Policy

Lives Forever Changed

A collaborative blog by: Maureen, with special thanks to Chris, Rebecca, Laura, and Wally.

Sharing a passion for the outdoors and spending time with family and friends on a bike ride was how they had planned their day when the unthinkable happened.

Laura Burress and Rebecca Schmidt were on a 53-mile bike ride in Columbia, KY when they were struck by a motor vehicle. The driver, Ronald Franklin, admitted to the use of illegal narcotics. Both women had to be airlifted by helicopter to the University of Louisville for their injuries. Franklin, who was taking Percocet and using cocaine, was not injured.

It was April 17, 2016 when Laura, Rebecca and her husband, Chris Schmidt, were riding their bikes on a beautiful spring day. They had stopped several times along the way to have snacks, rest and take in the beauty around them.

The ride was Laura’s longest to date. She bought her first road bike in March 2015 and had been riding just over a year when the accident happened. Rebecca, not new to cycling, started riding road bikes 15 years ago. Both women were wearing helmets, gloves, glasses and had a phone with them. 

Laura remembers coming back into Columbia and riding around the square. Her last memory is turning onto Fairground Street and starting up a small hill. Rebecca, who was riding out front, has no memory of what happened before the accident. They were riding on or close to the fog line, which is the white line painted on the right side of the road and had the right of way. It was around 1:30 p.m. when Franklin, traveling at an estimated speed of 45 – 55 MPH slammed into Laura and then Rebecca. The impact sent Laura and Rebecca ‘flying.’ Laura landed 34 ft from where she was hit while Rebecca landed 24 ft away. Laura’s body took the brunt of the hit. Rebecca’s helmet shattered.

At the time of the accident, Chris was up the road about 100 feet waiting for Laura and Rebecca. He did not see the accident happen but he definitely heard it. He knew something was wrong and immediately turned around and headed back. He rode up to Franklin, who he described as slow to react, disoriented and very distant, and knew that he was impaired when he saw his eyes. “He had the look of a person who was under something,” said Chris. “When he looked at me, he didn’t even know what he had done.” Franklin said that he did not see the bicyclists and asked if he had caused the accident. Chris told Franklin to stay there and then asked a football player, who was practicing nearby, not to let Franklin leave. Franklin had gone back to his vehicle and was attempting to change his front right tire, which had been punctured by one of the bicycles. Chris suspects that Franklin was trying to leave the scene. According to the accident report, Franklin claimed that the bikes swerved out in front of him. This was disputed by witnesses.

Franklin, who has prior convictions, was arrested, charged with the following and tested for drugs:

  1. Operating a motor vehicle under the influence
  2. Two counts of assault in the 1st degree
  3. Disregard/failure to yield right of way to a pedestrian or cyclist.

He was booked into the Adair County Regional Jail.

Adair County EMS treated Laura and Rebecca and then transported them by ambulance to the local hospital, T.J. Health Columbia.

Laura’s husband, Wally, was at home at the time of the accident. He had just met Laura, Rebecca and Chris about an hour before to give them some fresh water. After the accident, Chris called Wally and Laura’s neighbor - a colleague of his from work - and asked him to let Wally know about the accident. Wally left for the hospital. He could hear her screaming when he arrived.

Around 4:30 that afternoon, Laura and Rebecca were airlifted to University of Louisville Hospital, a level 1 trauma center, due to the serious nature of their injuries.

To this day, Laura and Rebecca have no memory of the accident itself. Laura remembers waking up to severe and unbearable back pain. She was screaming as she was being moved from one stretcher or bed to another to get scans. The medical providers in Louisville told her that nothing was wrong with her back but the pain was horrible. “I remember it being so bad I just wanted to go back to sleep so I wouldn’t have to feel it,” said Laura. She feels that the University of Louisville did not listen to her and get to the root of her back complaints initially. “They sent me home with a spinal cord injury and fractures. I see pictures of how much road rash, cuts and bruises I had and think that had to have hurt. But I don’t remember the pain from that. I just remember my severe back pain.”

When Rebecca woke up, she had a neck brace on and was disoriented. She wanted to know where Laura was and thought that she had missed her son’s birthday, which they had celebrated three days earlier on April 14th. Rebecca sustained injuries to her head and was diagnosed with a concussion.

Both women were badly bruised, sore and swollen. They were treated for skin cuts and abrasions and were in extreme pain.

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Somewhere between midnight and 1:00 a.m. Monday morning, they were released on pain medication from the hospital in Louisville. Rebecca was told to follow up with her local doctor if her symptoms worsened.

Wally, Chris and Rebecca’s son, Cole, had come up from Columbia and were there to drive them home. It was about a 1 3/4 hour ride home. Laura has no memory of leaving the hospital, the ride, arriving at home or the next few days. People came and went. What Laura remembers more than anything is the pain. It took two people to help her get up and go to the bathroom. She needed help to shower and to change clothes. Her back still hurt so badly and she was miserable.

The next days were filled with doctors’ appointments for Laura. She saw an orthopedic doctor for her back, an eye doctor due to blurry vision and a neurologist. She had to go to the hospital for additional x-rays because she was so bloated and was not able to have a bowel movement. A trip to the ER was necessary after developing a severe headache and feeling sick after drinking Magnesium-Citrate to help with bowel issues. A CT of her head and abdomen were done and she was discharged with an order for Golytely, which is used to clean out the intestines. Laura’s nurse friends came over on the weekend to help her. They tried everything including home remedies and had her walk around until she could not go anymore because of the pain. Needless to say, she was miserable the entire weekend. On Monday, Laura went to the ER in Bowling Green where more scans were done and Laura was given more medication. She was discharged and thought, “I will go home and die and I did not care anymore. My stomach felt like there was so much pressure inside that something could burst anytime.” The combination of pain and medications started taking a toll on her. By this time, she began thinking that maybe she was crazy and it was all in her head.

