Founder of Yuma Bike Club killed in head-on collision

[Update: on 9/1/2010 the driver was cited Case Number: M-1442-TR-201001097, Somerton Municipal Court]

Cyclist Doug Flynn was killed, and at least one more rider injured, in a head-on collision last year (Sept 24, 2009) by a driver trying to pass a large farm tractor on a two lane roadway.
[for a line-item on each fatality since 2009; follow this link]

A tribute to Doug posted on the YBC’s website reads “Yuma Bike Club is shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of our founder, friend, and competitor, Doug Flynn, who was struck down in a horrific accident while on the club ride the morning of September 24th. He was a very, very good man, husband, and father”

According to an article in the Yuma Sun, Someton police spokesman “…said the vehicle, driven by a 25-year-old Somerton woman, tried to pass a tractor pulling a farm implement in a legal passing zone.”

I believe this is the approximate location of the collision [google maps], apparently Madison Street is the same as W County 15th St. The cyclists were westbound approaching Somerton Avenue.

The collision occurred in Somerton in the 300 block of E Madison Street, Somerton, AZ. The investigation was conducted by the Somerton Police Department. I obtained a copy of the report; the report and investigation appears to be of good quality.

A warrant was obtained to do a blood draw on the driver, though no impairment was suspected. Ultimately the Yuma County Prosecutor declined to press criminal charges based on negative blood test results and on 2/24/2009 the case was closed by SPD. (so, 5 months, which is probably about average).

The mechanics of the collision appear to be beyond dispute — The driver of an eastbound car was following a large farm implement and decided to pass. Soon after she entered the oncoming lane she collided with one or more westbound cyclists. From the report:

“[the driver]stated that there was a right to pass and so she did. [she] stated that while she was attempting to pass the tractor that the glare from the sunlight began to get in her face but that she did not see anyone. [She] stated that as she was passing in the left lane she began to press on the gas pedal when she saw the bicyclist (Flynn) right in front of her.”

Under section 19 of the Arizona Crash Report, “violation/behavior” the investigating officer (correctly, and consistent with the narrative) noted that the cyclist was “no improper action” and the motorist was “other unsafe passing”.

Somerton police have inexplicably declined to cite the driver, despite what appears to me to be readily apparent evidence that she is responsible for violating some civil traffic law. There is a one-year time limit to file a civil traffic citation (§28-1592), Doug was killed on 9/24/2009, and I began contacting Somerton PD in mid-July 2010.  [Update: on 9/1/2010 the driver was cited Case Number: M-1442-TR-201001097, Somerton Municipal Court]:

§28-725. Limitations on overtaking on the left

A person shall not drive a vehicle to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the left side is clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit the overtaking and passing to be completed without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction or any vehicle overtaken. The overtaking vehicle shall return to the right-hand side of the roadway before coming within one hundred feet of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction.

Sun glare — I couldn’t find sunrise tables for Yuma, but in Phoenix that day sunrise would have been at 6:18a. The collision occurred at 6:40a, thus it was not nighttime. Sun glare was undoubtedly a factor, but it does not relieve anyone of their responsibilities.

In crash analysis literature this is referred to as LBFS (or LBFTS), “looked but failed to see“, causation. Defined as “the involved road users having looked in the appropriate direction(s) but failed to see the person or vehicle with whom/which they collided”, from e.g. this British Dept. for Transport study.

If the driver was so blinded by the sun glare; she obviously could not tell whether or not the left side was “clearly visible” (as it was clearly not), and she obviously, as is self-evident from the tragic outcome,  “interfered with the safe operation” of oncoming traffic.

If illegal passing isn’t indicated for some reason that I am not appreciating, Arizona’s basic speed law is very broad:

§28-701. Reasonable and prudent speed; prima facie evidence; exceptions

A. A person shall not drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances, conditions and actual and potential hazards then existing. A person shall control the speed of a vehicle as necessary to avoid colliding with any object, person, vehicle or other conveyance on, entering or adjacent to the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to exercise reasonable care for the protection of others.

The driver obviously did not control her speed, since she could not avoid colliding.

