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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bikes “Ms. Sparling yell[ed] ‘Hey!’”

Posted by Amy J. Ruiz on Thu, Jan 10 at 2:26 PM

I’m just back from the District Attorney’s office, where I picked up a copy of Senior Deputy District Attorney Chuck Sparks’ memo outlining why he declined to prosecute the driver of the cement truck in the collision that took Tracey Sparling’s life.

I read the memo on the way back to my office, and the line titling this post keeps running through my head. Most of the not-quite-four pages outline the facts of the collision, including witness statements, like the one from Robert Watson, “who was spare-changing cars on the west side of SW 14th” and saw Sparling pull up alongside the truck in the bike lane last October 11.

Watson saw the traffic start to move, then heard a metallic noise and Ms. Sparling yell “Hey!” He next saw the truck run over Ms. Sparling.

Why no charges? Sparks, himself a bike commuter—and, for what it’s worth, one of the most thorough and thoughtful people I’ve met in the course of this job—writes:

[The driver, Timothy] Wiles arrived at the intersection before Ms. Sparling and came to a stop, waiting to turn right. Wiles did not see Ms. Sparling as she approached his stopped truck, mor did he see her as he went into his turn. Ms. Sparling stopped in the bike lane near Wiles’ right front wheel, and was, due to her location and diminutive stature, not visible to Wiles; she was, through no fault of her own, in the driver’s blind spot…

The relevant standard is criminal negligence. Criminal negligence is the failure to be aware of “a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or the circumstance exists,” with the risk being “of such nature and degree that the failure to be aware of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a resonable person would observe in the situation.” The evidence must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Wiles acted with criminal negligence for the state to prosecute. After reviewing all witness statements, the scene evidence, and the toxicology reports I conclude that Wiles’ failure to perceive Ms. Sparling prior to his turn was not sufficient to charge him with criminally negligent homicide.

The entire memo is after the cut.

Tracey’s father and his attorney met with Sparks this morning to get a first look at the memo and hear the news before it was public.

The case now heads back to the desk of Portland Police Traffic Investigator Peter Kurronen, who could elect to cite Wiles. And if the police don’t, attorney Christopher Heaps and the rest of the citizen citation team are sure to do so themselves, for failing to yield to a cyclist in a bike lane.

(Click to see bigger, more readable versions.)

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Comments

Sorry, but in my book if you run over someone (and kill them! forever!) that should go on your Permanent Record. I'm not saying he should go to prison for life, but to cause someone's death and face no outside consequences?? In motor vehicle collisions, isn't it always on the driver to drive defensively? I mean, you rear end someone and it's your fault. You fail to yeild to someone, it's your fault. I don't see why this is any different. If she'd been in a little car and been creamed by a cement truck would he be facing charges?

Although I'm sure the driver has mental anguish over what happened, is that enough?

How could Mr. Wiles (the truck driver) yield to Ms. Sparling (the cyclist) if he didn't see her? She wasn't there when he pulled up to the stoplight. He had no way of knowing she was there.

I'm sure I'll upset somebody by pointing this out . . . but it was Ms. Sparling who placed herself in jeopardy (unknowingly, of course) by stopping in the path of a truck preparing to make a turn. It was the one thing that could have been done differently in the series of events that led to this tradgedy.

He had no way of knowing she was there.

He did know a bike lane was there (or should have). Is that enough? It's a question I'm wrestling with.

I guess there's no way of knowing since none of us were there but if he did in fact come to the stop first and had his turn signal on and then she pulled up beside him, I can find no fault with the truck driver. It's a tragic event to be sure but, assuming that all happened as I have heard, I don't see how the driver could have done anything different to prevent this. Defensive driving is a must for everyone, especially those in more vulnerable situations.

Jim—on page 2, the memo says "None of the eyewitnesses to the collision could say certainly whether the truck's right turn signal was activated during the turn."

If he was stopped, checked his mirrors, then made the turn I cannot say the driver of the truck was at fault. The victim was squarely in the blind spot of a large truck. It is a tragedy to be sure, but one for which the truck driver should bear no fault.

