Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Herndon Bike Fatality Crash Report

Sunrise Valley Dr
north of Coppermine Road
On August 31 of this year Andrew Gooden and a coworker were riding their bikes home from work as lifeguards in Herndon. Andrew was struck from behind and killed by a Uber driver. The incident occurred on Sunrise Valley Drive just north of Coppermine Road. See previous FABB blog posts about the crash.

The road at the crash location is relatively flat, with two lanes in each direction, and the speed limit is 40 mph. There is also a right turn lane where we think the two cyclists were riding. The crash occurred just after sunset. No charges were filed against the motorist.

We recently obtained a copy of the report of the crash, known as the DMV form FR300P. We are concerned about some of the information contained in the report. According to the report, Andrew was "overtaking on a hill." According to the other cyclist, Andrew was riding beside him and they were talking. There was no "hill" and Andrew was not "overtaking." Because Andrew was talking, the detective working the case determined that Andrew was "Distracted."

More importantly, we are concerned about statements in the crash description, about safety equipment that is not required by law, that imply that Andrew was responsible for the crash. Our comments are in [Bold] within brackets.

This is the Crash Description from the report:
"Driver 2 [Andrew] was riding a bicycle (V2) on Sunrise Valley Drive just north of Coppermine Rd at 8:15 pm. He was initially riding behind another bicycle. At some point near the intersection of Coppermine Rd he rode up next to the other bicyclist and began talking to him (driver distraction - P4). [Since when is "talking" considered a driver distraction. If a motorist is talking to a passenger is that considered "driver distraction?"] At the time of the crash D2 was riding to the left of the second bicycle. Both bicycles were in the right of the two northbound lanes with the second bicycle riding on the concrete of the right curb and V2 in the center right portion of the lane. [We're quite sure there was also a dedicated right turn lane at the location of the crash.]

"Neither bicycle was equipped with a taillight as required by 46.2-1015.B. D2 did not move into a single file formation as V1 approached from the rear (46.2-905). [According to the code, cyclists riding two abreast "shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic." With an adjacent lane, the motorist could have easily passed the cyclists. Even if the two cyclists were riding in single file, a 12 foot lane cannot be safely shared with a vehicle, especially a large vehicle like a Suburban.

D2 was not wearing a helmet, bright colored clothing, or reflective clothing and had not applied reflective tape to V2 as recommended by the Virginia DMV. [This language has the effect of blaming the bicyclist for actions that are not required by law. While the bicyclists may not have had lights, streetlights were present and since the crash occurred just after sunset, there should have been some ambient light as well. Nothing was said about what the motorist might have done to cause the crash.]

"Driver 2 (D1) was driving a 2014 Suburban northbound on Sunrise Valley Drive in the right lane. D1 did not see the two bicyclists until just prior to impact. D1 applied brakes, activate [sic] ABS and turned V1 to the left. He struck D2 but not the second bicycle. After impact the operator, Mr. Gooden, was thrown approximately 81 feet from the bicycle and struck the pavement and curb.

"V2 is a Huffy Descent Rally mountain bike. The bicycle is owned by his employer Community Pool Services."
As we said earlier, the motorist was driving for Uber at the time of the crash. He did not own the car. He had several previous citations according to court records (to search for case information about individuals, visit the General District Court Online Case Information System, select the Fairfax County General District Court, click on Name and enter a name):

05/28/2008 09:30 AM 048/25 SPEEDIN
02/19/2009 02:00 PM TRESPASS AFTER FORBIDDEN (Original charge: Concealed weapon: Carry)
03/11/2010 09:30 AM FAIL PAY TIME & ATTENTION (Original charge: Fail to obey highway sign)
03/18/2010 09:30 AM RIDING ANIMAL AFTER DARK W/REF (Original charge: 74/55 Speeding) [Interesting plea bargain result.]
09/29/2015 09:30 AM OPER UNINSPECTED VEHICLE Mark For Payment
The owner of the vehicle has also received numerous citations:
Owner of vehicle:

05/06/2009 - 09:30 AM - FAIL PAY TIME AND ATTENTION
05/19/2010 - 09:30 AM - FAIL PAY TIME AND ATTENTION - 48/35
05/14/2014 - 09:30 AM - FAIL TO PAY FULL TIME AND ATTN
03/26/2015 - 09:30 AM - DRUNK IN PUBLIC
03/26/2015 - 09:30 AM - DRIV NOT RPT ACCD; DAMAG <$250
10/21/2015 - 09:30 AM - 57/35 SPEEDING

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Most personal auto insurance policies are void if the policyowner is using the vehicle for commercial purpose (i.e., Uber).

Even if the driver had the owner's permission to drive the vehicle, under these circumstances, the driver might have actually been an uninsured motorist at the time of the crash. Did the police investigate that?

I realize Andrew Gooden's family are not in the US, so it is difficult to pursue any justice for them, but if I were advising them, I'd get the answers to those questions and go after the driver and the owner of the car in their personal capacities.

I'd also be looking at the employer who allows his employee to operate a company owned vehicle after dark when it does not have the proper safety equipment (i.e., a reflector).

And I'd be getting a subpoena for the driver's cell phone records immediately prior to the crash.

But none of this would be of much use because the police report has already put all of the blame on the man who is dead.
Good point about the insurance. I don't know if police looked into that. Regarding the cell phone records, the detective working the case said that the driver handed over his cell phone and I assume it was possible to see if a text was set at the time of the crash or if a call was being made. A more thorough investigation would have included the phone and text records.

Regarding a bike without a reflector, the report doesn't mention reflectors, only reflective clothing which isn't required. The bike was a Huffy Descent Rallye sold at ToysRus among other places. From this image on the ToysRus site it looks like there are no reflectors on the bike. Reflectors are required on all new bikes: ยง1512.16 Requirements for reflectors. "Bicycles shall be equipped with reflective devices to permit recognition and identification under illumination from motor vehicle headlamps." I've been meaning to visit a store to see if the new ToysRus bikes are sold with reflectors.
My concern is the police's choice to blame the cyclist. A vehicle approaching from behind of any other vehicle has the duty to yield, and if passing, to do so safely.

More to the point, the cyclist wasn't breaking any laws. If he had not been in the center of the lane then what's to say his friend would not have been hit? Clearly this vehicle was attempting to take the lane with another vehicle in the lane (legal violation), not providing 3' (violation), rear-end (violation), and the fact that they did nothing to verify vehicular distraction is at best puzzling, and at worst near-criminal.

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