A Bicycle Race in Arizona Turns to Tragedy – Fatal Bicycle Accident
It was a Saturday morning. Riders were lining up for the start of the Bike Bluff Competition, a 58-mile road race starting in Show Low, about a three-hour drive northeast of Phoenix. The starting grid included hundreds of riders, from professionals to teens. At 7:30 am, there was a loud sound. But, it wasn’t the starting gun.
Instead, it was the sound of screams. A truck had just barreled through the starting grid, striking numerous cyclists before slamming into a telephone pole. Despite several riders reportedly pounding on the truck’s windows, the driver fled the scene.
The incident left several riders injured; and, tragically, one rider dead. It’s not clear from news reports if the rider was killed immediately or eventually succumbed to his injuries. Either way, it ultimately doesn’t matter. What was supposed to be—and what should have been—a fun and competitive morning of cycling turned into a tragedy.
According to news reports, “Online court records in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, show someone matching [the driver’s] name and age has a history of arrests for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and assault.” The reports don’t indicate whether he was drunk in this case. However, they do indicate that the driver, “was quietly sentenced . . . [and] will serve 26-1/2 years in total. He received 16 years for one count of second-degree murder and 10-1/2 years for felony aggravated assault. His sentences for eight other counts of aggravated assault will be served concurrently.”
Sadly, stories like this fatal bicycle accident are not uncommon. In the past year alone, there have been several reports of fatal bicycle accidents involving negligent, reckless, and drunk drivers in Arizona. While this tragic incident was somewhat unique in that it involved a group of cyclists waiting at the start line of a race, it involved many of the same elements as most fatal bicycle crashes.
5 Common Elements of Fatal Bicycle Accidents
Every fatal bicycle crash is different. Every victim is an individual, and every family that loses a loved one experiences the loss in a different way.
But, while every fatal bicycle crash is unique, most of these crashes involve many of the same core elements. As bicycle accident lawyers, we hear about more fatal bike crashes than most; and, as a result, we start to see patterns in these cases. For example, in our experience, the vast majority of fatal bicycle accidents involve the following five common elements:
- The Cyclist Did Nothing Wrong – As was clearly the case with the fatal accident at the Bike Bluff Competition in 2021, the cyclist did nothing wrong. The cyclist is being responsible, obeying the law, and simply trying to enjoy a morning, afternoon, or evening ride.
- The Driver was Negligent, Reckless, or Drunk – While some fatal bicycle accidents involve issues like vehicle defects and road hazards, the vast majority involve some form of driver negligence or recklessness. In far too many cases, cyclists lose their lives to drunk drivers’ mistakes as well.
- There was Nothing the Cyclist Could Do – As was also clearly the case with the fatal accident discussed above, there was nothing the cyclist could do to avoid the fatal accident. The vehicle is going too fast, the driver often isn’t coherent or isn’t paying attention, and there is nowhere for the cyclist to go.
- The Cyclist Had Virtually No Hope of Survival – Once the accident happens, the cyclist tragically has almost no hope of survival. When a car, truck, or SUV strikes a cyclist while traveling at speed, the forces involved are far greater than the cyclist’s body can manage.
- The Driver was Charged with (and Convicted of) Criminal Acts – Due to the obvious and severe nature of the driver’s negligence or recklessness, the driver is charged with a crime (if not multiple crimes) in most cases. Common charges include second-degree murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide, and extreme or super-extreme DUI.
While fatal bicycle accidents will often lead to criminal charges against the driver, the driver’s criminal conviction (if the driver ultimately gets convicted) does not result in an award to the victim’s family. Although drivers can be sentenced to criminal fines and prison time, the criminal justice system is not designed to provide families with financial compensation for the loss of their loved ones. Instead, when coping with the consequences of a negligent, reckless, or drunk driver’s mistake, families must file their claims in civil court.
National Cycling Champion Killed on Training Ride By DUI Driver
Gwen Inglis was a national cycling champion. Like most competitive cyclists (and many amateur cyclists), she enjoyed going on long training rides on weekend mornings. Tragically, a training ride one Sunday in May would prove to be her last.
Inglis was riding in the bike lane when she was hit by a 29-year-old driver. According to news reports, the driver drifted into the bike lane and hit Inglis, causing her to go down. She succumbed to her injuries after being transported to the hospital.
The young driver was arrested on suspicion of vehicular homicide involving driving under the influence of drugs. He would eventually be sentenced to just eight years in prison. Inglis’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver, and a year and a half after the fatal accident a jury awarded Inglis’s family $353 million.
When drivers kill cyclists, they deserve to be held accountable. Cyclists’ families also deserve justice when they lose their loved ones too soon. While knowing that the driver will spend years of his or her life in prison can provide some measure of closure, the reality is that this does nothing to help families cope with the day-to-day consequences of their loved one no longer being around.
