After reversal from DA, driver faces criminal charge for killing Adam Joy

Makeshift memorial on Wallace Rd in Polk County where Adam Joy died. (Photo sent in by a reader)

“He said, ‘I have been troubled by this case and have been thinking about it and I’ve decided the right thing to do is to present this case to the grand jury.'”

– Larry Sokol, Joy family lawyer, recalling a phone call from Polk County DA

The driver of a large truck who had several prior speeding tickets and hit and killed Adam Joy while he and his young son were on a bike ride in rural Polk County last summer would have gotten off with only minor traffic citations if not for the work of the family’s lawyer, a story on BikePortland, and a change of heart from a district attorney.

Joy, a beloved teacher who lived in Portland, and his 15-year-old son, were bicycling on Wallace Road about 10 miles southeast of McMinnville on June 10th, 2023. The pair were training for the Seattle-to-Portland bicycle ride. Robert Weeks was driving his 2011 Ford F-350 truck behind them and was involved in a collision with Joy. Joy died at the scene.

The initial police report claimed Joy, “fell over into the travel lane” and that, “even though the [driver] slowed when passing, the rider of the bicycle was run over” — phrases that Oregon State Police Communications Director Capt. Kyle Kennedy told me during a phone call on June 22nd were, “intentionally vague on the details, but not misleading or inaccurate.”

But those words were absolutely clear, and they might have been untrue.

On December 19th, Weeks was indicted by the Grand Jury of Polk County and now faces a charge of criminally negligent homicide.

Indictment of Weeks for causing the death of Adam Joy.

Weeks’ indictment came three months after the Polk County District Attorney’s office said there was insufficient evidence to charge Weeks for any crimes.

What happened? Why the shift from the DA? It appears to be a mix of things: pressure from Joy’s family, media attention, a lack of confidence in Weeks’ story (a source said it shifted throughout the investigation), questionable steps in the OSP investigation, the prospect of citations being dismissed in traffic court and being left with no justice while a family and community grieved an immense loss. Those all might be factors that convinced DA Aaron Felton to bring the case to trial.

You’ll recall that, a few days after the collision, a woman who was driving the other way and witnessed the entire incident, contacted BikePortland and shared her version of the story — which differed strongly from what OSP relayed in their initial media statement. She said Weeks and his “big fricking truck” were “going pretty fast” and that Weeks never moved over as he approached the riders in front of him. The witness read the police statement and told BikePortland that, “It bothered me. Why would they say that? I feel like they’re protecting the driver.”

It took 11 days for OSP to take a statement from the crash’s main witness.

“[The police] released Mr. Weeks’ truck back to him before I had a chance to look at it — even though I had written and said I wanted to have my engineer inspect the truck.”

– Larry Sokol, Joy family lawyer

Larry Sokol, the lawyer for the Joy family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Weeks, expressed concern at how the investigation was carried out. As an example, Sokol shared that, “[The police] released Mr. Weeks’ truck back to him before I had a chance to look at it — even though I had written and said I wanted to have my engineer inspect the truck.”

In emails to BikePortland, members of Joy’s family also expressed frustration over the lack of transparency regarding the investigation. As just one example, they say the OSP never inspected the damage to Joy’s bicycle. Adam’s ex-wife and representative of his estate, Narumi Joy, was desperate for information about what happened to her sons’ father; but the only point of contact they were given was a victim’s assistance hotline. The family reached out to Oregon State Representative Travis Nelson to share their concerns and were told to be patient. A promised meeting with Narumi and DA Felton scheduled for early October was cancelled at the last minute. When Felton called Sokol to cancel the meeting, he declined to speak with Narumi about the police investigation and refused to explain why he would not seek criminal charges against Weeks.

In late September, OSP declined BikePortland’s request for a police report, saying it was part of an ongoing investigation.

Left with no information and after being told the case was referred to traffic court where Weeks would only face two citations, Joy’s family was outraged. Joy’s sister-in-law Gina Wilson said she felt the DA and police were “treating Adam like roadkill.”

It wasn’t until November 13th — five months after Adam’s death — that Narumi and Sokol finally met DA Felton.

I’m not sure what happened between September, when we reported that the DA would not press criminal charges, and October; but for some reason, DA Felton appears to have had a change of heart. According to Sokol, Felton called him on Friday, October 27th with some good news: “He said, ‘I have been troubled by this case and have been thinking about it’,” Sokol recalled during our conversation yesterday, “‘and I’ve decided the right thing to do is to present this case to the grand jury.'” (Felton declined to comment on this story, citing an ongoing prosecution.)