There were more doctors’ appointments that week. Laura saw a gastroenterologist and followed up with the neurologist on Thursday. She had not eaten anything since Sunday. The neurologist took one look at her and called an ambulance to her office. Laura went back to the University of Louisville ER. It was about a two-hour ride. “It was a bad ride. My back hurt so bad and my stomach had pressure. I was strapped to the board and could not move. I prayed to just make it through the next ten minutes. Then the next ten minutes,” said Laura.

It had been 11 days since the accident. That night, Laura had an MRI and neurosurgery was consulted. A neurosurgery resident told her that the MRI was abnormal. He would review the results the next morning with the attending physician. On Friday morning, the neurosurgery team came in and told Laura that surgery on her back was necessary in the next 2-3 days. She had an unstable fracture at L1-L2 with torn ligaments and the disc was protruding into her spinal cord. Laura did not want to have surgery and asked about her options. The attending physician responded, “Your back is not stable. We can put you in a brace but you will be paralyzed in less than three months.” Laura requested a second opinion by a neurosurgeon. He agreed that there was no other option but surgery.

The following Monday, Laura underwent a 6-hour back surgery in which two rods and seven screws were placed. She was in severe pain after surgery and although on IV pain medication, it was difficult to keep it controlled. On Tuesday, therapists helped her get out of bed. Moving was painful. She would get light headed and dizzy every time she got out of bed. The pain was always worse at night. “I would cry and cry in pain every night. I hated nighttime,” said Laura. It seemed like the pain was getting worse after surgery. The pain, dizziness and bowel problems continued. The pain medication caused Laura to hallucinate.

After two weeks at U of L, Laura was moved to Frazier Rehab. Here she began to get a sense of independence back. She learned how to get out of bed by herself, how to put on socks and shoes and a bowel program was started. It was determined at Frazier that Laura had suffered a mild traumatic brain injury. She had daily cognitive therapy along with physical and occupational therapy. The therapy made her so tired that she would sleep after every session. Laura was sensitive to noise and movement. The first time her therapist took her outside, she wanted to scream. She covered her face and then her ears with her hands. It was too much stimulation. After two weeks at Frazier, Laura went home.

Wally was able to get time off from work and stay with Laura from the moment she was readmitted to U of L until she was released from Frazier. “My employer let me take off work as much as I needed,” said Wally. “I often felt helpless, but I stayed as much as I could.” Each room at Frazier had an extra bed for a family member. Wally, a friend or family member stayed with her. She was alone only one night during the entire time. Once Laura came home, Wally did the laundry for months because the washer and dryer were in the basement and he helped out with housework more than usually.

Although Rebecca’s injuries did not require surgery, her recovery at home following the accident was difficult and painful. She had bruising up and down her leg and swelling of her arm. The cog from her bicycle left a bruise on her backside. Chris remembers that she did not move very much. She would lie on the couch and sleep a lot. There was not a lot of light in the room and no noise. The TV was never on. Rebecca was very sore and stiff. After about a month, she started therapy. She went through cognitive rehab therapy, physical therapy, saw a neurologist and went to a chiropractor and mental health counselor. She describes herself as tough country girl and a ‘badass’ who has always been able to cope and handle situations on her own, so it is hard turning to others for help.

The accident has been life-changing for Laura, Rebecca and their families. By now, the visible injuries have healed. It is the emotional and physical pain, which no one can see, that they struggle with every day. Rebecca lives with the frustration of others not understanding what she is going through because she looks ok. “People expect I should be normal again but I am not.”

  • Rebecca receives 20-30 Botox shots in her head, neck and shoulders every three months. Some headaches are so severe that she has to sit or lie down in a dark, quiet room just to get her “head to calm down.”
  • As a result of the brain trauma, she takes daily naps to function, suffers from fatigue, confusion, memory and concentration problems.
  • She is irritable, anxious and sensitive to noise and light.
  • She has been diagnosed with PTSD.
  • She gets angry and frustrated. “The simplest things I used to enjoy from life are now points of deep frustration and pain.”
  • She has gained weight, suffers from depression and has noticed changes in her personality.
  • She does not have the energy for activities that used to make her happy.
  • Being involved in her family’s life is important but she can still only spend a limited amount of time with her niece and nephews.
  • Before the accident, Rebecca describes herself as happy, outgoing and fun to be around. She enjoyed socializing. Now, she does not want to be around anyone and is struggling to try to find happy things in life. “She is still not the same. She’s been in a dark place. She’s very reclusive. This accident has taken away her will,” said Chris when asked about how Rebecca had changed since the accident.
  • She used to exercise and enjoyed flipping houses.
  • Rebecca has tried riding a bike again but is fearful. Chris, who is supportive of Rebecca getting back on a bike, took her and Laura to a parking lot to get them riding again. Rebecca explained that within minutes of getting on a bike, she started vomiting and broke down crying. “No medicine fixes that,” she said.
  • Rebecca’s short term memory is severely challenged. She has to write everything down and set reminders on her phone. The cognitive behavior therapist has been helping her to retrain her brain and teach her techniques to cope.
  • Rebecca has missed important family events such as her son’s first college visitation and Chris’ Ironman races. She plans events around taking her medicine so that she can function in a reasonable manner.
  • There are financial concerns that cause her stress. For eight months, they depended solely on Chris’ income. They have a son in college and debts.
  • She has not been able to work a full day since the accident and wonders if she ever will. Rebecca is the Coordinator of Technical Support Services at Lindsey Wilson College. She works Mondays and Tuesdays until 2 or 3 in the afternoon and takes Wednesdays off to recover. She goes back to work Thursdays and Fridays. Chris explained that repetitive tasks naturally come back to her. However, projects out of the norm cause her brain to fatigue. “When she is rested, she is sharp,” said Chris. She keeps the books on their rental properties, communicates with the renters and does taxes. Rebecca worries that her employer is going to fire her for not being able to complete all of her job responsibilities and requirements. Rebecca has not received a full paycheck since the accident because she is unable to work 40 hours a week.

