Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring Flowers, Showers, and Auto Vs. Man Run-ins

Our return home from the Folly Beach Retreat of '09 has been accomplished. On our last morning on the island, we were commenting at breakfast that the bad weather made it easier to leave. Little did we know just how bad it was going to get for our return trip! We had heavy rains almost every mile back up I-26 and I-40. We skirted at least two automobile accidents on the interstate. I had to keep reminding myself to take the foot out of the accelerator and slow down... After all, I did want us to arrive alive as the old saying goes.

Riding the Fuji has not been part of my return home. I had the unfortunate pleasure of waking Saturday morning to a fried laptop - my constant companion for the last 6 years. I can't complain though, the 'ol Dell stood up well until it had enough. When I raised the display Saturday morning, I was greeted by 5 columns of multiple colors and ZERO words or graphics. Turns out the graphics card had gone to sleep and chosen not to awaken again. So, my last 72 hours have been spent prepping another laptop in order that I get my work done on the "paying" job! I'm almost there...

We all know that spring brings with it the usual bursting forth of color from flowers and plants. Our Yellow Belles have been as pretty as ever this year. The warming weather also brings about renewed cyclist vs. auto events. A recent event in Clyde, NC, was the first of what one hopes will be minimal such interactions. According to the local paper, Roger Hinson, a Clyde native now residing in Springfield, MO, was home visiting his mother. He was out for a spin when he was run over by a local truck driver. Hinson was severely injured but the truck driver was not cited for the accident and received no legal reprimand. This has caused quite a stir in the local paper and numerous letters to the editor have followed. Most of the letters have chided the Chief of Police of Clyde for not citing the truck driver. (I have assumed that this was a 1/2 ton truck.) While the story is somewhat more complicated than my brief description here, it does serve to remind us that cyclists rarely, if ever, win in these situations. The text of the story as printed in the Waynesville Mountaineer on March 20, 2009 is as follows: (Note: I couldn't get the link to work with this article. The story is the property of the Waynesville Mountaineer, Inc. of Waynesville, NC.)

Feeling accident prone? Head to Clyde
Beth Pleming Staff writer

Clyde police won’t charge man who ran down cyclist

A recent collision that left a bicyclist with numerous broken bones, nearly 100 stitches in his face, permanently deaf in one ear, and leaking brain fluid through a fracture in his skull cannot understand why the driver who nearly killed him won’t be issued a citation. Roger Hinson is a Clyde native, now living in Springfield, Mo. Dauring a recent visit with his mother in Clyde, the avid cyclist was struck by a truck driven by James Welch. While Welch’s driving history cites numerous infractions, this most recent incident will not be one of them. Clyde Police Chief Derek Dendy, who investigated the collision, said Welch isn’t being cited “because that’s not something I would normally do ... unless (the at-fault driver) is impaired or there’s a problem with the accident. We do not issue citations. It’s just not how we do things here.” The problematic part of this particular collision, said Hinson, is the severity of injuries that resulted. Following the collision, Hinson was transported from the scene to the trauma unit at Mission St. Joseph in Asheville. “The (first) several hours were horrible and uncertain,” he said. “I had over 80 stitches in my face. My right eye socket was fractured in three places. I had a severe concussion, permanently lost hearing in my right ear, suffered six broken ribs, a bruised lung and had to have a finger stitched to keep it attached. I was told I was lucky to be alive.” Since Hinson’s return to Springfield, doctors further discovered a basal fracturearound the inner ear section of his skull. Hinson, who calls himself a “safety fanatic,” said he’s clocked over 50,000 miles of cycling — many of which he rode on Haywood County roads — and has never had a single incident with a motor vehicle — until now. “I’m one of the safest bikers there ever was,” he said. “I obey all traffic laws, and I’m always watching trying to anticipate potential danger. So, it’s not like I was out there doing something I shouldn’t have been doing ... I was wearing visibly read clothing, abiding by all the rules and doing everything like I’m supposed to, and I almost get killed.” Yet Welch, who admits he is at fault for failing to yield, isn’t being cited for anything. His insurance has agreed to accept liability, and “he’s taken full responsibility for this,” said Hinson. “He’s not trying get out of it, nor pass the blame ... but he apparently has (driving) issues.” Welch’s driving history includes a long list of infractions that have prompted the state, and in one case a judge, to place restrictions on his license. Pursuant to those restrictions, Welch must wear corrective eye lenses while driving, is not to drive outside of a 10-mile radius of his home and is restricted from driving at night or on a road with a posted speed limit over 45 miles per hour. That said, Hinson said he is less concerned about seeing Welch punished, but most interested in getting him off the street if he is a danger to the public. “My motive here is not financial. I’ve got a rock-solid case and it makes no difference whatsoever. My concern is the next individual out there who encounters this guy. At what point do we say ‘enough is enough — let’s get this guy off the road?’” said Hinson. “As an officer who is sworn to protect the public, I don’t understand why (Dendy) will not write this guy a ticket to get him back into the system so maybe we can get him off the road. If he didn’t see me, what’s to say he would be able to see a small child crossing the road?” Dendy countered that Welch was within the restrictive boundaries set on his license and therefore those restrictions, nor his history, have no bearing on this case. “It was simply an accident,” he said. “There’s no need to write him a ticket because he’s taking full responsibility. He understands he is at fault, and I have documented that on the accident report. I have sent in for a medical review to be done through the Department of Motor Vehicles, who will bring him in and issue a written and road test. It is my understanding they will review his ability to drive, and if they don’t feel he should have a license, they won’t give him one. I felt that was a better option and best use of the system than to write him a ticket.” While Hinson doesn’t disagree that a re-evaluation is necessary, he believes authorities should nonetheless hold Welch accountable for his actions, as sworn officers are expected to do. But Dendy said decisions about when to issue citations are left up to each individual officer to determine on a case-by-case basis. In this case, Dendy determined it was not necessary. “It’s officer discretion whether we write a ticket or not,” said Dendy. “I told (Hinson) I’m handling this situation like I do all accidents. If there’s not something wrong, we don’t ever write a citation because accidents do happen. As long as the party understands they are at fault, writing him a ticket is not going to get him off the road ... it’s true he does have a bad driving record and did have some restrictions on his license that someone with his record would have. But those had nothing to do with this case. He was well within those restrictions which makes him a valid driver.” Valid, but not necessarily safe, said Hinson. “That doesn’t make any sense to me,” Hinson said. “I would think the state of North Carolina which has already placed four restrictions on his license due to the number of (infractions) on his driving record should know about this,” he said. “And as a police chief I would think he would want the state to know this driver almost killed someone.” Other area law enforcement agencies agree that issuing traffic citations are a matter of officer discretion and not necessary in all cases. However, within other agencies throughout the county it is common practice, although not policy, to issue a citation where there is a personal injury or significant property damage. In Hinson’s case, Dendy said there are “two ways to look at what caused him to hit the ground so hard” — be it the truck’s collision with the bike, or the rate of speed at which the bike was traveling. “He was injured because he fell to the ground,” said Dendy. “The car didn’t run over him ... I feel like he was very lucky to walk away from that. But just because he was on a bike doesn’t mean I should treat him any differently. Isn’t that singling out a particular group, bikers? The guy feels terrible about what happened and has been very concerned about Mr. Hinson. What would it have done for his accident for this guy to get a ticket?”

As I say to all my motorcycling friends, "Keep the rubber side down!" and be ever vigilant...

Until later,

-- Zeke
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