Woman charged with assault for road rage attack on West Seattle Greenways founder

Looking north at Andover from 26th Ave SW. Image via Google Street View

Looking north toward Andover from 26th Ave SW. Image via Google Street View

Erika Soerensen, 37, has been charged with second degree assault for allegedly attacking Jake Vanderplas with a deadly weapon July 8.

Vanderplas, who was luckily not seriously injured in the attack at 26th Ave SW and SW Andover Street, reached out via email shortly after it happened. We published his account in full.

Witnesses who spoke with police corroborate Vanderplas’ account, according to court documents. Speaking to investigators, several witnesses observed Soerensen driving closely behind Vanderplas north on 26th Ave SW for several blocks leading up to the stop sign at SW Andover Street, blaring her horn at times. Witnesses said she then yelled at him through the window of her Nissan Sentra once they arrived at the stop sign. They then both turned right onto Andover, Vanderplas riding in the bike lane and Soerensen accelerating next to him.

She then allegedly swerved into the bike lane to hit him, and several witnesses told police they believed this was an intentional act.

Soerensen first told police that she was not there at the time of the incident, but she later changed her story to admit that she was there and that she does remember a person on a bike “riding 5 miles per hour in the middle of the street,” according to the charging documents paraphrasing her initial statement to police. She said she was unaware a collision occurred.

Vanderplas had some pain in his left hand and his bike had some minor damage. He made the fixes on the spot and bike the rest of the way to work very shaken up, according to his account from the day it happened.

It is perhaps ironic and particularly troubling that the road raging started on 26th Ave SW, the area’s first neighborhood greenway (under construction), and Vanderplas himself helped lead the community effort to make the project a city priority.

In addition to Vanderplas’ statement to police, a key witness who was driving behind Soerensen saw the whole incident unfold and even followed the alleged assailant all the way onto the West Seattle Bridge as the suspect fled the scene. The witness took down the license plate number and, importantly, got a good look at the person behind the wheel before reporting to investigators. In my reporting, I have noticed that a description of the suspect (not just the vehicle) is a key piece of evidence often missing in road rage and vehicular assault cases.

Prosecutors last week charged Soerensen with one count of second degree assault with a deadly weapon in King County Superior Court.

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44 Responses to Woman charged with assault for road rage attack on West Seattle Greenways founder

  1. onshay says:

    Glad Jake ended up ok!

    Unfortunately, the mentality that people in cars own the road and do not have to share it is all too common. Sorry to hear that this time it ended in someone getting hurt. Keep up the good work though Jake!

  2. Brian says:

    Speaking both anecdotally and from personal experience, the police are usually not too concerned with tracking down hit-and-run drivers unless the driver can be identified. In my case, several witnesses noted the make, model, and plate number of a car that ran me down, but the police told me pretty bluntly that there was no point to investigating the case because, even if they tracked down the registered owner, they could not bring charges because it’s impossible to prove the owner was the driver. But the police only think from a criminal standpoint. It would arguably help the victim more if the police tracked down the owner of the vehicle because then at least the victim could be compensated for the injuries caused (in my case, the hospital bill was over $20,000).

    • ae emm says:

      New York SUV driver nearly kills a motorcyclist who became paraplegic. The eyewitnesses to the run over and hit and run felony performed a Citizens Arrest but instead got charged with assault whereas the SUV driver did not get charged with any crime. Kind of backwards. As an little known detail the police reported a smashed side mirror on the SUV. This small detail is a telltale of unsafe lane change that must have nearly wiped out a motorcyclist prior to the main incident. The SUV drivers excuse was that he got intimidated by a large number of motorcyclists near and around his car and was worried about his personal safety. So far the excuse has worked perfectly. Instead of himself being charged with road rage himself the result was the victim and other motorcyclists were blamed for the accident as ‘thugs’.

      • Stephen Barner says:

        You might want to check the facts in this case, which is much more complex than you have implied. The mirror got smashed by one of the motorcyclists, after the driver had stopped, and it was this action that prompted the driver to take off, fearing for his family’s safety while surrounded by a group of angry bikers. The entire incident started when a biker passed the SUV unsafely, cutting back in front of the vehicle and then slowing down suddenly. Watch the video. There’s likely good reasons why the charges have been filed against the bikers involved, not the driver, though I agree that everyone would have been much better off if the driver had just waited for the cops to arrive. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, and it’s pretty clear what happened. Base your opinion on the facts, not the other way around.

  3. Joe says:

    There are several people in Seattle with that name.

    I wonder if she’s the artist who’s too good for a “boring” 9-5 job, or the person who works at Ride the Ducks (which effectively involves unleashing dangerous amphibious vehicles onto neighborhood streets that maim motorcyclists.)?

