I just wanted to write a quick note about the hit-and-run that happened in Vail. Brief recap: Dr. Steven Milo was hit from behind by Martin Erziger near Vail, Colorado. Erziger did not stop to help Milo, but did call 6 miles down the road for help for his damaged Mercedes. During the trial process, the DA decided to reduce the charges to two misdemeanor counts instead of a felony, citing the possible job loss and subsequent loss of income as justification. And this last fact was what got the Twitter-verse up in arms, and as the story spread through the cycling community, it got picked up by the mainstream press, such as the Huffington Post and the Daily Mail. To get even more detailed information on the legal side of this issues (since my grasp on that is slim!), Bob Mionske has a great blog post over on Bicycling.com which not only summarizes what happened, but the legal proceedings as well.
So there are two things which are really sticking in the craw of the cycling community. The first is the obvious lack of worth placed on a cyclist’s life. The second is how the socio-economic standing of Erzinger influenced the decision of the DA to file lesser charges against him.
How much is a cyclist worth?
When motorists who hit cyclists are told by 911 operators that people who hit cyclists don’t go to jail, something is really wrong. If a car hits a pedestrian who’s on the sidewalk, does that driver get off with a points deduction and a fine? Hitting a person is hitting a person, no matter if they’re on two wheels or two feet. In the end, it really is about sharing the road. Cyclist who do stupid things and endanger themselves or purposefully hurt others with their bike should be punished as well. However, it is the driver who is in a machine which could kill someone. Which means they’re the ones that need to be always aware of their surroundings. And when they hit someone, they’re at fault. In the Netherlands, often seen as the mecca of urban cycling, they take a strict liability stance on incidences between cars and bikes- unless the driver can prove without a doubt it was cyclist who caused the accident, the driver is held liable.
The driver and the cyclist have to be aware of each other, but the driver is clearly using a mode of transportation that is deadlier.
Money may not buy happiness, but it can buy a reduced sentence
So not only is the cyclist’s life seemingly valued less than an ordinary pedestrian’s life, the accused in this case will probably get off with a lighter sentence BECAUSE HE MAKES A LOT OF MONEY. Since when has the justice system started handing out sentences based on someone’s adjusted gross income? The DA defended his actions by citing the loss of income resulting from a felony charge would hinder Erzinger from paying restitution to Milo. Okay, valid point. However, when has the impact a felony might have on future earning potential or job loss been factored into a conviction decision of someone who works at McDonald’s, or as a maid, or in a factory? A felony charge affects blue collar workers just as much it affects white collar workers. A felony on one’s record affects everyone’s ability to make money to pay restitution, fines, child support, etc no matter what their job. To me, it is a clear case of how class can dictate treatment in the courtrooms.
A human is a human is a human, just as a criminal is a criminal is a criminal. Whether in a car or on a bike, a blue collar worker or a white collar worker, when you commit a crime, you should be punished.