Anatomy of a Fatal Bicycle Accident Case
In Arizona (as in other states), the civil and criminal justice systems are separate. The criminal justice system is there to punish individuals who break the law, while the civil justice system allows victims and families to hold criminals accountable for the financial and non-financial consequences of their acts—though families can seek punitive damages in some civil cases as well. While the state will often pursue criminal charges against negligent, reckless, and drunk (or high) drivers who kill cyclists, it is up to cyclists’ families to seek the financial compensation they deserve.
Even when there is absolutely no question about what happened and who was responsible, grieving families must still prove their right to financial compensation under Arizona law. While this will involve seeking a jury verdict through Arizona’s civil justice system in some cases, most often it involves dealing with the insurance companies. Drivers’ auto insurance policies, their employers’ commercial liability insurance policies, rideshare companies’ insurance policies, and bars’ and restaurants’ dram shop insurance policies all cover fatal bicycle accidents.
For grieving families that need to seek financial compensation after a fatal bicycle accident in Arizona, seeking just compensation is a process that takes time. Fortunately, they can rely on their lawyers to handle most of the process for them. When families engage us to seek compensation for their loved ones’ wrongful death, our process involves five core components:
- Investigating the Accident – Our first step is always to conduct a thorough investigation of the accident. Ideally, we like to do this as soon after the accident as possible. Our investigation typically involves not only examining the crash site where the fatal accident occurred, but also obtaining the driver’s receipts, phone records, employment records, and other relevant documentation.
- Monitoring the Driver’s Criminal Case – While the driver’s criminal prosecution won’t necessarily have a direct impact on the family’s civil case, certain aspects of the driver’s criminal case can be relevant to the family’s claim for financial compensation. Our lawyers will monitor the driver’s criminal case and determine what information or evidence from the case we can use to help prove the family’s legal rights.
- Calculating the Family’s Financial and Non–Financial Losses – Calculating the costs of a fatal bicycle accident is a process of its own. While no amount of money can truly compensate for the loss of a loved one, it is important that families seek the maximum compensation that is available. Our lawyers work closely with our clients to assess not only the financial impacts of their loved one’s passing (i.e., loss of future income and benefits), but the non-financial impacts as well. We will also usually assess the possibility of pursuing a claim for punitive damages.
- Negotiating with the Insurance Companies – Once we have all of the information and evidence we need, we will begin negotiating with the insurance companies. While some cases will involve dealing with just one insurance company, it is not unusual for multiple insurance companies to be involved. Our lawyers have decades of experience negotiating favorable insurance settlements, and they rely on this experience to help our clients secure pre-trial settlement awards in many cases.
- Going to Court If Necessary – Sometimes, the insurance companies simply won’t pay what they owe. From questions about the evidence to bad-faith insurance practices, there are a variety of reasons why. When the insurance companies won’t make (or accept) a fair offer, we take them to court. Our lawyers have extensive trial experience as well, and we have won numerous significant verdicts for our clients at trial.
Three Fatal Bicycle Accidents in Just Two Days
In April 2022, the Phoenix area witnessed three fatal bicycle accidents in just two days. As reported by local news outlets, on April 1, a cyclist died at the hospital after being hit near the intersection of 1st Avenue and Dobson Road in Mesa. Another cyclist was killed later in the evening when he was hit while crossing 16th Street in Phoenix. The next day, a cyclist died after being hit by a driver who fled the scene of the accident near 32nd Street and Thomas Road.
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, there are about 30 reported fatal bicycle accidents in Arizona each year. So, to have three fatal accidents in two days is shocking. But, while it may be shocking, it is hard to say that it is surprising. Many drivers are not as careful as they should be; and, while it is common for cyclists to be present on Arizona’s roads, many drivers still don’t think to look for cyclists at intersections or along the side of the road.
Why Do Fatal Bicycle Accidents Keep Happening?
Why do fatal bicycle accidents keep happening? The answer is simple: Drivers keep making mistakes. Despite bicycle riders’ right to share the road and the obvious dangers of getting too close to cyclists, drivers keep putting cyclists in harm’s way. This includes putting cyclists in harm’s way by making negligent and reckless mistakes such as:
- Driving while distracted (including texting, sending emails, and using social media behind the wheel)
- Driving under the influence (including driving under the influence of alcohol, prescription medications, marijuana, and other drugs)
- Ignoring traffic signs and signals (including speeding, running stop signs, running red lights, and turning right without checking for oncoming cyclists)
- Ignoring cyclists’ rights on the road (including cyclists’ right to occupy space in their lane, their right to a reasonable buffer, and their right to use crosswalks when riding on bike paths or sidewalks)
- Other forms of carelessness (including changing lanes or turning without looking for cyclists, misjudging speed and distance, and simply making poor decisions behind the wheel)
Regardless of the circumstances involved, there is no justification—none—for putting a cyclist’s life at risk. If you have lost a loved one to a fatal bicycle crash in Arizona, we strongly encourage you to contact us for more information.
Speak with a Phoenix Fatal Bicycle Accident Lawyer for Free
If you need to know more about your family’s legal rights after a fatal bicycle crash in Arizona, we invite you to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. To speak with an experienced lawyer at Phoenix Accident and Injury Law Firm in confidence, please call 480-634-7480 or get in touch online today.