Cleapor Fatality — Mesa police stonewall

The stonewall has broken, and a flood of details that implicate the cyclist as being at fault in the collision have been released in an AZ Republic article published October 13, 2007. Why it took until now, weeks after Mesa police declared there would be no citations issued is baffling. Mesa police spokesman Detective Chris Arvayo could have (and in my opinion, should have) either released these explanations sooner, or simply stated the investigation was ongoing. He either said, or left the impression that the case was closed without saying why.

Below is the background material…

JJ Hensley’s piece in the AZ Republic Oct.1 2007 hits the nail on the head: “But cycling enthusiasts say the absence of an explanation from Mesa Police is as vexing as the absence of a citation”.

There are certainly circumstances that would exonerate the truck driver, but… Where are the details? Why won’t Mesa police release them? Why is the driver’s name being withheld? Another oddity, the East Valley Tribune’s most recent story was on Sept. 14th — according to search of their website. So, they didn’t even report the investigation outcome at all.

With regard to the question about name witholding, JJ Hensley the AZ Rep reporter emailed me: “We generally don’t identify drivers in situations like these unless they’re cited with something or accused of doing something criminal (ie, a suspected drunk driver, etc)”. I sort of question this a bit, it seems to me I’ve read names of drivers who haven’t been cited, but there you have it. In any event the Oct 13 story says that the “driver of the rig has not been identified” which i take to mean that the Mesa police are withholding the name.

Here was my exchange with Det. Arvayo where I requested more details, none were forthcoming:

—– Original Message —–

From: Christopher.Arvayo@cityofmesa.org
To: Ed Beighe
Sent: Wednesday, September 26, 2007 12:13 PM
Subject: Re: Cleapor fatality

Thanks for your email. As it stands, there will be no citations issued in this investigation. The detectives assigned to investigate fatal traffic collisions are competent and aware of when a citation is to be issued. Based on the information gathered at the scene the decision not to issue a citation stands.

—– Original Message —–

From: Ed Beighe
To: christopher.arvayo@cityofmesa.org
Sent: Wednesday, September 26, 2007 12:04 PM
Subject: Cleapor fatality

Dear Det. Arvayo,
The story in the Arizona Republic is stongly suggestive of a prima facia case against the unnamed truck driver for violating 28-735 and causing the death of Linda Cleapor.
The overtaking vehicle always have the primary duty of care when passing.

If there are any exonerating counter-stories, please bring them to light.
The piece in the paper merely suggests that there are “conflicting” accounts, yet where the rubber meets the road it appears that truck driver simply didn’t complete his pass safely, as required.

Regards,
Ed Beighe
azbikelaw.org

Here is a forum posting that has links to still shots (taken from a helicopter) of the wide-load truck, and of the crash scene. Below are the three Arizona Republic stories on the incident, in reverse-chronological order:

Truck driver who hit cyclist won’t be cited

Dan Shearer and Carolyn Marsh, The Arizona Republic, Oct. 13, 2007 12:00 AM link
A Mesa police investigation concluded the driver of a big rig that ran over a cyclist last month was not at fault and will not be cited.

Linda Cleapor, 52, died during morning rush-hour Sept. 12 when she was hit by a tractor-trailer near Dobson and Baseline roads.

Her death sparked an outcry from the cycling community, many of whom shared stories of motorists driving dangerously close to cyclists or cutting them off. They also said a state law requiring three feet between vehicles and cyclists is often overlooked and not enforced.
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But police said the law did not come into play in this case.

Mesa Detective Chris Arvayo said ARS 28-735 requires a driver give three feet of clearance when overtaking a bicycle traveling in the same direction.

But the driver has no obligation when a bicyclist attempts to overtake the motor vehicle, as appears to be the case in the September accident.

Rich Rumer, president of the Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists, said the group responded to ensure the truck driver wasn’t being inattentive.

“It’s possible she was at fault,” he said, but added that many cases accidents occur because motorists are busy changing CDs or texting on their cellphones.

“We do believe that bicyclists and motorists can share the road safely, but there has to be good judgment by both parties,” Rumer said.

The investigation, released Friday, indicated Cleapor merged from the crosswalk and into the buffer zone (where the crosswalk ends and the roadway begins) behind the trailer being hauled by the driver of the tractor-trailer.