Laura, an RN, went back to work six months after the accident. She returned with limited hours and worked her way back to 40 hours per week in one month. In December 2016, the hardware in her back was removed and she was in the hospital for three days. She returned to work two weeks later and took a different position with her company where she could work from home ninety percent of the time. Laura has a standing desk for work and spends much of the day standing. Previously, she had traveled an average of 800 miles a week as a case manager covering Kentucky and Tennessee. She knew it would be difficult as a result of the accident to return to this position. Her employment opportunities in comparison to what they were before the accident are limited. She would have difficulty working as a nurse in many healthcare settings, especially ones that would require lifting and moving patients.

Her back hurts every single day and she believes that she will continue to deal with it the rest of her life. She is down from seven medications to two now for nerve pain and anxiety. Prior to the accident, she was not on any medication. Due to the side effects of opioid use, she has refused to take any such pain medications. Laura worried that she would get dependent. She manages her pain by stretching, exercising, ice, anti-inflammatories and a TENS unit. TENS is an acronym for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, which is a therapy that uses low-voltage electrical current for pain relief.

Like Rebecca, she struggles with riding a bike again and is anxious the entire time. She really wants to get back to riding because she thoroughly enjoyed it. Wally worries about Laura’s safety. He is scared the same thing will happen again and would like her to ride on trails or places where there are no cars. The accident has put fear in her unlike any experience before and has become a big part of her life. She had several experiences in the hospital from this injury that were unpleasant and potentially could have been life changing. She made her family promise not to leave her alone and to stay with her while she slept. When leaving Frazier, the nurse advised her to wear a large shirt over her back brace so as not to advertise that she was injured. This could potentially lead people to believe that she was on opioid medication, which could result in someone following her home or breaking into her house. This only added to her overwhelming fear.

In addition, Laura and Wally have dealt with the following:

  • They have not been to the movies because Laura does not feel that she could comfortably sit through a movie.
  • She and Wally missed their annual vacation last year because she had used all her PTO time for her injuries.
  • Wally missed over a month of work between the hospital and medical appointments.
  • She has missed two funerals and her nephew’s wedding due to travel distance. When she travels now, even relatively short distances, she has to stop frequently to give her back a break.
  • Wally has not ridden his motorcycle as much since Laura got hurt.
  • Memory loss and trouble focusing as a result of her traumatic brain injury.

On top of all of the medical issues, the Burress and Schmidt families had to deal with legal issues. Chris reached out to our firm just days after the accident. Megan represented Laura and Rebecca in the civil case and she was able to obtain full limits from all applicable insurance policies. While the civil case resolved quite quickly, the criminal case dragged on until September 12, 2017 when Franklin was finally sentenced.

There was lots of frustration for the families during the criminal case. The Commonwealth’s Attorney, Gail Williams, who was prosecuting the case, did not communicate important information and dates to the families. They were not given adequate time to plan for traveling or time off from work.

The Kentucky Crime Victim Bill of Rights Handbook states that victims shall receive prompt notification, if possible, of judicial proceedings relating to their case. It goes on to say that attorneys for the Commonwealth shall make a reasonable effort to insure that victims and witnesses are notified promptly of any scheduled changes that affect their appearances.

Chris said it was embarrassing and frustrating how the case was being handled. Instead of waiting to hear from William’s office, Chris started calling to get updates and information. “It was always like we were in trouble for asking questions,” said Chris. He ended up filing a complaint against Williams. Wally felt like Williams showed no interest in helping the families and was lazy. Megan stepped in and attempted to act as a liaison between the families and William’s office, and as a guide through the criminal matter. When Megan called Williams to obtain information on their behalf and per their request, he hung up on her. Following this phone call, Williams sent Megan a letter stating that he was refusing to discuss the case any further and would not engage in any further conversations with her.  While he claims he was "more than happy to discuss the case with the victims," in truth, the victims were given the same treatment- radio silence, condescending tones, and last minute demands that they appear in court with no advance preparation or discussion. 

Megan continued to remain closely involved with both families until the conclusion of the case. She had no ulterior motive other than to see that the system properly prosecuted Franklin and held him accountable. The victims wanted to ensure justice against the driver who had caused so much harm and needed someone to represent them. Megan reflects, "It was pure teamwork, and while hard and exhausting at times, we all stayed the course until the end. We just kept pushing until we got information and answers.  How awful to have these victims treated like this by the appointed official elected to represent them."  “Mr. Williams was not serving us. He was serving himself. Megan became our best friend. She’s part of our family. She cared about us as individuals. She made us feel like a family member working on a case for a loved one,” said Chris.

Thankfully, Williams retired from his position during the criminal case. Brian Wright, a new, more determined and involved district attorney stepped in and handled the case until resolution. Chris describes him as more thoughtful, attentive to detail and an excellent communicator ... a polar opposite of Williams.

Since Franklin pleaded guilty to two counts of assault in the second degree (a felon), failure to yield right of way and driving under the influence (both misdemeanors), there was no jury trial. As part of the plea agreement, Franklin had to agree to have his identity used in a bicycle safety awareness video. The video would also include his statement at final sentencing. Mr. Wright recommended a nine-year prison sentence.

At the sentencing, Franklin gave his statement in which he apologized to the victims and asked for forgiveness. What he did not do, was take responsibility for driving under the influence that day. Instead, Franklin stated, “Anybody, anybody that rides bicycles and stuff, I mean people needs to be really careful of them ‘cause they are easy to miss.” Following Franklin’s statement, Mr. Wright faulted Franklin for misconstruing the cause of the accident and emphasized that it is not that bicyclists are hard to see on the roadway; it’s that people should not be driving after using cocaine and taking Percocet because it puts everyone in danger. Chris did not feel like it was a heartfelt, sincere apology. Franklin’s words were empty.

