Justice for Cyclists: Boulder County DAs Push for Results in Cycling Cases

By Maureen & Megan

Vehicular assault - Leaving the scene of a crash involving serious bodily injury - Failure to notify police of a crash. These are some of the initial charges brought against two drivers in collisions with cyclists in Boulder County. In both cases, the cyclists were seriously injured and required surgery.

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Boulder cyclist Travis Lechner was on a group training ride in Longmont, CO in December 2017 when he was struck by a pick-up truck going at least 45 mph. Travis was making a left-hand turn when the driver attempted to pass him on the left, crossing a double yellow line.

A witness told police that Travis had signaled before turning left.

The collision sent Travis flipping up over the truck, landing in a ditch approximately 50 feet down the road. He was transported by ambulance with multiple injuries including a broken clavicle and wrist, a concussion, fractured ribs and multiple abrasions.

His left shoulder was completely shattered.

 Travis shown with DA Adrian VanNice, fellow cyclist (L), and Megan (R)

Travis shown with DA Adrian VanNice, fellow cyclist (L), and Megan (R)

An off-duty police officer riding in the group of cyclists canvassed the area following the crash. He happened to find the truck that met a witness’ description and called police. The driver, who was drunk at 10 am, neither had a valid driver’s license nor insurance. He was arrested and taken to jail. This was his second DUI.

Travis’ injuries required surgery to his wrist and shoulder. Unable to care for himself following surgery, he stayed at his coach’s house for over a month. His wrist was in a cast and he had to wear a sling, which completely immobilized him. The first night following surgery to his shoulder, Travis woke up in the middle of the night in the worst pain he had ever experienced. “It hurt about 10,000 times worse than getting hit by a car. I have never been in so much pain my whole life.”

He missed almost two months of work due to his injuries and suffered financial damages. He was not able to drive, lost fitness and training time on his bike, and could not sleep most nights due to the sling he had to wear as well as sleeping upright at a 45-degree angle. He needed help doing everyday tasks such as showering, getting dressed and cooking.

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Like Travis, 17 year-old Riley Sheehan was also struck by a driver in Boulder County who then fled the scene. It was March 7, 2018. Riley, an elite junior cyclist who rides for LUX Cycling Team and USA Cycling, was training in preparation for three international races in Europe at the end of March.

He was riding on the far right of the shoulder on U.S. 36 when he heard the sound of an engine. It was a truck going 45-50 mph. The driver tried to get around two lanes of traffic by passing on the right using the shoulder. That’s when he crashed into Riley, launching him into the air.

The driver then ran over the bike and left the scene of the crash.

Riley hit the ground so hard that his clavicle broke, causing a section of the bone to penetrate into his chest muscle. His helmet broke in five different places when his head slammed into the ground. He suffered a concussion, enduring a headache and nausea and had scrapes and bruises all over his body. “I felt so angry that someone would hit me and then leave me by the roadside.”

Witnesses reported that a red truck had been driving aggressively prior to the crash. One witness followed the driver and attempted to get him to return to the scene. The witness told the driver that he had his license plate number and that police had been called. The driver yelled at the witness and sped away, leaving the scene again.

The license plate traced back to a red Ford F-150 owned by a Greeley resident.  Officers observed damage to the front right side of the truck when they arrived at the driver’s house. He was arrested by Colorado State Patrol on suspicion of vehicular assault, leaving the scene of a crash involving serious bodily injury, failure to notify police of the crash, reckless driving, passing on a shoulder, failure to obtain a valid CO registration within 90 days of becoming a resident and driving with expired plates. The driver had moved from Texas to Colorado in 2014 but still had Texas plates.

Too often these collisions are treated as ‘just accidents,’ but that diminishes what my family and I have been through.
— Riley Sheehan addressing the Court, at the driver's sentencing hearing

Riley had to undergo surgery to repair his broken clavicle. In the days leading up to the surgery, he was in extreme pain and could not sleep. Further surgery will be required to remove the stainless steel plate and screws. Riley still does not have full range of motion and can feel the metal plate every time he moves his right shoulder.

The experience has been painful, frustrating, depressing and draining both physically and emotionally. Riley missed school, training and racing opportunities.

His life and physical body are forever altered, leaving him to question his bike racing future.

 Riley’s family with Fred Johnson, Chief Trial Deputy, 20th Judicial District Attorney’s Office

Riley’s family with Fred Johnson, Chief Trial Deputy, 20th Judicial District Attorney’s Office

When it came time for the drivers’ criminal case sentencing hearings, both Travis and Riley, along with his family, attended and addressed the court. They took part in the process, and it made a difference. Travis and Riley wanted to emphasize to the court, the district attorneys and to the defendants that what happens in these cases matters very much to the victims as well as to the cycling community as a whole.

Riley’s mom spent well over 100 hours filling out paperwork, documentation, getting medical referrals and going to appointments with Riley. His dad had to miss work as well.

Travis felt that it was important to attend, so that people see there is more going on. It is not just a bike that got hit on the road. “I think it’s important we show up and people know that we’re paying attention. We want to be seen and heard,” said Travis.

Fred Johnson, the DA in Riley’s case, believes that community members are an integral part of the criminal justice system:

One of our most important functions is making sure their voices are heard.  Victims at a sentencing hearing are the persons most affected by the crimes committed, and their input is extremely important to us as prosecutors and to the judge deciding the sentence.  When the crime implicates a specific community’s interest and safety such as the cycling community, it’s important for members of that community to attend sentencing hearings so the court can hear their perspective directly and consider it in reaching a just result.
— Fred Johnson, Boulder DA

The Boulder DA’s Office took these cases seriously and made very severe punishment recommendations to the judge.

Boulder County is a unique community and a great place to ride with an avid cycling community. The safety of the cycling community is very important to us as an office and we strive to enforce the laws in a way that maximizes the effectiveness of those laws in ensuring safety on the roads.  We take violations of the law that hurt cyclists extremely seriously, especially when a driver flees the scene in an effort to avoid responsibility. This disregard for the safety and well-being of the victim is especially egregious because it puts the victim’s life and physical safety in further jeopardy,” said Johnson.

The driver in Travis’ case pled guilty to driving under the influence and reckless vehicular assault. He received a suspended sentence of one year in the Boulder County Jail and must complete 200 hours of community service and three years of probation as well as serve nine months of jail-work release.

In Riley’s case, the driver pled guilty to both felony counts - leaving the scene of an accident causing serious bodily injury and vehicular assault. He was sentenced to three years of probation, with 90 days of jail, 120 more days of jail on work release, and 200 hours of community service work.  Conditions of probation included no driving until probation is completed and the court approves it, substance abuse and mental health evaluations with any recommended treatment, and completion of a bicycle driver’s course.

Our office plans to keep showing up at sentencing hearings. It matters. It makes a difference. It counts! #ShowUP. #CrashNOTaccident