  4. Doug Bostrom says:

    Over on Seattle Transit Blog there’s a discussion about autonomous cars, their impact (sorry) on bike and pedestrian traffic.

    For some reason a lot of people assume that autonomous vehicles will make travel more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. I don’t think that’s the case; leaving aside the unflagging attention of a computer once it’s fixated on a task, machines don’t become angry or psychotic, except in movies.

    If Ms. Sorenson had been confined to the rear seat of her car behind a plexiglas shield and thereby prevented from using her vehicle as a weapon to express her emotional disturbance then she wouldn’t be facing criminal charges.

    Seconding Tom on leave the woman alone. She’s obviously not in control of herself; trying to “reason” with her by lynching won’t help anybody.

    • Monica says:

      Just wanted to say I agree with you and point out that Google’s self-driving cars have been on the road for over a year. There has only been one accident (a fender bender), and that is when a human was actually operating the car. The lidar they use is extremely high-resolution and a biker would certainly be well-spotted.

      Not that it would in any justify what happened, but I wonder what set her to begin with.

      • RTK says:

        There is a fair amount of work going on with V2V (vehicle to vehicle) transponders and autonomous cars. One line of thought is that if this technology was put in place then pedestrians and cyclist could also outfit themselves with a transponder and be “visible” to all autonomous vehicles. I must agree with the comment that the great thing would be to have rationale coding guiding a vehicle. Road rage resulting in people using their vehicles as weapons is never rationale.

      • Gary says:

        No need to add new devices, your phone could do it.

      • JAT says:

        I shouldn’t have to carry a transponder to avoid being hit by a vehicle whether cycling or walking – no matter how easy it might be.

        And I’m certainly not buying an autonomous vehicle unless it comes with an Angry Psychotic setting as a option, I don’t think anybody else will either!

      • Al Dimond says:

        Nobody needs transponders to be “seen” by an automated vehicle. They have sensors that are better and better-positioned than the driver’s eyes, and they’re looking everywhere all the time. Whatever problems automated vehicles will have, running into people is unlikely to be one of them.

  5. Fnarf says:

    I know that the temptation is to want the authorities to throw the book at this woman, and to wish horrible ills upon her (I know that’s my first reaction). But I would like to propose a more constructive punishment. I would like the state to take her license away from her, and force her to trade in her Sentra for a good-quality bicycle, and put an odometer on it, and sentence her to 2,000 miles of riding. Let her see the conflict from the other side.

  6. meanie says:

    Its actually really remarkable she was charged with assault. I am glad she was tracked down and charged, HOWEVER

    Where is the second charge of hit and run? You know the one that’s very easy to prove and will result in immediate suspension of her license?

    I say it all the time and I am serious, if she can say she didn’t mean it to the judge or jury ( hitting Jake ), she will probably walk on a assault conviction because it won’t meet the legal requirement of her “intentionally” causing malicious harm.

    Who is following up with the state to file under the vulnerable users law as well, since its basically only applied by committee and isn’t an actual law anymore.

  7. Doug Bostrom says:

    In a normal context, of course the woman’s license would immediately be revoked. There would be alternate or even preferred means of transportation available.

    Unfortunately we’ve crippled ourselves, become almost entirely dependent on the prosthetic appliances known as “cars.” Taking away a license causes a drastic ripple effect for many people. If somebody crashes into somebody else with their electric wheelchair, taking away the prosthetic isn’t really an option.

    It’s kind of a chicken and egg problem. How do we make it practical to revoke licenses?

    • Doug Bostrom says:

      Bear in mind, I’d be delighted if in this case the driver’s license were revoked. The puzzle is how to generalize that entirely sane response.

    • Karl Johnson says:

      Tough shit! Lots of people don’t have cars in this city. Driving is a privelege, not a right. Assault someone with a two ton killing machine? Don’t get to drive anymore for at least a number of years. PERIOD. I don’t give a rats ass how much it inconveniences her, she should have thought about that before she assaulted someone with a deadly weapon (what she should also be charged with, along with reckless driving and whatever else applies). I’m SO sick of drivers maybe getting a slap on the wrist and not getting charged with what they should be.

      • james in the CD says:

        I agree with you on this 100% I can not understand the mentality that : “Unfortunately we’ve crippled ourselves, become almost entirely dependent on the prosthetic appliances known as “cars.” ”

        I have managed my life without a car by choice – this irresponsible car driver should learn what its like to manage her own life without a car.

      • Doug Bostrom says:

        If a handicapped person has dependents and you take away their wheelchair because they could not safely operate it, who is being punished and what is being accomplished?

        Obviously our rage wants to see punishment. Meanwhile our rationality tells us that many people are not emotionally or intellectually equipped to safely operate a motor vehicle for a lifetime without inflicting mayhem.

