OHIO’S 2015 FATAL CRASHES & THE FATAL BIKE CRASH PROJECT

This has been a lousy year – a statistically crappy year – a year in which 18 Ohio cyclists have been killed, so far.

Yes, EIGHTEEN cyclists killed in Ohio so far this year – We average 15-16 fatalities annually – a “good” year statistically for Ohio is 10-11 and a bad year 18+… Recent crashes have been particularly troubling and emotional including the hit/run death of Charles Startup in Oberlin, Ohio and the horrific crash in Brecksville, Ohio in which a pick-up truck made a left turn into the path of FIVE oncoming cyclists, killing Matt Billings and Jim Lambert, and injuring three others.

Our Fatal Crash Project is looking at each and every one of these 18 crashes in detail. As described below, we are obtaining the crash data and will be analyzing and reviewing each crash in the future.

On a broader level thought the GOAL is – NEEDS to be –  ZERO fatalitiesVISION ZERO is a movement to reach that goal – This needs to be the goal of every motorist, and the official goal and policy of every state. Sadly, it is not. In fact, if you read statistical summaries, as I do, you see things like 30,000 traffic deaths in the U.S. is a “good” year. THIRTY THOUSAND INNOCENT PEOPLE WERE KILLED in the United States in completely preventable crashes, yet that’s deemed a “good” year.

THAT, my friends, is crazy talk…

From the Vision Zero website:

The Vision Zero is the Swedish approach to road safety thinking. It can be summarised in one sentence: No loss of life is acceptable. The Vision Zero approach has proven highly successful. It is based on the simple fact that we are human and make mistakes. The road system needs to keep us moving. But it must also be designed to protect us at every turn.

Crash Investigation - Brecksville, Ohio - Two Cyclists Killed

Crash Investigation – Brecksville, Ohio – Two Cyclists Killed

 

Also from Vision Zero

The Vision Zero starts with a statement: we are human and we make mistakes. Our bodies are subject to biomechanical tolerance limits and simply not designed to travel at high-speed. Yet we do so anyway. An effective road safety system must always take human fallibility into account.

And this thought is KEY:

No more acceptance

We know that road traffic is a deadly and daily threat. Why, then, do we not do more to counter it? For some reason we seem to be more accepting of fatalities on the roads. Would you get on a plane if you knew the risks were the same as on the road? Probably not. Some might argue this is the price we have to pay for mobility and freedom. We think not. There can be no moral justification for the death of one single person. You should be able to move freely – and feel safe at the same time. This is what the Vision Zero Initiative is all about.

As regular readers know, I have been working on a project to capture, review and report data
on every fatal bicycle crash in Ohio for several years. We got a bit behind in 2014 due to a rush of new business and the return to school of a key assistant. However, my new Assistant Aaron and I have been catching up this year.

The goal of this project is to try to discover and report on these fatal crashes in “real time” – learning about the crash shortly after it happens through media reports, Google Alerts and messages from friends and colleagues in the bicycle world. We then seek to obtain all official data as quickly as possible – the full and complete crash report, all witness statements, all photographs and video from the scene, police field sketches, detailed scene drawings with measurements, any crash reconstruction that is done. Where criminal charges develop, we try to stay on top of those as well.  Often I release short reports on the crash investigation on my Steve Magas – Ohio Bike Lawyer – Facebook page, but in the future the plan is to post more frequent updates on the blog here well.

Once all the data is accumulated, I review the case through the eyes of a cyclist and the eyes of a trial lawyer who has handled some 400 “bike” cases.  I review each crash in detail, factually and legally, to try to figure out exactly what happened and why – and to see if I think the police “got it right.”  Following criminal cases that arise is a bit more of a challenge for me as I am NOT a “criminal lawyer.”  We are also stymied by the limited access to data which some Ohio counties provide – let’s just say some Ohio Clerks of Court are more “open” online than others.  Finally, I also help local and state advocacy groups stay on top of the cases and crashes, and provide aid and advice in crafting a response or an action plan relative to the crash or any subsequent criminal case.

I have been a trial lawyer for over 30 years.  I have a trial background which includes handling big and small cases as lead trial counsel in every corner of the state: from Toledo to Cleveland to Youngstown to Mansfield to Bellfontaine to Columbus to Newark to Zanesville to Athens to Marietta to Ironton/Portsmouth to Cincinnati and Dayton… My background has included handling many different types of personal injury and wrongful death cases from start to finish – from Day 1 meeting the client to the end of a long trial and through the appellate process 5 years later! I have also worked as in-house trial counsel for an insurance company and with an aggressive insurance defense law firm, so I think I can see the legal and factual angles of these cases through an insurance perspective as well.  My current solo practice is completely focused on Two Wheels as “bike” cases and representing injured cyclists, or the families of those killed, represents over 80% of my workload.

