Commentary: Be Skeptical of Crash Reports in Local Media
This guest commentary is by Adelaide Perr, a writer, professional triathlete and coach who was seriously injured in a crash between her bike and a driver’s car in 2014. It was originally published at her blog and discussed at Monday’s Colorado Bicycle Summit.
Be skeptical of crash reports in local newspapers. The police officer giving the journalist a quote is often sitting in an office miles away from the crash scene. He or she is only getting second-hand information from the on-scene officer who has yet to complete an investigation.
The night of my crash The Daily Camera, Boulder’s local newspaper, quoted a public affairs officer who was located 50 miles away in Lakewood, Colorado. His statement to the newspaper read, “The driver had come to a complete stop and yielded appropriately, when they were hit by the bicycle. The driver had started from a stop sign, but stopped for a turning vehicle. That’s when they were hit by the bicyclist.”
It wasn’t until May, seven months later, before my crash expressed in writing again. I remember the day clearly. I was sitting at work when a new email popped up on my screen. It was the Deputy DA’s sentencing memorandum, which had been submitted to the judge for the upcoming traffic case. The case was People of the State of Colorado v. Russell D. Rosh.
While the case did not officially include me, I had been in communication with the District Attorney’s office multiple times prior to May for updates on the case. I asked what punishments Rosh could face. I requested photos from the scene. I wanted to make sure the letters that had been written by friends and family on my behalf were read in court. Most of all, in all of my communication with the District Attorney’s office I wanted them to understand I wasn’t at fault in my crash.
I’m sure law enforcement and the district attorney’s office had determined long before May that I hadn’t been at fault, but nobody had specifically informed me. So all winter I had the Daily Camera article in the back of my mind and it did two things. First of all it made me mad. I hadn’t been able to stand up for myself because I was being treated in the ambulance and emergency room. Second, it made me question my bike skills. I would replay the moments of the crash I could remember and try to decide if there had been enough time for me to avoid the crash.
Now back to the day in May when I opened the email attachment. Here is a little bit of how it read.
L14T1161 People’s Exhibit A (1):
When I got to section 6, where it stated that I could not have avoided the crash, my lips curled upward. My eyes lit up when I got to section eight. The DA understood that it would have been impossible for another car to have turned in front of the red Fiat and not been involved in the crash. The driver had lied. Finally a huge smile broke across my face when I read that I had been following the rules of the road to the “T” pursuant to section 42-4-1412(5)(a)(III) C.R.S.
By the time I saw the bullet points that went from the bottom third of one page and continued for two thirds of the next, I was out of my chair reading the memorandum aloud to my coworkers. Each of the 18 bullet points listed a prior traffic offense that Rosh had accumulated. Four bullet points were bold and italicized. That was the way the DA had distinguished the offenses that had led to a crash. Rosh had temporarily lost his license three times. He was listed as a habitual traffic offender and this was only his record in Colorado. The DA could not collect any information on Rosh’s driving record in other states where he may have lived.
Today as I share this story, I relive all of the emotions. I grow angry when I pull up the Daily Camera article. Then I become energized as I reread the DA’s memorandum. I often feel the need to share these documents with someone and discuss my disbelief as though I still need to defend myself three years after the crash.
But here’s the thing: because of that initial newspaper article, I still occasionally find myself in situations where I have to defend that I was not at fault in my crash. For instance, over three years after the crash I found myself at the same social event as a prominent figure in the Boulder cycling community. As we began talking over small paper plates of chips and guacamole he told me that he always thought I had not being paying attention and simply run into the stopped car.
So I implore you, on behalf of other future traffic victims, please read each newspaper article about crashes with some suspicion. The article’s writer and the police officers are doing the best job they can do at the moment, but they lack the details that only a full investigation can provide.
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