The driver in Tuesday's tragedy, Lindsey Llaneza, is a repeat offender. Three months ago, Llaneza plead guilty to drunk driving in another accident. On Tuesday night, he was driving with a suspended license. Police have reported that his blood alcohol level was almost triple the legal limit. On Thursday, he was charged with two counts of manslaughter.
At the time Llaneza was driving his van on SE Belmont, near 42nd Ave, when he plowed through a group of three bicyclists. According to police, Llaneza was going nearly 70 mph. An officer stopped Llaneza two blocks past the accident when he saw the van had a smashed fender and a bike lodged underneath the bumper.
Orion Satushek, 27 years old, was killed instantly. Orion was a musician in both the Spooky Dance Band and Reeks and the Wrecks, as well as part-owner of the newly opened Mississippi Records & Repair. Angela Leazenby, 26 years old, was also killed instantly. Angela had only moved to Portland a week ago from Los Angeles, reportedly to get away from big-city life. Caroline Buchalter, 23 years old, also with Spooky Dance Band, was critically injured. Caroline is being treated at OHSU for spinal fractures and a broken leg.
"This is not a problem with bicycling, but with drunk driving," insists Jessica Roberts, of Bicycle Transportation Alliance. To emphasize her point, Roberts says the number of bike accidents has remained steady even as the number of riders has tripled over the past decade. Since 1993, there have been 23 fatal bike accidents in Portland (compared with 126 car-related pedestrian deaths).
Even though Portland prides itself as one of the most prolific and safest bicycling cities in North America, state laws protecting bicyclists are constantly under attack. Just this year, the state senate introduced a bill that would have allowed parents to park their vehicles in bike lanes near schools. "We pulled out the snarling dogs on that one," assures Roberts. The bill was stalled in committee and eventually faded away.
Moreover, drivers are rarely prosecuted for non-lethal crashes with cyclists. State law allows even repeat DUII offenders like Llaneza to opt out of jail time for community service or counseling. An attorney with the DA's office said it is almost impossible to serve jail time for a first-time, non-accident DUII. In fact, Llaneza had previously agreed to attend counseling in lieu of jail time for a former DUII incident. Llaneza had his license suspended in 1986 and has been cited for several driving infractions since then.
This session, the legislature did pass HB 2882, which mandates that drivers lose their licenses after a third conviction for DUII. But this, say bike proponents, is a feeble gesture. Such penalties are usually too little, too late and easily ignored. Sadly, with drivers like Llaneza, who continue to drive in spite of suspended licenses and repeated warnings, the new law would not have changed anything about the tragedy of last week.
On Wednesday, July 16, local attorney and author of Pedal Power, Ray Thomas will host a legal clinic at Bicycle Transportation Alliance, 717 SW 12th, 6 pm, call to reserve a spot, 226-0676