This is a daunting project at times. First we have to learn about the crash. Then figure out who investigated the crash.  There are some 900 LEO’s in Ohio [Law Enforcement Organizations], any one of which may take the lead role in investigating a fatal bike crash. Each LEO has its own process for investigating crashes and storing data. Each LEO has its own opinion about what data falls under Ohio’s “public records” and what does not.  Each LEO has its own process for releasing crash data.

For the Ohio State Highway Patrol, detailed crash reports, and photos, can be easily ordered online and arrive via email [reports] in seconds, or in the mail [photos] in a couple days. Some LEO’s fight the release of anything beyond the basic 3 or 4 page report, claiming the data is not “public” but relates to an “ongoing investigation” which prevents disclosure.  Sometimes I can email the chief of police and get a friendly email back with everything we’ve asked for.

Often, in fatal crashes, the full reports are not available for weeks or months. Frequently there is forensic testing which can take many weeks. Autopsy results and blood testing data may be slow to be released. Police often balk at releasing data, claiming a privilege or other argument against releasing what we feel to be “public” information. We have found that certain police departments seem to take a FAR more aggressive stance against releasing information than others. In one death case I handled we never did receive the final, full and complete crash report from the police department. Fortunately,  we were able to settle the case for policy limits before I had to subpoena the Chief of Police to explain the refusal to release records, but I hate being put into that position over what we feel are “public” records…

We have obtained the crash reports of many of the 2015 crashes but we are still working with LEO’s to get the complete crash reports – photos – witness statements – crash reconstruction – I’ll be updating my blog with posts about many of these crashes in the near future…

What ARE the typical causes of these horrific crashes? The actual cause varies but there is one constant – generally human error – mistakes made in the operation of a vehicle – sometimes by the cyclist, but often by the motorist. Passing too close – not “seeing” what and who is there to be seen – riding at night without lights – failing to obey traffic signals, stop signs – turning left into oncoming traffic –  riding against traffic.  Alcohol plays a role – usually with the motorist but occasionally with the cyclist.  The “typical” victim in Ohio is a 35-40 year old man.

Nationally, the average of the cyclist killed is over 40. While cycling fatalities have decreased every decade since the 1970s we are seeing a recent spike in the number of cyclists killed on a national level – a spike which has been mirrored in Ohio over the past two years.  Here’s a summary of the national statistical view of fatal bike crashes from IIHS – the Insurance Institute on Highway Safety [the “crash test” people]:

A total of 741 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2013, a 2 percent increase from 2012. Bicyclist deaths were down 26 percent since 1975.  In 2013, 84 percent of bicylist deaths were age 20 or older. Deaths among bicyclists younger than 20 have declined 86 percent since 1975, while deaths among bicyclists 20 and older have increased 195 percent. In every year since 1975, many more male than female bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles. The decline since 1975 among female bicyclists (46 percent) was larger than the decline among male bicyclists (22 percent).

Numbers are numbers.  What I ALWAYS try to remember is that each “number” was a live human being – a person who, when they left on their bike that fateful day, had absolutely no intention of dying. A person who leaves behind grieving family and close friends and, often, a close knit community of cyclists who are also emotionally jarred by the horrific news. Each death jangles a web of nerves and emotion that can stretch easily from Brecksville to Cincinnati and beyond. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of each cyclist killed on Ohio’s roads…

Here’s the list of cyclists killed in Ohio in 2015… I will be discussing the details of each crash in a future post.  If you are aware of any other bicycle crash victims, or if I have gotten the data wrong in chart below, please let me know!

Let’s Be Careful Out There!

Victim Age Date County
1 Walter Hamrick 52 2/11/15 Huron
2 Brenda Hoffman 42 4/23/15 Muskingum
3 Kaleb Cook 7 5/11/15 Montgomery
4 Joshua Stewart 17 5/19/15 Butler
5 John Clay 54 5/20/15 Defiance
6 Leyden Guenther 43 6/10/15 Darke
7 Derek J. Hawes 12 6/22/15 Miami
8 Jacob Bedard 14 7/11/15 Portage
9 Nathan Yoder 21 7/24/15 Logan
10 Stanley Richards 54 8/4/15 Franklin
11 Matthew Goodwin 24 8/13/15 Franklin
12 Korina Ventura 14 8/18/15 Montgomery
13 Logan Snedeker 23 8/22/15 Licking
14 Matthew Billings 33 9/17/2015* Cuyahoga
15 James Lambert 52 9/17/2015* Cuyahoga
16 Daniel Krotky 48 10/6/15 Mahoning
17 Charles Startup 70 10/10/15 Lorain
18 Charles Taylor 55 10/16/15 Franklin

 

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