Laura and Rebecca were able to address the court during the sentencing hearing. Laura spoke first and read her victim impact statement. “Before the accident, I was active, independent and confident. I ran, swam, biked and worked out at least five days a week. My activity level has changed dramatically because I currently am unable to do the things I once did.” She went on to say, “I have had to learn how to ask for help and accept assistance with things I used to do on my own.” She asked the judge to consider the pain and suffering that she had been through and to remember that the pain was not over.

Chris read his wife’s statement. Rebecca was not able to tell her side of the story herself in court that day because the stress, anxiety and emotions connected with the accident would have gotten her too upset to speak. In her statement, she expressed that her life would never be the same because of Franklin but that she was learning ways to adjust. “It’s sad. I have to adjust my life because of you, because you have problems with drinking, drugs and other things. If you don’t think you have a problem, please look at your list of convictions.” She hopes that Franklin never gets to drive again because his recklessness almost took away two lives. In her final question to Franklin, she asked whether he planned on being part of the solution or whether he would continue being part of the problem.

The court followed the recommendation of the Commonwealth and sentenced Franklin to nine years. Due to the seriousness of the event, probation was denied. Franklin received credit on his sentence since he had already served one year in jail. He is eligible for parole in February 2018.

As the families try to move forward, Chris encourages Rebecca to remain positive. He leaves her thoughtful notes and flowers and even set up a bike on a trainer in the house for her. He reminds her how fortunate they are and kisses and hugs her every day.

Laura and Rebecca do talk about the accident. Sometimes they laugh, sometimes they cry. Rebecca bounces questions off of Laura since she is a nurse. Rebecca says they are both pretty positive and glad they made it out alive.

Did Franklin receive his just sentence?

Rebecca has mixed emotions. “I am a badass but tender hearted too.” He had so many prior convictions that he should not have been on the road. As for Chris, he is pleased that the judge chose the maximum sentence. He also believes in grace in the world and said that if our system says that this is the penalty, then grace should be allowed. He hopes that Franklin changes for the best.

What advice do they have for motorists and bicyclists?

  • Motorists need to slow down and share the road.
  • Don’t drive distracted. Pay attention while driving.
  • Bicyclists should do what they can to be safe and follow road rules.
  • Life is too short. There is no reason for motorists and cyclists to hate each other. We can share the road.
  • Act friendly and thoughtful.
  • Choose roads that are less traveled.

Laura has a final piece of advice; if it’s something you enjoy, don’t give it up. Don’t let fear keep you from riding, myself included. I want to enjoy riding again!

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Driver Caught on Dash Cam Gets Deal, "Because Cyclist Was Riding in CrossWalk"

On Saturday, October 15, 2016, at 5:31pm, K.B. and her fiancé were riding bikes in Littleton, near Bowles on the bike path, when they entered a crosswalk.  K.B.’s fiance's bike had a Burly attached, in which their 2-year old child was riding.  K.B. was just behind, following her fiancé and their child in the crosswalk, on a green light/walking signal, with ample crossing time remaining on the digital signal.  Without warning, K.B. was hit by a car. 

The car was in the left-hand turn lane, with a green light.  When it was clear, it accelerated into the crosswalk and t-boned K.B. on her bike.  Notably in this case, another car that sat in the turn lane had its dash cam running, capturing the entire event.  You can hear that driver anticipate what’s about to happen – yet, for some reason the turning motorist never noticed K.B. or her family on their bikes, until it was too late. 

Dash cam footage (forward to 3min in...warning- it's not easy to warch this): 

The motorist was cited by Littleton P.D. for failure to yield right-of-way to pedestrian under violation code 802(1), which is a Class A Traffic Infraction.  A summons was issued for the driver to appear in Littleton Municipal Court.  We contacted the City Attorney (CA) ahead of time and implored her not to offer a plea deal in this case.   Her proposal was to drop the charge to a defective vehicle charge.  We asked that she not do that, given the factual situation, the video showing clear negligence (and failure to yield) by the motorist, the injuries K.B. suffered, and the very real fact that one or two seconds earlier, the car would’ve hit the Burly with the child instead. 

Communication quickly broke down with the City Attorney, who insisted this is how her office “always handles cases like this.”  I informed her that I would be sure to notify the cycling community that this is Littleton's approach to these cycling crashes.  (i.e., this blog, and honorable mention in my cycling education classes).  The City Attorney then spoke with my client directly and criticized my professionalism.  (Yes, you read that right).  We appeared several times in Court; on one occasion appearing, only to learn the case had been rescheduled and no one had bothered to tell us:

 Instagram Venting.    

Instagram Venting. 

 

Keep in mind K.B. is the victim here.  Yet, she began to feel as though she was the accused, by the way she and her case were being handled.  Curiously, the City Attorney wanted nothing to do with the dash cam footage – although this would have made her case very easy to prove to a jury, she minimized its importance.  She brushed it aside.

At the eventual sentencing hearing for the driver (mid-February!), we learned that in fact, yes, the City Attorney HAD offered the driver a lesser charge in exchange for the plea.  K.B. and I were not informed of this, despite our asking the CA repeatedly what her plan was, and despite our requests that she not reduce the charges, and if necessary, take this case to trial.  (While not technically a Victim Rights Case, DAs and CAs typically involve my clients / my office in these decisions given the severity of the injuries).  At the hearing, the Judge asked to see the dash cam footage and did review it several times on K.B.’s phone.  He seemed apologetic in light of its clear showing of failure to yield to pedestrians/cyclists in the crosswalk, but his hands were tied with this minimal charge/plea agreement.  (We were seeking community service as part of the sentence of the driver-the Judge declined to order it based on the plea agreement reached between the driver and the CA).  The CA then began criticizing K.B. for riding in the crosswalk.  Suddenly she, as the City Attorney, who is tasked with pursuing charges written by law enforcement – argued that the victim of this collision was riding illegally in the crosswalk.  It begs the question: Is this how Littleton feels about its cyclists?   