As a former truck driver, I'm appalled by this ruling. The DA and the police are arguing that it is okay for drivers to err on the side of recklessness.

When I drove a truck for a living, I was taught that if you have a blind spot, if you assume anything, you assume that there is someone in that space and you will kill them if you drive there.

Another huge rule was that you do not turn so as to have the tail end of the rig run up over the sidewalk. If that means that you will not be able to make the turn, then you can't turn there. The same care should be observed in ensuring that the tail of the rig should not run over the bike lane. But here the DA and the police are saying that they have no problem with taking out anything or anyone if it is necessary to make a turn as long as the driver was unaware of what he could not see.

The DA and the police are stating here that if a maneuver might have some risk of injury or damage because you might hit something, go ahead and assume that maybe you won't hit anything.

The driver had plenty of safe alternatives in this situation. He either should have had the mirrors to give him proper visibility, or he should have had a spotter, or he should not have made the turn at that location.

It is too bad that the DA and the police advocating this kind of behavior are probably getting behind the wheel because they are not safe drivers.

Jerry, that's almost exactly what I was thinking but couldn't put into words---when you're driving a multi-ton vehicle, it's your responsibility not to run over anyone regardless of "blind spots."

If the truck doesn't have mirrors sufficient for viewing "blind spots" then it should remain parked until it is safe to drive.

If a driver can't see where they are driving, then they have to do what is necessary to check that spot. If that means getting out and looking around, then that is what they have to do. It isn't legally the responsibility of the vulnerable road user to anticipate a motorist's bad driving, although often that is a good idea. The truck driver was clearly in the wrong and the law says he should be ticketed.

Also, in this case didn't the truck pass Tracy before coming to a stop at the intersection? If that is true (as it was for the collision on Greeley several days later) then the driver should have known that a cyclist would be there at the light, having just passed her.

Ok, so the driver should have had better mirrors and made some assumptions. What about Ms Sparling? Is there no responsibility for placing yourself in a blind spot? Regardless of an existing bike lane, a blind spot is just that. When riding I don't put myself in a dangerous position even if I have the right of way. When on a bike I ride defensively and assume others don't see me.

I remember in driver training being taught about blind spots on large vehicles (all vehicles really) and to avoid them because you put yourself in peril. I'm not trying to place blame on her, all I'm saying is that common sense needs to be used by both sides.

Everyone can scream for drivers to be more aware and fight for the rights of bicyclists, and I hope the situation improves. But riding a bike is dangerous and will continue to be even if drivers become more aware of bikes. Bicyclists must ride defensively and must pay attention, just like drivers.

To me this case is a really unfortunate incident where both parties made mistakes that lead to this tragedy. Placing all the blame on the driver is not justified.


I have never owned a car that did not have a blind spot. On the other hand, that is a good point about large commercial trucks. They should have extra mirrors. I smell a products liability suit.

A problem with placing responsibility for blind spots with the person who is in the blind spot is that that person is not necessarily aware of the existence of the blind spot, yet the driver of the vehicle with the blind spot vehicle certainly should be aware of his blind spots.

Tracey Sparling used the bike lane legally, yet if this situation were repeated, as it will be, the bicyclist next to the truck will be killed every time. I can't believe that this situation is correct and acceptable, yet the DA, the police and others are saying that this situation is correct. What these individuals are also saying that the onus is on everyone else to be aware of another drivers' blind spots.

It is impractical to expect everyone to be aware of and avoid all blind spots that may exist in every other vehicle as traffic moves around them. What does make sense is that a driver must be aware of his own blind spots and he must be responsible for ensuring that if he moves into that space that he is blind to that he will not hit anything that may be there.

I just want to say, I believe it was no one's fault. It was a horrible accident that ended in an unforgetable tragedy.
And to Tracey Sparling, you will always be remembered by your beautiful smile!
~ Your fellow classmate ~ Amy

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