“The driving of an automobile at such a speed that motorist cannot stop his automobile within range of his vision is negligence as a matter of law.”  Campbell v. English (1941) 56 Ariz. 549, 110 P.2d 219. “We affirm that rule as the correct and salutary law of the road. An automobile in motion may be a most powerful instrumentality of destruction to life and property, and one using it must do so in such a manner that he can control its actions within the limits of his vision.”

Other oddities

The driver of the tractor did not stop. It is not clear if that is because he was unaware or just what; furthermore, the police report makes no mention of this. It seems like he would not have been hard to locate. Weird.

In any event, it appears the tractor was not (directly) involved in the collision, so would have no duty to stop, that is to say there was no hit-and-run; or at least from what I make of it.

fact, under “violation/behavior” the investigating officer (correctly) noted that the cyclist was “no improper action” and the motorist was “other unsafe passing”.

10 thoughts on “Founder of Yuma Bike Club killed in head-on collision”

  1. If you can’t see, the speed limit is zero. So besides illegal passing, the woman was also speeding.

    By not citing the woman, the police are hurting the whole bicyclist cause.

  2. The two bad parts about not citing are: The driver gets no feeling they should have done something different. It wasn’t my fault and there for an accident not a concious decision to pass illegally. The chances of gettign civil remedies go down becasue teh person can argue that the police found no incorrect behaviour on the drivers fault.

  3. I do feel that the young woman that struck Doug will always feel the guilt of her actions. She passed the lead cyclist, struck Doug (who was second),and the third was hit with Doug’s bike. If the pelaton of riders were closer, there could have been more injuries. The driver of the farm implement didn’t even stop.

    As far as citation, would she have been cited if some kind of motorized vehicle had been struck?

  4. This is yet another tragic cycling accident. However, I cannot help but wonder if she had struck another car head on instead of a cyclist would the results of the investigation have been different? As a member of YBC and manager of the youth cycling team I am very familiar with the route Doug and the others were riding that day. We ride that route routinely and due to agricultural traffic we “spread out” the peloton to single file with spacing between groups. However, what about the farm vehicle? There are broad dirt shoulders and there was no need for the tractor to even be on the road way. Yet they routinely take the entire road. It is common occurance in Yuma for tractors to NOT yeild to vehicle traffic. I wish more people would look into this accident as some serious changes need to be made before someone else gets injured.

    We all miss Doug…but his death will not have been in vain if there are changes made to make the road safer for cyclist!

  5. As of today I’ve heard nothing further other than to acknowledge the receipt of my inquiry. That was weeks ago…

    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: RE: Follow up on Doug Flynn fatality
    From: “Michelle Magana”
    Date: Tue, July 20, 2010 8:29 am
    To: “‘Ed Beighe'”

    Good Morning Mr. Beighe,
    I did receive your e-mail and I will be discussing this matter with Chief Cotman. Any updated information I will let you know.
    Thank you,
    M. Magana 027
    Patrol Lt.
    City of Somerton
    445 E. Main St. / P. O. Box 477
    (928) 722-7300 / (928) 722-7315 (fax)
    MichelleM@cityofsomerton.com