Let's address the CA's statements to the Court, shall we?  Her representation of the law to the Judge is simply incorrect. 

First- C.R.S. 42-4-1412, does NOT prohibit sidewalk or crosswalk riding, nor does it require dismounting at crosswalks.  The State Law indicates that these behaviors are prohibited/required only where required by local ordinance (i.e. city ordinance) or traffic device (i.e. signage).  In pertinent part, the statute reads,

(10)(a) A person riding a bicycle or electrical assisted bicycle upon and along a sidewalk or pathway or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian. A person riding a bicycle in a crosswalk shall do so in a manner that is safe for pedestrians.

(b) A person shall not ride a bicycle or electrical assisted bicycle upon and along a sidewalk or pathway or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk where such use of bicycles or electrical assisted bicycles is prohibited by official traffic control devices or local ordinances. A person riding a bicycle or electrical assisted bicycle shall dismount before entering any crosswalk where required by official traffic control devices or local ordinances.

(c) A person riding or walking a bicycle or electrical assisted bicycle upon and along a sidewalk or pathway or across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances, including, but not limited to, the rights and duties granted and required by section 42-4-802.

 So –let’s investigate whether the City of Littleton in fact has an ordinance that requires cyclists to dismount?  (Answer: no). The City has adopted the Model Traffic Code.  You can review this on our website here.  The only new/additional sections added by the Littleton City Council to their ordinances, beyond the Model Traffic Code, are posted here.  Of note, one of the ONLY additions concerning bikes in their code, is the one that addresses BIKEWAYS:

9-1-7: BIKEWAYS:

(A) Bikeways Created: Public streets and rights of way or portions thereof may be designated as bikeways. When marked by paint striping, reflective buttons, no parking signs, bikeway signs, or other traffic devices or signs, the portions so marked shall not be used for driving, parking, stopping, standing or turning of motorized vehicles of any kind; and bicycles operated on said streets shall be operated only within the bikeway portions so designated. The City administration shall determine the location of bikeways and the appropriate type of marking on each street or right of way based upon good traffic engineering practice. (Ord. 13, Series of 1985)

(B) Operation Of Motor Vehicles When Necessary To Cross Bikeways: It is recognized that upon occasion such as making of right turn movements, entering driveways and the like, it will be necessary for operators of motor vehicles to drive across designated bikeways, but in such instances the required movements shall be made by the operator of the motor vehicle remaining in the bikeway for as short a distance as possible, and he shall enter the bikeway only after taking due care to ascertain that his movement will not endanger bicycles being operated therein. (1971 Code, sec. 15.21)

In sum, I’m left scratching my head trying to figure out why this City Attorney believed that my client (a) should not have been riding in a crosswalk (which comes off a bike path and re-enters a bike path), and (b) should have dismounted and walked her bike across the crosswalk. 

And in short, this means those “mitigating factors” the CA argued to the Court, were misrepresentations of both State and City law, to the detriment of my client and her case.

My client stood in that courtroom, mouth agape - having been hit by a car while riding legally - she was now being accused of bringing the collision on herself by riding in a crosswalk in broad daylight with her family.  She was on the defensive, having to explain her behavior that day. 

Result: charge ultimately entered: “unsafe vehicle.”  Fines: $391.75.  Our request for community service was denied, based on the plea agreement reached.  However, the judge did order the driver to attend a defense driving school course. 

K.B. spent the time and energy to attend a handful of court settings in this matter from October through February.  She left this process with a very bad taste in her mouth for how it was handled (as you can probably imagine).  You can review/view the entire sentencing hearing here: 

2Abreast & Sharrows

We received another great question from a local bike educator about riding 2 abreast and sharrows! 

 (Photo used with permission by the folks over at Bike Fort Collins -check out their cool test  here ).

(Photo used with permission by the folks over at Bike Fort Collins -check out their cool test here).

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"The issue was a motorist had an interaction with two people who were riding double wide on a road with two lanes going in the same direction.  The cyclists were in the right-most lane and there was a sharrow on the roadway in the lane where the cyclists were riding two abreast.  The motorist pulled over to have a discussion with the people on bikes because the motorist thought it was against the law for the cyclists to ride two abreast on the roadway (they were impeding traffic in one lane).  The cyclists said to the motorist that their interpretation of the law was that it was legal for them to ride two abreast and impede traffic for the narrow stretch because a sharrow was present.  In the area where the cyclists were riding, an individual cyclist would likely need to take the lane regardless.  Does riding two abreast in that scenario constitute something lawful or illegal?  An individual cyclist would likely need to impede traffic for a period in order to pass through the area that was too narrow to share with a motor vehicle.  In addition,  does the presence of the sharrow have any legal implications?  Does it indicate that riding two abreast for a stretch of road is legal?"

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First, please refer to my previous blog post about riding 2abreast, generally.  

Second, let's talk about what a sharrow is and what it means! 

Wikipedia defines a shared-lane marking or sharrow as a street marking installed at locations in Australia, Canada, Spain, or the United States. This marking is placed in the travel lane to indicate where people should preferably cycle.

The US Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices says shared-lane markings may be used to:

A. Assist cyclists with lateral positioning in a shared lane with on-street parallel parking in order to reduce the chance of a bicyclist impacting the open door of a parked vehicle;

B. Assist cyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane;

C. Alert motorists of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way;

D. Encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists; and

E. Reduce the incidence of wrong-way bicycling.

See also, NACTO's discussion of when and where sharrows should be used.  (NACTO is a non-profit association that represents large cities on transportation issues of local, regional and national significance).

Third- so does the presence of a SHARROW indicate cyclists may ride 2 abreast, if it (as (b) above indicates), demonstrates that the lane is too narrow to share with a car? 

Short answer: no.  A SHARROW is painted on the roadway - but it is not a separate facility or "built for the exclusive use of bicycles" as a bike lane or bike path would be.