Weeks, a 47-year-old construction company owner, is scheduled to appear at the Polk County Courthouse in Dallas, Oregon on March 27th. His charge of criminally negligent homicide is a Class B Felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both. It’s a pittance for the loss of Adam Joy, but Sokol believes it’s a fair shot at justice. 

“It’s not a win for me. The only thing that puts me at ease is the driver getting jail time.”

– Narumi Joy

Sokol said he has nothing but respect for DA Felton and Capt. Kennedy. Sokol also believes the witness who came forward through BikePortland is the reason the case shifted. “Things started moving after her statement came out,” Sokol shared with me yesterday, “If not for that article you published, nothing would have happened in this case. I shudder to think what would have happened if that witness had not come forward.”

“Now a jury will decide what is right and what’s not,” Sokol continued. “Weeks is going to have to face the charges and I hope that it slows him down.”

For Narumi Joy, she can take some solace in the fact that Weeks will face a trial. She will also have help raising her two fatherless boys thanks to settlements Sokol won from Weeks’ insurance.

“Money was never my focus, though it’s nice I don’t have to worry about the boys,” Narumi said. “It’s not a win for me. The only thing that puts me at ease is the driver getting jail time.”

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

Thank you Jonathan for this. I have been so disturbed by this tragedy, and even more disturbed by the original police report and the failure of police to interview a key witness at the scene. It took eleven days–and a BP article –before police interviewed the witness? Were there other witnesses who were not interviewed? Did other vehicles pull over? Are there any rules or protocol about that? I thought witnesses were interviewed at the scene, with contact info taken for follow up questions?

What kind of police don’t interview the witnesses to a fatality??? How can anyone defend the lack of evidence gathering? The failure to inspect the bike, and truck?

Personally, I have been so upset by this whole thing that I haven’t ridden the country roads near my Hillsboro home since. I had just started riding them, the “scenic bikeways,” when this tragedy occurred. I’m hoping I get up the resolve to try riding again, but I’m afraid of the sound of any truck coming up behind me, and haunted by the idea of my children losing their mother.

Again, I offer my condolences to Joy’s family. Although I never met him, I think about him often…I know, if I get up the courage to try a long country bike ride, I will be thinking of him and his sons. I’m always wondering: would he encourage me to keep riding?

I hope that, at a very minimum, this case will change the standards of police investigation and handling of auto collisions with vulnerable road users. At a minimum!

That’s not enough. But anything less is too disrespectful of life to be contemplated.

jakeco969
jakeco969
2 months ago

What a completely unexpected turn of events. This is incredible and heartening news. Honest investigative journalism is an amazing thing to see in action and once again BikePortland gets results. Kudos!!

Babygorilla
Babygorilla
2 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

Nicely said.

Betsy Reese
2 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

Yes, kudos to BikePortland, but I always feel like when we are grateful to investigative journalism for exposing injustices, it is like being grateful to charity for providing for people’s basic needs. Instead, it should be the responsibility of all of society, aka taxes/government, to properly provide, whether it is food or justice.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago

Is the entire indictment available anywhere?

Watts
Watts
2 months ago

I was hoping there’d be more about what the DA thinks the driver did. I guess that will have to wait until trial.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Isn’t it obvious? The driver plowed into the bike from behind and killed the rider. Drivers are not allowed to do that.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

We don’t generally put people in jail for traffic collisions, unless they involve factors such as drinking or outrageous driving behavior.

The indictment says the driver exhibited criminal negligence. I’m curious what evidence they have, and why the prosecutor changed their mind, having originally stated there was no evidence of a crime.

The question I really want to know is what does it take for an “accident” to become elevated from a civil issue to a criminal matter.

The answer is not obvious to me.

John V
John V
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Isn’t driving into a cyclist in plain view without moving at all enough for criminal negligence? There is a witness that says that’s what happened. Every other time when there is no witness, we just have the driver’s word saying they did what they could but the cyclist went in front of them. Here we actually have someone saying the driver didn’t even try to go around. If there is anything worth criminal prosecution, that has to be it.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  John V

Isn’t driving into a cyclist in plain view without moving at all enough for criminal negligence? 

That’s what I want to know. People are often not prosecuted in this type of situation, so what made the difference here? Was it the witness? What does the prosecutor think happened differently here than in other cases?

9watts
9watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

People are often not prosecuted in this type of situation, so what made the difference here?”