    —————————————————————-

    From: Ed Beighe [mailto:ed@azbikelaw.org]
    Sent: Monday, July 19, 2010 11:17 PM
    To: michellem@cityofsomerton.com
    Subject: Re: Follow up on Doug Flynn fatality
    Lt. Magana,
    I’m not in any rush for results here, but since I hadn’t heard anything back, and can’t be sure that you received my email. I do want to ensure that you are aware of the situation
    (cc: by fax: (928) 722-7315)
    —– Original Message —–
    From: Ed Beighe
    To: michellem@cityofsomerton.com
    Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 12:09 PM
    Subject: Follow up on Doug Flynn fatality
    Lieutenant Michelle Magana
    Somerton Police Department
    Dear Lt. Magana,
    As part of a project to examine records for each bicycling fatality ocurring in Arizona in 2009, I recently requested and received a copy of the crash report conducted by your department in connection with the death of bicyclist Doug Flynn, agency report number 20093780.
    (if you are interested in more details about the overall project, please see http://azbikelaw.org/fatality-grid/ )
    First I would like to thank your department for the expedient and efficient response to my request for these records. And second I would like to complement the thoroughness, clarity and professionalism of the investigation and report (I’ve been seeing a lot of these reports from a lot of agencies, and let me tell you the quality varies a lot).
    I was particularly glad to see that the effort was taken to obtain a warrant to test the driver.
    At the conclusion of the report; I fully understand that the Yuma County Attorney declined to bring criminal charges.
    What I do not understand is why no civil traffic citations were issued.
    Under section 19 of the Arizona Crash Report, “violation/behavior” the investigating officer (consistent with the narrative, and correctly in my view) noted that the cyclist behavior was “no improper action” while the motorist was “other unsafe passing”.
    A word about the accidental nature of this incident: No one is suggesting that it was anything but accidental. This is totally irrelevent for the purposes of civil traffic violations. The cyclist(s) were lawfully present; or at least there is nothing in the narrative to suggest otherwise, and behavior of “no improper action”. Obscured view, for example sun glare, does not relieve drivers of their responsibility; drivers who can’t see have a duty to slow down, or to choose not to pass in the first place. If they breech this duty they have violated a statute.
    Please review this incident and issue appropriate citations. Pursuant to 28-1592, citations may be issued up until September 23 of this year, since the investigation invovled death.
    Regards,
    Ed Beighe
    azbikelaw.org
    Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists http://www.cazbike.org

  6. Thank you for your efforts. It looks as if the citation was filed as a direct result of your inquiry. Although Doug’s family realizes this was an accident and has no ill will toward the young woman, we do want to see the proper precedent set for the protection of other cyclists. Doug’s Dad.

  7. Mr. Beighe, As one of Doug’s brothers, I think I speak for all when I say thank you for pursuing this further. I for one have wondered why a citation wasn’t issued to begin with. Had the driver struck a motorist, I don’t think there would have been any hesitation in issuing a citation or even more severe charges such as vehicular manslaughter. Without trying to sound vengeful, I think the circumstances of the accident merit at the least a citation.
    Regardless, we must all remember Doug, and other cyclists, and move forward and try to change the broken or overlooked parts of the system. I think your persistence in this case will help us move forward. So, please keep up the good work and thanks again.

  8. Thank you Mr. Beighe for pursuing this. I find it incredible that a man was killed and we never heard another thing about it, especially considering that he worked for the Yuma Sun. I’m a Somerton resident, ride that road all the time, and the farm implements are huge and stick out well past the center line. There is NO way I would ever try to pass something so big with the sun in my eyes. Does anyone know if the “25 year old Somerton woman” was an illegal? Probably the reason the tractor driver didn’t stop. For those unfamiliar with the area, Somerton is a border town. I’ll keep an eye on this page, not holding my breath for any info from the Sun. Makes me cry every time I pass Doug’s “share the road” bicycle on Hwy 95 and I didn’t even know him. A girl 2 years ahead of me in school was just killed in May by a trash truck in Scottsdale. That driver “did not see” her either but is not getting away with it.

  9. Another instance of a cyclist being killed by a negligent (nothing accidental about this incident) driver, and another instance of the driver getting away with it. I expect the driver to try to get away with it, and I unfortunately have come to expect the police to effectively sweep the event under the carpet. What I don’t understand about this case is why a family member didn’t enlist the services of a lawyer to pursue charges, both criminal and civil. And why did a fellow Sun reporter not investigate this incident. That’s their job, particularly when investigators shrug off their duty. Clearly the police dropped the ball in this investigation, and would have been satisfied to leave it at that had the OP not followed up as he did. If this were my brother/father/friend/co-worker/etc., I would have been all over the police until they did their job and all over the driver until she was convicted of the most serious chargethat could be pinned on her. Many/most crashes are not accidents. They are often caused by irresponsible, negligent behavior on the part of at least one person. When I read about this kind of outcome, it feels as if the importance of cyclists to drivers, police, and the courts ranks very close to that of roadkill. Perhaps a dead cyclist requires a bit more paperwork. And they aren’t left in the ditch on the side of the road. Other than those distinctions, I think it’s an accurate assessment of the status cyclists are extended.

  10. I’m a cyclist from El Centro, California. Doug was a friend of mine. Reading this today makes me cry all over again. Doug Flynn is not forgotten.

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