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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

No Criminal Charge or Ticket for Driver In Fatal Crash With Kathryn Rickson

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 3:45 PM

On May 16, 29-year-old Kathryn Rickson was killed in downtown Portland, just a block from city hall, when she and a truck turning right onto SW 3rd Avenue from Madison collided as she was biking east on the same street.

Today, the district attorney finished its investigation into the crash (PDF). The result? The truck driver, Dawayne Eacret, will not be charged with a crime, or even given a traffic ticket. "This tragic event was an accident," determined investigators.

Rickson collided with the truck's fender and the DA's investigation determined that the scratches on the fender show that the truck was turning right onto SW 3rd before it was hit by Rickson on her bike. Two witnesses said the truck had its turn signal on and both said there was nothing the driver could have done to avoid the crash.

Video footage from city hall's security cameras was used to approximate that Rickson would have been about half a block away from the truck when it started turning. The footage captured that Rickson was riding in the middle of the right-hand lane between SW 4th and SW 5th—there's no bike lane on Madison, so in the middle of the lane is the safest place to ride. It's not clear whether she was in the bike lane when it starts up after SW 4th, but even if she was, investigators determined, she would be "very small and difficult to see in the truck’s convex mirror."

Charging someone with a crime for killing someone with their vehicle requires meeting a rather high legal standard. In this case, Eacret would have to have charged with felony homicide for being "criminally negligent" or a traffic crime for being "reckless," which means he would been "aware of and consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk" or "grossly deviate from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation."

Eacret did what a normal person would do in this situation. He stopped at the light. He started turning on green. He wasn't drunk, he wasn't on his phone. Whether he checked his mirrors or not may not have mattered. Rickson was unlucky. She was doing what thousands of Portlanders do every day—biking safely on a "bike-friendly" street in the center of town. She just happened to be a few seconds behind a large truck that was turning right. She might have been able to slam on her brakes within half a block, but maybe not.

The story here is: No one should die on Portland's streets for using the streets in a safe, normal way. We may be the "most bike friendly city" in America, but that means nothing if a regular person riding in a regular way can be crushed any day of the week by a truck. We need to design streets and train road users to protect against terrible luck. "Normal" isn't good enough.

That intersection has a bright green bike box painted on it, a safety measure meant to deter crashes exactly like this one. Now, next to the bike box lives a white ghost bike and bouquet of flowers.

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