I was in Florida for a week – didn’t ride a bit but soaked up the sun. Got back early Sunday knowing Monday would be rough – the sentencing of Andy Gast’s killer was set for 10:30 am. I was preparing a post here about the sentencing, and about how relatively “safe” the summer has been, when I came across two stories of two similar crashes… both fatal…
On July 12, 2013 a 58 year old cyclist, Janice Howard of Arcanum, was riding east on Delisle Fourman Road in Darke County, Ohio when she was struck from behind by 24 year old Jessica Jones. Jones can be heard screaming on the 911 tape about how she was blinded by the sun and never saw the cyclist.
Up north, in Ottawa County, the OSHP is investigating the death of another cyclist – 37 year old Dale Tusen of Port Clinton, Ohio. He was struck from behind at a little before 6:00 am this morning by a 2012 Chevy Impala operated by 68 year old Michael Swint.
It’s too early to tell what happened or why in either case. At 5;55 am in Sundusky, when Dale Tusen was pronounced dead, sunrise was still some 20 minutes away. That doesn’t mean it was DARK dark- but pre-sunrise. I’m sure the OSHP is reviewing whether Mr. Tusen had a “legal” light set and whether it was on as well as the lighting conditions in the area.
In the Darke County case, it was morning and both the cyclist and motorist were moving eastward towards the sun on a narrow country road. The motorist’s 911 call indicates she was blinded by the sun but a full investigation is ongoing.
In the news stories about these matters the trolls are already speculating and making stuff up… I should be used to this by now, but it’s still surprising what people type on their computers in the face of horrific tragedy.
State v. Melvin White
In Cincinnati yesterday, a bit of closure for the family of Andy Gast – the 27 year old cyclist killed near Lunken Airport on August 28, 2012. Melvin White, the motorist who struck and killed Andy, was court for a sentencing hearing after pleading No Contest to Vehicular Homicide, a first degree misdemeanor. I attended the hearing with the family and several local cyclists, including Frank Henson from Queen City Bike and Scott Fratianne, President of the Cincinnati Cycle Club.
Initially, the family met with the Prosecutor, Jennifer Bishop of the City of Cincinnati’s prosecution team. Jennifer did an outstanding job pursuing justice in this case and working with the family to make sure they were kept in the loop. Municipal Court is a busy busy place which hears, typically, less serious criminal matters – low level misdemeanors, theft crimes, etc. A vehicular fatality is one of the most serious crimes that comes up in Muni Court and the Prosecutor, along with the Judge, wanted to make sure it was handled well. During the meeting the family was prepped for the fact that nobody knew what the Judge would do with the case – whether any jail time would even be considered.
When the hearing began the Prosecutor noted that the Tox Report from Mr. White reflected his prescriptions – a narcotic pain killer and Tramadol. Ms. Bishop also noted that the “black box” on the car had been examined and the findings included a speed of more than 10 mph over the 40mph limit at the time of the crash.
Mr. White’s attorney filed a report with the court which we did not have access to. He argued that Mr. White’s record was “pristine” and that he was a valued employee. He described a number of medical issues, a daily cocktail of medications, congestive heart failure, diabetes and other serious conditions he was dealing with.
Judge Mallory point blank asked Mr. White – “What happened” and Mr. White said “I just never saw him” – He tried to argue that this was an accident that “could happen to anybody” and that it was “unfortunate” – I tuned most of that out…
Andy’s mom spoke next, and spoke eloquently and passionately about what she’s been going through. Andy’s two sisters spoke about their own grief and about what kind of loving, caring charitable person Andy was. Andy’s dad had a difficult time getting through his remarks. They spoke of Andy’s love of cycling and how he was training for a special ride – HabiTour – which combined his favorite charitable work at Habitat for Humanity along with his new love of cycling. Andy was training for the ride when he was killed.
The family asked the court for the maximum jail term. Since the conviction was a first degree misdemeanor, that would be six months and a $1000.00 fine.
Judge Mallory discussed his views – and the fact that he,too, had “shed a tear” more than once for Andy Gast. He asked to see a photo of Andy and made sure that Mr. White saw it as well.
Scott Fratianne, the CCC President, read a joint CCC/QCB statement about the impact of this crash on the cycling community and backed up the family’s request for jail time.
Judge Mallory seemed to indicate that he wanted to give Mr. White some jail time but said to Mr. White “If I send you to jail it will kill you” – He asked the Gast family if they would be OK with a sentence that was longer, but did not include jail time – a two year home incarceration. Mr. Gast told the court “We are a benevolent Christian family” and wished no harm to Mr. White – they DID want him to be appropriately punished for the crime.
The court then ordered:
– 180 Days in Jail, suspended in lieu of Two years home incarceration
– $1,000 fine, suspended in lieu of Mr. Gast contributing $1000 to the Queen City Blinkies program
– 3 years Probation
– 3 year suspension of driving privileges
– 100 hours of community service
Judge Mallory conducted a very compassionate, fair and just hearing, in my view. He clearly listened to everyone, and read the materials submitted both by the defendant and by other cyclists who were not in court. He permitted, over a defense objection, the statement from the CCC/QCB to be heard. He crafted a sentence which while it seems somewhat “light” it is pretty stern given the law, the possibilities and the physical condition of the defendant. The Gast family was very happy to put this matter behind them and felt, I believe, that justice was served.