a truck in favor of a person from the Portland area riding a bike. He may see this as a political liability or simply something that will not increase his chances of reelection.

Chris I
Chris I
7 months ago
Reply to  SD

Ding ding ding. This is it. And he’d probably lose the criminal case when Weeks gets “a jury of your peers” from Polk Co.

Dave
Dave
7 months ago

Tell you what, I see someone trying to steal a Ford Focus or Honda Civic–but if I witness the vandalism or theft of some immorally big redneck ride I will whisper “mazel tov” to the vandal under my breath and pretend I saw NOTHING.

Kyle
Kyle
7 months ago

I feel like the careless driving statute should lead to a permanent revocation of someone’s driver’s license if a vulnerable road user is killed, just because, uh, obviously that person cannot demonstrably drive safely.

Let's Active
Let's Active
7 months ago

The poor son. Can you imagine how it felt to rush back to see your dad fallen on the road? And now this decision from the DA. So many macro-level problems in the world but here’s a micro-level one to most of us in the city and it is just disgusting.

John V
John V
7 months ago

I just don’t get it. How can you be charged with “unsafe passing” which results in killing the person you unsafe passed, and that’s not a criminal charge? How? It’s literally saying it right there, they did something unsafe and and careless, and that’s literally what resulted in running someone over. That MUST be criminal, it is ridiculous that it isn’t. They could have at least lied and not given him the “unsafe passing” charge as if he somehow passed safely and still ran the guy over. I’d still be angry but at least it wouldn’t be so blatant. This just makes no sense.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
7 months ago

Couldn’t he be charged with Manslaughter? If not, why not?

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
7 months ago

Thank you for continuing to seek records on the investigation. I was very disturbed by the initial police report on this case and extremely upset by the seemingly ignored eyewitness account–if I recall correctly, a witness reached out to BikePortland because the police never interviewed her at the scene nor called her back. I want to know if the investigation ever included a detailed interview with the eyewitness. That witness account may not have convinced the DA there was enough evidence…. but if the investigation didn’t even bother to interview a key eyewitness in the taking of a human life …that should absolutely be unacceptable. I can’t even fathom it. I am still waiting to see those records and I want to know what the investigation involved. Thank you for continuing to follow up on this. We need local journalism!

Dan R
Dan R
7 months ago

It’s worth pointing out there is no law, policy, or rule that specifies the police can’t comment on an ongoing investigation. They are in violation of the FOI Act by stating otherwise.

Serenity
Serenity
7 months ago

Thank you, Jonathan. I had been wonndering about that.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)
7 months ago

I just want to add: I’m still heartbroken for this loss and for this family’s pain, and I am flabbergasted that a driver who takes a life can walk away with so few consequences. I’m a bit sick thinking that such a driver could get back into the same truck and go back to driving on that same road, behind another cyclist.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago

I disagree that there are no consequences. There may be are no criminal consequences, but there will almost certainly be substantial civil consequences.

Like everyone here, I assume the driver’s story was self-serving, but proving criminal behavior in cases like these is very difficult.

Trish Hamann
Trish Hamann
7 months ago

Thank you for your following up on this horrific vehicular murder. The Polk County DA’s disregard for human life is also impacting the students of this beloved teacher. My son is so devastated to hear that the person who killed his teacher is not being held accountable. His words, “They say we have rule of law but some people can get away with murder. Literally.”

We continue to think of Mr Joy’s sons who suffer in the loss of a joyful dad. We stand with them.

fselker
fselker
5 months ago

The first word in “Criminal Justice System” seems to be an adjective.

Samantha Kendall
Samantha Kendall
3 months ago

Mr.Joy was my science teacher at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics. I remember the day I came back to school and found out that a teacher I had grown so fond of had passed away. Our school is small and the whole school took a hit. Mr.Joy always made learning fun and he made me look forward to Science. There are so many amazing stories I could tell about Mr.Joy. But what I want to say to the DA is how much Mr.Joy meant to VSAA and our community and how valued he was. The fact that he’s gone, it just feels so wrong. The fact that the man who killed him could just get away with it, enrages me.