She then apparently caught up with the rig, according to Arvayo. Cleapor went under the back wheels of the trailer, which carried a piece of heavy construction equipment.

While witnesses indicate the truck had safely passed Cleapor, Arvayo said police “still don’t have a witness who saw the contact.”

The 45-year-old driver of the rig has not been identified.

Also from the report:
• The truck had been properly marked and traveling at speeds less than 20 mph, based on witness statements.
• Cleapor had been riding on the sidewalk and through the crosswalk at Dobson.
• No safety violations were found on the driver or truck and trailers when a vehicle inspection was conducted.
• The driver voluntarily submitted to a DUI evaluation by a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor, and no signs of impairment were observed.
A witness observed the truck and trailer pass Cleapor while she was riding in the crosswa

Cycling enthusiasts pound police over deadly accident

JJ Hensley, The Arizona Republic, Oct. 1, 2007 05:59 PM link
Linda Cleapor died nearly three weeks ago, but her case is being kept alive by groups of bicycling enthusiasts from around the country who believe Mesa police should take another look at the case.

Cleapor, 51, was on her bicycle near Dobson and Baseline roads on the morning of Sept. 12 when a semi carrying a wide load struck and killed her. A Mesa Police Department investigation did not result in a citation for the truck’s driver, and that has cyclists upset.

The Washington, D.C.-based League of American Bicyclists encouraged its members to contact the department and ask police to re-examine the case, but Detective Chris Arvayo, a department spokesman, said there’s little police can do without eyewitnesses.
“It’s a tragedy. It’s not something we take lightly. We don’t go there and say, ‘Oh, it’s a bicycle, it’s not important,’ ” said Arvayo who was a bicycle patrolman for two years.

“It’s ridiculous to try and say that she was run down, that she was murdered, that this driver’s guilty of anything,” he said, citing the tone of many of the emails that have come into the office. “We’re looking at a pending civil traffic violation. There is no guilt or innocence here. We don’t know where her bike was. We don’t know that she was driving straight and that this violation was committed by the truck driver. We don’t have the information we need to go ahead.”

Many of the email writers see it more simply: If a bicyclist is driving down the road and is struck by a motor vehicle driver, the driver didn’t allow three feet of safe passage, as required under ARS 28-735. Violating the statute carries fines from $500 to $1000 if a cyclist is seriously injured or killed.

“Everybody can conclude that there’s not three feet, but you have to determine why there was not three feet,” Arvayo said.

But cycling enthusiasts say the absence of an explanation from Mesa Police is as vexing as the absence of a citation.

“We don’t understand what mitigating factors are involved. You’ve got the truck, you’ve got the street and you’ve got the dead body,” said R.S. Matt, education director with the Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists. “We have not had any, to my knowledge, any explanation on the part of Mesa P.D. on why they have not cited the driver, except for an email to one of our members from one of the detectives that essentially said, ‘We know what we’re doing and we’re not going to cite this man.’ ”

Police have interviewed and re-interviewed people at the scene and haven’t developed enough information to cite the driver, Arvayo said.

No one saw the accident happen, but those at the scene all saw the aftermath, Arvayo said.

“We have someone who’s deceased and it’s tragic,” he said. “The best thing that can happen is that this thing is laid to rest.”

A national group that has lauded Mesa’s status as a Bicycle Friendly Community shared Arvayo’s email address with its members and asked them to take action on the Arizona Coalition’s behalf.

Elizabeth Preston, communications director with the League of American Bicyclists, said Mesa’s status as a bike-friendly community was a result of the city’s traffic engineering, but enforcement of bike laws is one of the hardest areas to encourage cities to take action.

“It’s really hard to educate police to be trained to understand that bikes are vehicles and should be treated as such,” Preston said.

Matt has done training for Scottsdale police five times and offered to do the same in Mesa.

“We’re not cop haters,” Matt said. “We’re not rabble-rousers.”

Cyclist’s death focuses on obscure road law

JJ Hensley, The Arizona Republic, Sept. 20, 2007 07:03 AM link
Her death was tragic for friends and family, but little more than a rush-hour inconvenience to drivers making their way through west Mesa on the morning of Sept. 12.

But for a group of bicycling enthusiasts in the Valley, the abrupt end to Linda Cleapor’s life last week on the corner of Baseline and Dobson roads marks the beginning of a new campaign to bring awareness to a relatively obscure Arizona law.