C.R.S. 42-4-1412 refresher:

(6)(a) Persons riding bicycles or electrical assisted bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.

 (b) Persons riding bicycles or electrical assisted bicycles two abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane.

 So then -other than alerting motorists that the roadway is too narrow to share and that they may encounter a bicyclist riding in the center of the lane, what else is important to know about sharrows? 

Well -they change the liability analysis on the part of the city or municipality that installed them.  (See Boub V. Township of Wayne for further discussion on the issue of "permitted/intended users of the road" discussion.

Conclusion:

Although a sharrow serves to alert motorists that a cyclist may be in the middle of the traffic lane (basically just painting the law that a lane too narrow to share means the cyclist may take the lane), it does not change the analysis of WHEN cyclists may ride 2-abreast in a roadway in Colorado.   

With regard to the specific question posed above, it is unclear whether the 2 riders were "impeding traffic" or not -we don't have enough info to answer that.  If there was just one motorist behind them who was inconvenienced, the answer would likely be no, they were not impeding traffic.  

 

 

Glitch In The System

I posted this to our law firm FB page yesterday (2/23/16) and already, it's received 1,562 views and numerous comments.  I will keep sharing information like this so that people (advocacy groups, policy makers, law enforcement, district/city attorneys, judges, to name a few) understand that once we get Law enforcement citing drivers appropriately (as was done here) we need City and District Attorneys to stick to those charges rather than pleading them down to worthless nothing-ness AND we need judges to render adequate sentences on those charges.  

This is another concerning instance in which the collision was dismissively treated as "just an unfortunate accident."  The driver suffered one driving point and a $174 fine.  

******************************************************************************************************

Broomfield residents/cyclists take note - this is the official position of The Broomfield City and County Attorney-- in response to my complaint that when my cyclist/client was struck by a motorist -and the motorist was appropriately cited with careless driving causing injury by Broomfield Police Department - at the court hearing, the City Attorney decided to give the driver a reduced charge of "defective headlamp" (a 1 point violation with minor fine) and deprived my client of the chance to speak/be present at sentencing AND deprived her of any shot at restitution (often needed if the driver's insurance isn't enough)...

I understand charges and their associated points and penalties was a topic of discussion at the Bicycle Colorado Colorado Bike Summit this year and my commentary remains the same - if DAs and CAs are going to plead down a 4 point to a meaningless 1 point violation, it DOES NOT MATTER what the legislature does to the careless driving causing injury statute.

MORAL OF THE STORY BELOW: so long as the driver has a clean record and stays at the scene and shows remorse, and so long as they have insurance (whether it pays or pays adequately being irrelevant, apparently) then the driver deserves to get off with a puny fine and 1 point violation.

Cyclist: she is a US Veteran - and yes, she suffered severe injury in this collision.

**************************

"Dear Ms. Hottman,

Mr. Frundt forwarded to me your email concerning our office’s disposition of Broomfield Municipal Court case 15T804679 People vs. Mr. ____. Cases are evaluated and pleas determined on an individual basis. Like all prosecutors, lawyers in the City and County Attorney’s Office are invested with prosecutorial discretion as to how a case should be handled.

In review of case 15T804679 the following facts were considered:

- The age and driving record of the individual cited. Mr. ____ is 79 years old and has not had a traffic ticket in 11 years.

- The circumstances contributing to the accident. This was a collision which occurred at a four way stop sign after all parties had made a complete stop. The estimated speed of the vehicle at impact was 5-10 mph. Mr. ____ entered the intersection headed west at approximately 4:15pm on November 2, 2015. Ms. ___ (cyclist) was crossing the intersection on her bicycle from the south to the north. The accident report indicated the weather was clear. Sunset on November 2, 2015 occurred at 4:57pm indicating the sun was likely a contributing factor. 

- The behavior of the parties immediately following the accident. All reports indicate Mr. ____ immediately stopped to assist Ms. ____ and was cooperative in the investigation.

- The availability of liability insurance for the motorist. Mr. _____ had valid insurance at the time of the accident with Twin City Fire expiring on 3/14/2016.

- The injuries to the parties. My understanding is that Ms. _____ broke her leg as a result of the accident.

Although these factors can be weighed differently, I have spoken with Mr. Frundt and believe that appropriate thought and consideration was given to all of the facts and circumstances when the plea disposition was determined.

In motor vehicle accident cases where the cited driver has valid liability insurance, Broomfield’s practice is not to notify the other parties unless the matter is set for trial. As you have correctly stated, careless driving resulting in bodily injury is not a victim’s right case and the law does not require the prosecuting attorney to notify other parties. I believe that our current practices strike an appropriate balance between providing individual attention to the criminal component of each case while maintaining the efficiencies necessary for a court that handles over 5000 cases a year.

With respect to restitution, while you may disagree with the decision, the prosecutor did not seek restitution because there was a policy of insurance in place to compensate the victim. If you and your client felt that the insurance company was not adequately compensating your client for her damages, the civil courts are available to resolve that disagreement. I have evaluated and considered the information you provided, but at this time our office is not inclined to reopen the case. Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention.

Sincerely,

Bill Tuthill

City and County Attorney"

btuthill@broomfield.org

Education... it's working!

When I returned home from the National Bike Summit, I vowed to commit my firm's time and resources to teaching cyclists the rules.  It is my opinion that there are 2 types of cyclist:

(1) those who know the rules and CHOOSE not to follow them -and for those cyclists, we rely on law enforcement to correct that behavior; and

(2) those newer riders who truly don't know -and want to learn the rules.  

For the latter group, we began to tackle the "I don't know" problem by offering Biking 101 classes at local bike shops and businesses in April. 