        Neither of those impulses fully acknowledges the complexity of the mess we’ve created for ourselves and the opportunities we’ve foreclosed by blundering down the path of universal dependence on automobiles.

    • Skylar Thompson says:

      Agreed. Ideally, though, we would treat a driver’s license as similar to a pilot’s license – difficult to get, difficult to keep, and you lose it if you screw up even once. That would really change the culture around driving.

      • Stephen Barner says:

        I’ve long said that one of the greatest lies was the one they told us in Driver’s Ed that driving is a privilege, not a right. It is not at all treated that way in the United States. Almost anyone can get a license at an early age, if they try enough times. Just keep going back for your road test until you get lucky. Once you’ve got your license, you don’t have to prove that you should be able to keep it, even once you become too old and senile to tell the gas pedal from the brake. It takes a serious accident for anyone to decide that maybe you shouldn’t drive anymore.

        Sure, you can have your license taken away, but you have to do something really egregious, and even then you can probably get it back (or just keep driving without it and try not to get caught).

        The problem is that most people cannot imagine life as an adult in our society without being able to drive anywhere at anytime you want. This biases legislators, law enforcement, jurors and the average Joe against decisions that might boomerang on themselves, or adversely affect their very large peer group–people who are handicapped without their cars. Enact a law requiring the elderly to be retested in order to retain their licenses and you are creating a barrier that you are someday going to have to get over yourself (or move to someplace like Wyoming or Alaska, where they are never, ever going to pass such a law).

        What we need are better public transportation options, such as affordable busses and trains that run where you want, when you want. Then, perhaps, we can put some teeth into the concept that driving is a privilege and force those who cannot or will not do it safely and prudently to use alternatives, making it much safer for the rest of us, including we cyclists.

    • james in the CD says:

      doug:

      saying a car is to a healthy human is as a wheel chair is to a disabled human is an invalid argument.

      humans have lived in the America’s for the last 14,500 (give or take a few) years. cars have only been in the America’s for about 125…. we did fine with cars for a long time.

      to say we are making a person handicap by taking away their license to operate a motor vehicle is simply not logical. operating a car on a federally/state/city funded road is not a birth right.

      • Doug Bostrom says:

        I hear you, James. But things change so fast.

        Somewhat related diversion. My son’s going places in mathematics so I thought it would be fun to buy him a slide rule. Guess what? They can’t be found as a new retail item for love or money, only from collectors. It’s fairly safe to say that our arrival on the Moon would have been at least somewhat later if slide rules were not available not so long ago. Here today, gone tomorrow; now we can’t do natural logarithms without a battery.

        More to the point of this discussion, a couple of days ago here in Washington a couple who’d been married 64 years were killed in their automobile when they entered a roadway in front of some other vehicle. I can’t recall how old the husband was but the wife was 88 years old. In their living context, could they function without an automobile? Where was the system that ensured they could get through life without an automobile, so that their licenses could be tactfully removed without leaving them high and dry?

        In the present case under discussion here, I don’t know for a fact that the woman in question has dependents. But focusing on her particular transgression ignores the fact that many drivers do have a web of economic dependencies attached to their driver’s license. The main impact of removing a license in many cases won’t be found to be limited to the person losing the license.

        Given that we’ve created huge dependencies on driver’s licenses, if we’re serious about the need to remove them (and we should be serious about that) then we need to solve the dependency problem.

        Failing solving the dependency on automobiles, in many cases situations like the one under discussion are going to end up in front o a judge who must decide whether or not to end the economic life of a driver and thereby the welfare of a family. We can see how these decisions go; licenses are removed only in the most extreme cases and sometimes not even then.

        So rather than get in a total lather about one case, what about a discussion on how to make license removal a practical choice?

  8. Allan says:

    It seems to me it should be an attempted murder charge to be sure she will get her fare share of jail time for this one. They really need to make an example of her. We also need better laws to protect bicyclists. There are too many people who think only cars should be on the roads. They might be out there in a $1000 clunker or a $20,000 car but for them a $6,000 bicycle has no place on the road. It is rediculous. When a car hits a bike there should be an automatic charge of reckless endangerment unless the bicyle was doing something stupid like riding in the dark without lights. Bicyclists should be ticketed for doing something that dumb, also. Good laws which are enforced could prevent the majority of accidents. Pity we don’t have that.

    • Chris says:

      I like your sentiment but as a practical matter that would probably be the best way for her to end up receiving no punishment. Knowing someone attempted to murder someone and actually being able to PROVE it in a court of law are VERY different things. Prosecutors don’t look at what they can charge someone with, they look at what they can realistically convict someone of. What good is an attempted murder trial if there’s a significant risk of not being able to get a guilty verdict?

