Careless Driving Causes Injury

Jefferson County Taking A Tough Stand Against Drivers Who Injure Cyclists

A collaborative blog by Hottman Law Office, Steven Lykens and the Jefferson County DA’s office

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Steven Lykens—husband, engineer, competitive cyclist—made a point of attending and speaking at the sentencing hearing of a driver who caused him serious bodily injury.  He wanted to emphasize to the court, the district attorney’s office, and to the driver that the outcome of the case mattered to him and to the cycling community as a whole. 

On May 16, 2019, Steven addressed Jefferson County Court Judge Mark Randall and asked him to order 200 hours of community service as part of the driver’s sentencing. Considering the time that he spent in the hospital, at appointments with doctors, as well as time spent working to heal his injuries, Steven felt 200 hours was fair.

The driver, Miranda Lewin, was sentenced to 120 hours of community service to be completed in 120 days on the charge of careless driving. Her public defender argued for fewer hours, but Judge Randall did not back down. In fact, he told Lewin she is a terrible driver based on her previous (and subsequent) traffic convictions and warned her that she would be back in court if she did not serve her community service. Judge Randall reminded Lewin that drivers have a responsibility to their community, including cyclists. 

Lewin, who was 20 years old at the time of the collision with Steven, was previously convicted of driving a vehicle while impaired by alcohol/drugs in 2016, careless driving, and operating a motor vehicle as a minor driver with an unauthorized passenger in 2014. Her driver's license was revoked in 2016 due to the alcohol offense, but it had been reinstated prior to this collision.

On the morning of September 2, 2018, Steven was riding in a bike lane in Lakewood when Lewin turned right, directly in front of him, into a 7-11 parking lot. Steven collided with Lewin’s vehicle and was thrown from his bicycle, landing in the 7-11 parking lot. He was unable to move and yelled for someone to call 911. Lewin remained at the scene and was later cited by Lakewood Police for careless driving causing bodily injury. Steven considers himself “lucky” that he went over the hood of the vehicle instead of under it or into oncoming traffic.

He was transported by ambulance to St. Anthony’s Hospital with lacerations to his right ankle and right elbow, road rash, and an abrasion to his right cheek. Officer Barefoot of the Lakewood Police Department, who responded to the scene, was advised by the emergency room doctor that Steven had sustained a lumbar spine fracture.

As a result, Steven was in a back brace for eight weeks. He now suffers from permanent scoliosis from two fractured vertebrae and is one inch shorter than before the crash. His life and physical body are forever altered, and he is in constant pain. The collision has altered his mental state as well. Driving and cycling are still difficult for him, and he is worried it could happen again. 

During the sentencing hearing, Steven also thanked the Lakewood Police Department, the Jefferson County DA, and the court for holding drivers accountable when cyclists are injured. Often cases involving bodily injury are pled down to minor infractions, leaving victims to feel doubly wronged. 

The Jefferson County DA’s office did a fantastic job handling this case. Jefferson County DA Pete Weir wants the driving public to recognize their obligation to share the road with cyclists.

We take these cases of careless driving with injury involving cyclists very seriously and treat the victims with the same respect and dignity we treat victims who are covered under Colorado’s Victims’ Rights Amendment (VRA) which protects the rights of victims in violent crimes. Often these injuries are life-changing for victims and their families, and we do everything we can to help them through the criminal justice process.
— - Pete Weir, Jefferson County DA

In Jefferson County, careless driving/cycling cases causing serious bodily injury are generally treated as VRA cases by the DA’s office, thereby involving the victims throughout the process. Deputy DA Kate Rhodes, who handled this case, believes that the appropriate outcome was reached, and justice was served. 

Steven shown with Deputy DA Kate Rhodes (L), Megan Hottman, and Tracy Drake (R)

Steven shown with Deputy DA Kate Rhodes (L), Megan Hottman, and Tracy Drake (R)

My goal for this case was to get the defendant to realize the impact she has had on Mr. Lykens’ life and the gravity of his injuries. Mr. Lykens showed incredible patience and professionalism throughout the process.
— Deputy DA Kate Rhodes

A newly passed law, sponsored by Senator Mike Foote of Boulder and Representative Dylan Roberts of Eagle and Routt Counties, is aimed at making Colorado’s roadways safer for vulnerable road users (VRU), including cyclists, pedestrians, construction workers, scooter riders, and peace officers. Governor Jared Polis signed SB 19-175 into law on May 29, 2019. 

Careless driving that leads to seriously injuring a VRU is now a class 1 traffic misdemeanor. Convicted drivers could face restitution and a one-year suspension of their license. Courts could require drivers to attend a driver improvement course and perform community service.

Many of Steven’s friends have been injured while riding their bikes due to the neglect of a driver of a motor vehicle. He hopes that someday cyclists can ride safely on public roads without having to worry about being injured by a driver. 

Given the nature and extent of our clients’ injuries, I have always advocated to District Attorneys and City Attorneys that the FULL “careless driving causing SBI” charge needs to stick. NO plea deals, not when the injuries are so serious. Careless causing SBI is only a 4-point violation, with minimal fines. We need the FULL Charge in order to ask the Judge for serious community service hours, restitution, (and now with SB 19-175, for the driver’s license, as well). My request to all DAs and CAs we encounter: Be like Jeffco and Boulder DAs. Treat these cases as VRA cases and please, stop offering plea bargains.
— Megan Hottman, The Cyclist Lawyer

Please remember to be cautious around cyclists, or any vulnerable road user, and look for cyclists before turning—whether they are riding in a bike lane or not! 

To read more about the Jeffco DA’s office, click here.

To read more about Judge Randall, click here.

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.  

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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.

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"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