You have a point, Mr. Watts, But where we differ is in our views on the first half of that sentence. It is my belief, as a long time reader of this site, that the reason people generally aren’t prosecuted isn’t that there is insufficient evidence, it is that our institutions, our authorities, basically everyone reflexively defers to account given by the guy behind the wheel (unless they can’t because drunk). I suspect that the witness whose testimony was initially ignored, discounted, got a hearing here on bikeportland, and it was then more difficult to simply shrug as is our system’s default response.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  9watts

It is very hard to prosecute someone without evidence, no matter how certain BikePortland commenters are that a driver is guilty.

This is a good thing.

John V
John V
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I agree there should be evidence. What I disagree on is that there isn’t evidence in most cases. If someone is shot and I have a gun that was recently fired, that’s evidence. They’re going to look closely at that. We have all the evidence we need for someone to reach the conclusion that the driver was negligent. If they weren’t, they would not have hit the cyclist. It’s just that we have a default position that running someone over because you passed too close isn’t considered a crime, even though it’s literally a crime. Our legal system isn’t meted out by neutral, fully informed robots, it’s people, and they have biases like not caring about cyclists, empathizing with drivers (because “those pesky cyclists riding in my way!”). There is enough evidence, right now, to charge the driver with something. Our legal system just usually opts not to.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  John V

We have all the evidence we need for someone to reach the conclusion that the driver was negligent. If they weren’t, they would not have hit the cyclist. 

That’s simply untrue. Drivers often claim the cyclist veered into their path, in which case they were not necessarily negligent. Of course it’s safe to assume that these stories are usually false, but they are not always so*. To prosecute, you need some evidence that indicates that a particular driver is lying in a particular case.

Even if you, the outside observer, aware of only a brief outline of what happened, know the driver is guilty of something, anything, a prosecutor still needs to figure out what it is and prove it to a jury, based on written laws and established legal doctrines. A lot of the time, there just isn’t any evidence beyond the testimony of the driver.**

You don’t need to imagine a conspiracy against cyclists to see why such prosecutions are rare.

*One time a bee flew into my nose and stung me while I was riding. You better believe I veered all over the place while I was trying to figure out WTF was going on. Luckily, there were no cars nearby, and there were no injuries beyond the obvious.

**I want to be clear that I’m not defending the lack of urgency interviewing a cooperative witness in this case; I’m just refuting your contention that a bad outcome is in itself proof of a crime.

9watts
9watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Of course. Sure. Yeah.
But you are conveniently ignoring the fact that in this case law enforcement showed no interest in, rudely dismissed, the witness who spoke to Jonathan, and who, we may infer, was a principle reason this case was re-examined. From reading this blog for a dozen(?) years, probably more, I have learned that this attitude, which John V already characterized above, is the norm.
*That* is a problem. Not your familiar hypothetical nonsense about car-driver-guilty-until-proven-innocent.

Watts
Watts
2 months ago
Reply to  9watts

But you are conveniently ignoring the fact that in this case law enforcement showed no interest in, rudely dismissed, the witness who spoke to Jonathan, 

I’m not ignoring that at all — it’s just not what we’re talking about, which is the question of whether someone being killed by a car is in itself sufficient proof of a crime. I think I specifically noted that in my post.

Look at what I quoted — that’s what I was responding to.

idlebytes
idlebytes
2 months ago

Well this is a bit of good news for a very sad story. Police need to do a much better job to investigate these crashes instead of just accepting what the driver says at face value. They have an obvious incentive to make it sound like they did nothing wrong when in reality more often then not they were breaking multiple laws.

Mandatory dashcams and black boxes for all vehicles should be required. How many traffic fatalities occur every year with no other witnesses than the surviving driver? Of course like adoption of speed governors and ignition interlock devices for all vehicles there would be significant push back from the “what about my freedoms” crowd. So many preventable injuries and deaths occur each year because people incorrectly assume they have the god given right to drive their cars without restriction.

EP
EP
2 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

There should be some kind of mandatory black box if your vehicle weighs more than a certain weight. Say 6000lbs? This may be even more important if it’s a EV SUV/pickup that’s not just heavy, but also extremely fast. The new Ford F150 lightning EV weighs 7k pounds and does 0-60 in 3.9 seconds and the 1/4 mile in 12.6 seconds at 107mph. “I didn’t see them” takes on new meaning when you can accelerate down a street that fast.

Paige
Paige
2 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

There is a sort of black box in most, if not all cars. It records data from a few seconds before a crash (i.e. speed) and the type of impact (rear-end, rollover, etc.). Sokol probably wanted his engineer to see what data he could obtain from the vehicle before it was returned to Weeks.

Brandon
2 months ago

This is slightly off topic but here goes…

When there is a death in most industries there is an entire process to determine root cause, contributing factors, and responsibility. In most cases the job site or manufacturing line is shut down until preventative measures are put in place, often at great financial costs. How is it that pedestrians can get killed weekly and we settle for a cursory Q&A with the driver, take some pictures/measurements, and then leave everything else unchanged, releasing the vehicle back to the streets.

