$42 for an “unsafe lane change.” That is the penalty against the teenage driver who drove onto the shoulder of Juanita Drive in Kirkland and killed John Przychodzen earlier this summer.
“Unfortunately, unless a person’s driving recklessly, they’re intoxicated, (on) drugs or alcohol, then there’s really no criminal charge on this,” Kirkland Police Detective Allan O’Neill told the station.
John Przychodzen had been riding his bike home on Juanita Drive Northeast, when the teenager’s truck struck him from behind. Przychodzen, 49, of Kirkland, died at the scene.
KIRO reported that the family is now filing a lawsuit against the driver. The family’s lawyer has said the fatality was a “clear case of distracted driving,” and that based on witness statements, the driver was possibly using a cellphone.
The station also reported that the driver is “devastated” by the crash.
UPDATE: KIRO has more details and a good video report:
“His nickname was Mr. Safety,” said Chris Davis, an attorney for Przychodzen’s family.
Davis said Przychodzen was hit twice by the 18-year-old driver of a pickup truck when the driver veered sharply onto the shoulder of Juanita Drive. Przychodzen was riding on the shoulder, and was run-over from behind.”In fact, one of the witnesses claims after he was hit, he immediately yelled out, ‘What the’ — before the truck struck him again and then ran over him,” Davis said.
The Vulnerable User Bill, which was passed by the legislature and signed into law early this year, was crafted to account for exactly these kinds of situations. Often, when criminal negligence cannot be proven, there is little penalty for drivers who kill or main other road users due simply to an error (albeit, a potentially deadly one).
The Vulnerable User Law does not aim to make negligent driving a criminal offense, but it does give the state the power to suspend a license, assign higher fees and require community service in a related field. Service in a trauma center is one potential example that was thrown around, though it is up to the judge’s discretion.
Unfortunately, that bill does not go into effect until 2012. If everyone takes care and drives safely, John could be one of the last people to die on a road in Washington without that law in place.
A $42 ticket is insulting, considering the enormous effect of the driver’s actions. People have been quick to point out that the driver is surely being punished by having to live with the knowledge that he killed a person. That’s a truly heavy weight (at least it should be). But $42 is a symbolic insult to the cost of a life. There are parking tickets that cost that much.
It’s painful, but hopefully the legal recognition of fault will help the Przychodzen family get their financial burdens taken care of in civil court, which they plan to do. Condolences to them as the deal with the painful legal battles ahead.