  9. ktula says:

    On the suspect’s twitter, she posted this:

    I wont lie, and I'm not ashamed, but I could really, really use a friend right now.— Erika Anne (@mizamerika) October 8, 2013

    For someone who’s not ashamed of intentionally assaulting a cyclist with her vehicle and then fleeing the scene, i say she needs to be punished by the fullest extent of the law.

  10. RTK says:

    Hopefully we’ll see a follow up to this post at some point . It is nice to see that someone is being charge. The actions as originally described seemed very aggressive. Not sure what will happen as the accussed has been already been evasive at multiple levels.

  11. Laila Barr says:

    It is not the mode of transportation that matters, but the ‘me-first’ attitude of the transgressors, be they four-wheeled, two-wheeled, or on foot:
    Rude, arrogant car drivers such as the one in the accident described above; the bicyclist who has no regard for pedestrians on the sidewalk; the pedestrian who steps in front of a car, expecting it to be able to stop at a split second’s notice.

    • Joe says:

      I’d hope that your grasp of statistics would be solid enough to understand that cyclists are *objectively* much less of a threat to pedestrian health & welfare than cars (or even buses!), that cyclists are often forced into the sidewalk by unsafe streets, and that tarring all of us as discourteous just because you’ve had some close calls is unfair.

  12. Terry says:

    I hope she gets jail time and loses her license. There should be no tolerance for this type of behaviour. She’s lucky the cyclist was not badly injured.

  13. Breadbaker says:

    I wish it were the case that “losing your license” and “not being able to drive” were the same thing, but we all know of too many examples of people driving cars with suspended licenses, revoked licenses and no licenses, and harming people. It is totally impossible for law enforcement to monitor who is driving a car without a license; it is a disability that is only enforced after the fact. People can drive without a license until they get caught.

    One thing I’d love to see is that not only is the person’s car impounded during the suspension of their license, but that there is absolutely strict liability that anyone letting someone with a suspended license use their car is liable for any damage caused by that person without exception.

  14. Allan says:

    There are a lot more out there like this woman and that is why many people including myself drive more and ride less. I avoid busy streets, ride on sidewalks, do my big rides on the Green River Trail and the Interurban trail. I train on my trainer and do Cascade Club rides where I am protected by numbers. I burn up the worlds supply of fuel in my 250 horsepower Chrysler so the next generation will have to use mules for farming. I don’t recomend bicycling to others as much as I should because it just isn’t safe enough. Even if we are the 4th best city we have a long way to go to catch up to Portland where I feel 10 times safer riding a bike. I can ride almost anywhere in Portland and feel comfortable but not so in Seattle. There are nice people in Seattle but little is being done to take the killers off the road. There are two kinds of killers, aggresive killers and ignorant people chatting away on their cell phones, quite ready to hit you by mistake. Just to mention another place I have enjoyed riding is Salem, Oregon. It is also nicer than Seattle, although I do sometimes use side walks there. It seems that the worse traffic gets the more aggressive people become.

  15. Allan says:

    Holy Mackeral, unbelievable, after I wrote the last post I was attacked from behind by a crazy woman in a Late Model Grey Nissin Altima on 12th Ave SW traveling towards Henderson. She was somewhere around 50 years old, some what red faced and started swearing at me from far behind down the street. She caught up to me at Henderson where she looked ready to run me over, continued with F.. Y.. and “why are you riding a bicycle on the street where people want to kill you.” I came around to look in the window at this crazy lady who did have a passenger and she than sped off down(left) Henderson and turned right on 9th ave SW. Why would any one in there right mind chase down a stranger on a bicycle to tell them that drivers want to kill them. The answer of course is she is not in her right mind and is like a 5 year old with a loaded gun. If this sounds like the same person, please get Tom to contact me to come to the trial and give her a character reference. I am shocked and further driven to just riding on bike trails. I really do limit my street mileage in Seattle and I should not have to feel that way, but look at these people. She should be in a mental institution and should rather have a lobotomy than a drivers liscense.

    • datamuse says:

      Don’t think it’s the same person but I’m glad you commented because I ride that area frequently. Will keep an eye out for angry 50ish lady in a Nissan.

  16. RTK says:

    Video of news broadcast and a story are posted over at KOMO news. Video of the victim and defendant. Wow, lot of crazy stuff in the comments.

  17. Allan says:

    And the plot thickens. I went looking for more information and found it on KOMO news. It is so weird because the car looked the same but the driver looked different and than I also saw that Laura Sorenson has just been committed to a mental institution for murder in Gig Harbor. Not guilty by reason of insanity. I think maybe there is a spelling error and the two are related. Laura will likely spend life in a mental institution after randomly shooting men in a local market. She had just come out of the asylum after stabbing a relative.

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