Maybe every time a pedestrian or cyclist is killed we shut down that stretch of street or intersection. It remains closed until a full root cause analysis(not completed by the police department) is complete and safety measures are put in place to prevent it in the future. “Human error” is not an accepted excuse in manufacturing environments, the machines must be idiot proof in order to operate. Any attempts at bypassing a safety device is grounds for termination. If we took that approach and funded it we might actually start reducing fatalities on our streets. There would obviously have to be some red tape mitigation to speed up the process, but it would light a fire under people to make changes instead of spending years talking about safety only to continue to see repeated deaths on the same streets and in the same intersections.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  Brandon

You are correct, of course, but our entire mobility paradigm – from policing to insurance to governance – is all about keeping traffic moving and NEVER stopping to ask why mishaps occur. Anything that slows traffic gets tamped down.

rick
rick
2 months ago
Reply to  Brandon

The NTSB usually only conducts investigations when several people are killed in vehicle crashes. Otherwise, it is a not even a shrug of the shoulder.

qqq
qqq
2 months ago

Jonathan, I feel pretty proud of myself when I do something 1% as important as what you did here. Great work.

G Wilson
G Wilson
2 months ago

Thank you for your perserverance and diligence, Jonathan. We appreciate you so very much.

Justin Morton
Justin Morton
2 months ago

I believe it’s a B Felony. And the maximum penalty for a B felony is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Criminally Negligent Homicide is an 8 on the gridblock, so Mr. Weeks is certainly facing prison time. Though if he has no significant criminal history then he may be eligible for probation.

Todd/Boulanger
2 months ago

The direct actions taken during this case by the OSP does not bode well for enforcing state policy of “vision zero” and “safe systems approach” for vulnerable roadway users along the rural byways and highways of Oregon [and in any future traffic related injury cases involving local police that OSP needs to step into.]

I hope that the actions taken by OSP in this case [and in related past cases] are investigated fully by press reporters. And also be under detailed review by the appropriate police oversight agencies / AG / governor’s office in Salem.

Finally, such puts a deep chill on Travel Oregon’s investment in marketing rural bike / walking tourism and this rare source of growing commerce for rural Oregon communities.

Until OSP comes clean, please come up to Washington State to ride and recreate; for progress and if not, then for your own safety until there is progress.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

Good point. Maybe the new slogan for Travel Oregon should be:

  • Come explore Oregon!*
  • *But do it at your own risk and don’t expect the state police to look out for you – you’re on your own.
Vans
Vans
2 months ago

Better late than never as it seemed like it would be, but the family and friends will never get the sleepless nights or peace of mind back that never should have been taken from them.

Hopefully he gets the maximum punishment whatever that is.

Fred
Fred
2 months ago

This whole episode makes clear what an absolutely inadequate job OSP does of investigating collisions involving bicycles.

Regular readers of BP have suspected for a long time that police investigators tend to take drivers’ accounts as gospel, and this story simply proves it.

We need legislation that compels all police officers in Oregon to get special training in how to investigate these kinds of crashes.

9watts
9watts
2 months ago
Reply to  Fred

exactly!
regular reader of BP here.

David Cooper
David Cooper
2 months ago

This situation is a prime example of effective, appropriate advocacy. A journalist, attorney and Adam’s family didn’t give up or give in to their grief. Sadly, this confluence of individuals speaking out is not present in many situations. It is difficult for everyone involved, but not giving in is the core to a moral, just society.

Many years ago, I was a friend of Adam’s father, Fred. No father could be more proud of his kids. Ironically, and perhaps appropriately, Fred would have taken a stand and do what he could to bring out the truth as he understood it. Fred was not loud but he was outspoken and it would appear Adam remained true to that legacy.

Hopefully this charge will lead to a just outcome. Nothing can be done to reverse this tragedy, but hopefully Adam’s children will not be left with the understanding that there’s nothing to be done, to just accept their fate.

Perhaps Weeks will not be held to account; the evidence may not reach the “beyond a reasonable doubt” threshold for the jury. However, based on the public record, it would appear Mr. Weeks’ actions in this situation are getting the scrutiny they deserve. Sometimes trials shine a bright light on facts that would otherwise be ignored or overlooked. May justice prevail.

9watts
9watts
2 months ago
Reply to  David Cooper

Sadly, this confluence of individuals speaking out is not present in many situations.”

I think it is often present. I just think it often isn’t enough to move the needle.