Full Cycle, Boulder

 

I'm proud to say that after last night's huge turnout at Full Cycle in Boulder, we've now taught over 130 cyclists.  In just a 3 months!  Kudos to the following businesses, who hosted us for these classes and found them worthwhile and a great way to connect with their customers and/or employees:

Trek Store of Kansas City

Full Cycle, Boulder

Treads, Lakewood

Big Ring Cycles, Golden

Peak Cycles, Golden

Oz Architecture, Denver

In addition, our office has hosted two TS101 (traffic skills 101) classes for citizens who wanted to learn bike basics including the laws and skills, as well as the riding etiquette on the roads in a short group ride format.  These were full classes and through them we trained another 25 cyclists.  This weekend our office is hosting the League for Instructor Certification Training.  By Sunday assuming we all pass, most of the Hottman Law Office staff will be certified and so will 6-8 more local residents!  This means more people certified and empowered to teach to more and more cyclists! WIN WIN! 

Finally -a key component of the education goal is to work with enforcement and be sure we are all on the same page.  I am proud to say that our office is helping law enforcement by providing training to local officers on bike laws.  We use our own case examples to show how the accident occurred, what citation was issued and how the ensuing traffic case/trial played out.  We had over 20 officers attend our Badges on Wheels event in April, and since then we've been invited into two departments to provide bike law ed during their officer briefings.  All told, by the end of July we will have helped teach this information to over 100 law enforcement officers in Colorado.  This is incredibly exciting -and it shows a desire on the part of these officers and departments to learn the laws to apply them appropriately.  

Briefing officers at their 6:30am day shift briefing

Bottom line, we are making cycling safer and more accessible by teaching people the rules and HOW to follow them, one cyclist at a time.  It's powerful stuff and I'm so excited with the momentum we've seen already!!!  Look for more events at our office...coming soon!  

Badges on Wheels event was a HIT!

Last Friday we hosted approximately 15 law enforcement officers from various entities along the front range.  We began with a presentation of Colorado statutes and city ordinances that affect cycling on public roads, and I used specific case examples that I've handled as actual real world evidence of the problems that can arise when laws are not correctly interpreted or enforced.  After our morning session all of the participants took to the open roads in 3 group rides: beginner, intermediate and veteran.  Everyone had a blast, especially those who took advantage of the Cannondale demo fleet!  

After the ride we enjoyed some healthy lunches from Mad Greens, we raffled off some prizes and we wrapped up the silent auction for items donated to raise money for the Police Unity Tour.  We also got to hear from some of the PUT riders and hopefully we recruited new riders for the 2015 tour!

Overall we had a wonderful time and received very positive feedback.  This will certainly be an annual tradition moving forward!  Many thanks to all of the officers who took part! 

Here are some of our favorite photos of the event:

 

My 1st National Bike Summit

I wrote this blog post on a notepad during my flight home last night.  Scribbled page after page until the paper ran out.  Unpacking and getting caught up on work, I've been writing and rewriting this post in my head.  Even as I now sit down to type my blog post I find that it could be both very very short, or very very long.  I could recap for you the breakout sessions and speakers, my takeaways, my lessons, the people I met, the things we did... I could try to put all that magic on paper (or the blogosphere, as it were) ... But stated simply, the summit and what it meant to me boils down to this: 

Bikes can solve many of our problems.  More people on more bikes riding to more workplaces and schools, nationwide and worldwide, could legitimately cure many of our issues.  

Whether it's a young school girl in Afghanistan who can't walk 3-4 hours each way to school so she drops out in 4th grade ... or whether it's a working mom in an inner city trying to save money by minimizing her transportation costs... whether it's the nation's obesity increasing at alarming rates (along with diabetes, depression and more)... or whether we are talking simply about putting joy back into people's lives by pulling them from frustrated car-smog-anger-filled commutes ... 

The Act of Bicycling Holds the Keys to our Successful, Healthful future.  

I come to bike-lifestyle via bike racing.  For the past decade, biking for me has been training for racing, or racing, to achieve my performance-related goals.  Towards that end, I incorporated commuting to my jobs in Kansas City and here in Colorado from Lakewood/Arvada to Boulder, as a way of staying fit for racing while working full time (I did not see a way to get the miles in otherwise).  But candidly as a bike racer, it was never my intention to use a bike for transportation.  The last thing I'd feel like doing after hard intervals, or a hard 3-4 hour training ride, is to come home and then take a commuter bike to the store for groceries.  Instead, after all that hard bike training, I have historically hopped in my car to run around for the other areas of my life.  (Ironically logging many of my car miles going to and from bike races all over the state and country).

I could count on one hand the number of times I've straddled a bike in the last decade wearing something other than lycra and clipless pedals.  Riding in jeans or a skirt? It hasn't even crossed my mind.

As my work has increased and my bike racing has taken its rightful spot lower down on my priority lists in recent years, I have been using an old commuter bike to ride to/from the office and to run for groceries.  We live in a small town -Golden -which sits just west of Arvada and essentially is a suburb of the greater Denver Metro area.  Yes, we are somewhat removed from Denver-proper: 

When I decided to open my office in Golden, I stragecially chose a location just 4 miles from home. I've changed my dentist, hairstylist and doctor, from previous offices that required 20-40 minute drives, to those here locally in Golden -both to decrease drive miles as well as to patronize local businesses.   But I've failed to take it that one step further - to commit to riding to those appointments, despite their location of 5-8 miles from home. (As an aside, my home bike shop since 2008, Treads, is actually my farthest destination, requiring a 30-40 minute drive or 1-1.5 hour bike ride.  Are there shops here locally I could patronize?  Yes of course. However I'm wicked-loyal when it comes to bike shops and bike brands. So this is my one outlier destination).

Yes I live in a relatively "suburban sprawlish" area and no, I would not want to live in a city/urban environment. I like my wide open spaces.  With those wide open roads however, comes a bigger challenge to use my bike for my lifestyle needs.  Difficult?  Yes.  Impossible? No.  When I draw a 5-mile radius circle around my house, nearly everything business-wise I need is within the circle.  I needed a nudge.

Enter: the 2014 National Bike Summit...