Arizona Revised Statute 28-735 states that if a motorist who overtakes a bicyclist on a city street fails to leave at least three feet of clearance, and the bicyclist is injured or killed, officers can cite the motorist with a traffic violation and a fine of up to $1,000.
Mesa police say the driver of the oversized load who came into contact with Cleapor’s bike just west of Dobson won’t be cited, and that has bicyclists like Rich Rumer worried.

“It’s obvious she was on the road, that she has the right to be on the road and that he ran her over, so he did not give her three feet,” said Rumer, chairman of the board of the Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists. “We definitely would like to have (police) review it and reconsider the fact that they think they can’t issue a ticket. The guy killed somebody. For the guy not to be issued at least a citation is an atrocity.”

Mesa Police Detective Chris Arvayo, a department spokesman, said issuing a citation isn’t easy when detectives investigating the scene are dependent on eyewitness accounts.

“Obviously, there wasn’t three feet between them because she got hit, but that doesn’t tell us where she came from or where she was on the roadway. In order for that detective to issue the violation, there’s just got to be more there,” Arvayo said.

The eyewitnesses police have spoken to came back with conflicting reports on what happened shortly after the 7:30 a.m. accident, but police reports indicate the truck driver and Cleapor were going westbound on Baseline toward Dobson, with Cleapor on the sidewalk as they approached the intersection. The truck crossed through the intersection going no more than 15 mph, the report states, and lost sight of Cleapor. Another driver flagged the trucker down about a quarter-mile west of the intersection to tell him Cleapor was injured.

The truck’s right rear axle struck Cleapor “just west of Dobson, in the easement area of the roadway,” according to a police report. Cleapor died at the scene.

That information alone should be enough to cite the truck driver, whose name police haven’t released, Rumer said.

The more that tragic accidents like this occur without drivers being cited, the less other Arizonans know about the statutes on the book, and the legal requirements to give bicyclists safe passage on city streets, he said.

“Our laws aren’t too bad, it’s the fact that you’ve got to issue the citation. You’ve got to use what’s on the books,” Rumer said. If there’s laws that’s one thing but you’ve got to enforce them. Without enforcement there’s no education, there’s no awareness.”

2 thoughts on “Cleapor Fatality — Mesa police stonewall”

  1. i am a 35 year mechanic.at 50 years old i dont want to peddle all the time so i built a motorised bike.it is capable of 35-40 mph.48cc’s of course.
    i found out recently that motorised bicycles are limited to 20 mph.that is a death sentence! i think that lawmakers should be tested regularly for brain atrophy.
    if the speed limit is 40mph in the path of many tons of steel coming up on you at 40 mph ; you don’t want to be moving at 20 mph.!especially in phx!!people are naturally competitive at any time.like it or not and i believe that everyone knows what im getting at .side by side; even granny will gain weight in the foot.i realise that i put myself in danger! let me decide how i’m going to navigate on the street.i’m not stupid although i will admit i like a lil bit extra on my thrills,but at the same time i can make it safer in my situations by adjusting my speed.if i follow a ridiculous rule made by one or more people who ride an office chair at most. i will more likely get hurt or worse. when will the population have enough laws. or realise that we don’t need too many lawmakers,justifying their existance by constricting our lives to the point of danger!!??

  2. i understand how this cleapor woman was killed. i escape the same scenario often.quite often.people are not alert and/oraware. this woman had to have time to put the bicycle down in a way to gain momentum at her body to escape the area of danger.when i drive or ride a bike .i am prepared at all times to make a quick move with any means i can use.i will take an injury calculated to be less than the one faced with.a tractor trailer going 15 mph i cant imagine not being able to place my body any place to either side of my directionat least 5 -10 feet.i’m not afraid to dismount at any speed ,in order to gain more control of my body.i’ve never even got a scratch dismounting a bike at speed to get my feet on the ground.
    also. if i am riding,i am riding fast and i make clear changes in direction if i change at all. allot of times i use a fake to prod driving folks into slowing or make them uncomfortable with my riding style.im saying i make myself known.i can irritate the smallest little corner of your vision i go off curbs ,fly. spit.smoke, yell,etc…if i was not watching out for myself,i too would have been dead with no blame on anyone. when a person loses or never has awareness they shouldnt be on a street driving or whatever.

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