I arrived Sunday afternoon and took part in the media training session, and then all day Monday took part in the exhilirating Women's Bike Forum (and was an exhibitor in the women's pop up shop).  At times it felt we were preaching to the choir, but at times it also felt progressive.  Determined.  Spot on.  The speakers were amazing.  The vibe was amazing.  Women on bikes... what an empowering and world changing movement, so elegantly simple, yet apparently wraught with obstacles.  I can't do the experience justice in words.  Suffice it to say, I met really wonderful women in the bike movement and I left buzzing with energy.  

Monday night kicked off the Bike Summit over dinner with some really funny speakers including the head of Great Britain's Bicycle League.  This rolled into a fantastic Tuesday with an agenda JAM-packed with good stuff.  Of course I was drawn to the "scofflaw-cyclist" panel and the "enforcement" panel - both involving issues of bike laws, enforcements, and bike lawyers.  Fascinating to hear other lawyers doing and saying many of the same things I've been preaching.  And to hear other groups are educating law enforcement, just as I'm aiming to do in our first-annual BOW event on April 18th!  It was great to have affirmation that cyclists are wrongfully cited in other states too, not just here.  And it was enthralling and HILARIOUS to take part in the discussions about bike backlash.  Again - lots of preaching to the choir, but also, lots of brainstorming and constructive discussions.  And did I mention, networking with folks around the country who are all just as passionate about these issues as I am??  AUH-mazing.

Setting aside my generalized glowing adjectives for a moment, the rubber really did hit the road for me at the summit.  I realized that bike racing is a small percentage of the bigger bike picture and that to truly demonstrate the principles I hold so dear, more of my transportation must be via bike moving forward.  Starting now.  I created my VOW list as soon as I boarded the plane:

The first and most important VOW I made is to drive less than I ride.  Because of where we live (in the suburbs as I mentioned above, which is not changing anytime soon) and also because of our weather here in the winter (freezing temps and frequent ice) I don't know that my husband and I will be able to make the jump to 1 car.  I know many do it with harder commutes and who have kids and all kinds of other obstacles.  I'm just being honest.  It's a goal - but we're taking baby steps.  The second goal is #onelesscar.  We technically have 3 cars- one is the cycling team car used by the team my firm sponsors.  It's going back this week.  I consider that a pretty big step -as the car is a great marketing tool complete with decals and bike racks for bike races:

But one less car is the goal.  So - team car is going back.  

Because I'm a small business owner I already track vehicle expenses and vehicle miles.  Last year I drove just under 12,000 miles total.  As a bike racer, I've always tracked bike miles using my Garmin and Strava.  So the data collection process is already established.  Now it's a matter of counting miles each week, and restricting driving mileage to at or less than cycling mileage.  Cut out useless trips.  Ride more to places.  Save the driving for bad weather and absolute necessities.  Small steps - prompted in my life by the National Bike Summit.  

After making my VOW list I dove headfirst into a book I'd purchased at the summit called Bikenomics by Elly Blue.  Positively fascinating.  Stats and stories were absorbed by my already open mind following the summit.  I inhaled the book flying home.  I recommend everyone read it.  Think how happy we could be as a nation if we pulled people out of their harried car-coma-induced states and put them on bikes.  Weight loss, stress reduction, energy, fresh air, positive emotions and just heightened consciousness.  Bikes provide that to us.  I became intoxicated with my post-summit buzz and Bikenomics.  I couldn't sleep last night.  I am fixated.  

Ten years ago I had a hunger for bike racing.  Over the course of a decade and especially the past few years, my desires to compete and win have waned.  I was looking for a new "goal."  I have been hit or miss in my training -versus the old Me who would never dream of taking a day off!  And suddenly post-summit I find myself re-invigorated with the bike - not necessarily in the racing sense, though I intend to keep competing... but in the lifestyle sense.  I know I'll make mistakes.  I know it'll be hard.  I know sometimes I'll just want to hop in the car.  But if I took away one lesson from the summit it was this: change starts with me.  I cannot advocate for more bike lanes while logging 12,000 miles in my car each year.  I cannot ask other women to join me in riding to the grocery store if I'm not doing it.  I can't say we aren't spreading our message quickly enough until I share my riding bliss by buying a GoPro Camera and using it and sharing my movies.  I can't inspire others without leading by example.  

The bike revolution is coming.  Technically, tt's already begun.  It's no longer a rich, white man's sport.  It's a way of life for people of all walks of life.  (Pun intended).  We can't afford more/newer/bigger roads.  Many big citites can't provide more parking.  Our cities are swollen with traffic. As one speaker said, "if you're not at the table, you're on the menu."  I say - we don't get to sit at the tables of the policy makers and leaders when we aren't living the cycling lifestyle first hand.  

So I challenge you - ride more than you drive, sell a car, teach a new person how to use their bike as a means of transport, learn your public transit systems and your bike share programs inside and out, resist the norms and get creative.  I've asked the women in my neighborhood- most of whom don't ride -to grab their bikes and join me for a ride to our nearest grocery store.  It's flat, short and easy.  I'm going to persist until they accept my invite, even if just once.

National change starts one rider at a time.  Bike racing is great, but bike living is...well- it's a whole 'nother world.  I challenge you to start today.  What are your VOWs? 

AUTHOR ARTICLE UPDATE: April 9, 2014:

So I'm happy to report I've met all of the afore-mentioned goals!  I did in fact turn in the team car pictured above.  It was a great little car but it only sat 4 people and towing the trailer was NOT fuel efficient.  It resulted in us all typically driving separately to team races and that's simply NOT green, and Not showing proper bike love to my VOWS!  So... I decided if the right fuel-saving option came along, I'd consider it.  And sure enough -a Dodge Sprinter DIESEL van came along... and we bought it for the team.  We can now fit 6-10 people AND 6-10 bikes and average 20mph... thereby saving fuel for the long bike trips AND hanging out as a team.