Mississippi cyclist hit twice by driver: Where is the accountability?
Photo: Hey PaulGetting hit by a driver when you’re on a bike is not nearly as rare a thing as it ought to be. And because the law tends to favor drivers in most parts of the country, not all of these incidents end up with the driver getting charged as you might expect.
Former NFL quarterback Joey Harrington was hit by a driver and seriously injured while riding his bike in Portland, Ore., on Sunday night. Thank goodness, Harrington’s injuries were not life-threatening, and he’s been moved out of the intensive care unit. According to reports, the driver was cited for following too closely. The crash has gotten a fair amount of attention because of Harrington’s celebrity status, and that’s all well and good, if it leads to more awareness of how vulnerable people riding bikes are to the actions of careless drivers.
But let me tell you about another case, one you might not have heard about because it doesn’t involve a celebrity. Let me tell you the horrifying (and yet ultimately hopeful) story of Jan Morgan.
Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with David Morgan, Jan’s husband. Jan was struck by a driver from behind when she was out on a road ride with a friend, Kim, on Highway 50 in Clay County, Miss., on May 22. Jan and David, both physicians, also own a bike store in Starkville, Miss. Biking is one of the couple’s shared passions.
Jan is an experienced road cyclist and triathlete. Like Harrington, she was wearing a helmet. Her husband also emphasized some other things about the conditions at the time of the crash: There was good visibility, and the road is flat and wide. Jan and Kim were wearing bright clothing, as they always do on road rides.
That didn’t save Jan from getting hit from behind, hard enough to be thrown onto the hood of the car. When the car stopped, David told me, Jan rolled off the hood. He told me that according to Kim, the woman driving got out of the car and was on her cell phone. She yelled something along the lines of, “What are y’all doing in the middle of the road?” When Kim ran back down the road to get help, the driver got into the car again and started driving … rolling over Jan’s head.
Here’s how eyewitness Moneaka Jones described the scene:
“When she hit Jan, she didn’t dodge her, never slowed down,” Jones told the Daily Journal. “She got out of the car, she was on the phone, saying ‘I just hit a lady. You better get down here.'”
Jones said [Robbie] Norton peeked at Morgan, who was bleeding and unconscious, before getting back inside her car and slowly running her over.
“The front tire sat on Jan’s head 45 seconds to a minute,” Jones said. “You can hear it on the 911 tape, me telling her she was on top of Jan’s head. Then she got off her head. She was in a state of shock. She attempted to get back in the car a third time actually but we wouldn’t let her.”
In the first weeks after the crash, Jan’s prognosis was uncertain. She was sedated and on a ventilator. Then, things started improving. I followed her progress on the very moving and detailed blog that her husband started to chronicle her journey. It is a powerful chronicle of the effect one person’s careless driving can have on the lives of others.
Amazingly, after several weeks of rehabilitation, Jan Morgan is back at home. She is writing entries on the blog herself now. In the first days after the crash, it certainly looked as if the chances for that happening were slim.
Here’s what Jan wrote the other day:
I went back and read some of David’s early posts. That was very hard for me. To realize what he went through … the pain and fear he must have been feeling … was overwhelming. I cried. I wish the woman that hit me could feel what David felt. I wonder if she felt anything.
A couple of astonishing things about the Jan Morgan case: First off, it appears that the driver (whose insurance had lapsed) will be able to get off with a misdemeanor charge, despite that part about getting back into the car and rolling over Jan’s head. According to local publication NEMS360.com, the driver has said she doesn’t remember running Morgan over a second time and was just trying to get her car off the road. She also said she was traumatized by the crash, and that she only got on her cell phone after she hit Morgan.
A felony is possible under only three circumstances, [District Attorney Forrest] Allgood said: Leaving the scene of an accident that caused injuries; aggravated DUI; aggravated assault.
Norton stayed on the scene, even though witnesses reportedly prevented her from leaving. And she hadn’t been drinking, though the accident report states no sobriety, breath or blood test was done.
For aggravated assault, Allgood said, he’d need proof Norton either intentionally hit and ran over Morgan or that she acted with reckless disregard to the value of human life — culpable negligence.
Neither Allgood nor the witnesses said they believe Norton acted intentionally. And culpable negligence applies only in extreme circumstances, Allgood said.
The Morgan family’s attorney, Brace Knox, said this case is indeed extreme.
“The first time she hit her it was gross negligence,” Knox said. “The second time, there was no compelling circumstance whatsoever to return and restart the vehicle.”
David Morgan hopes that what happens to his wife won’t be in vain — that it will raise awareness about the need to watch out for cyclists and share the road. As a doctor, he told me, he is acutely aware of the need for safe ways to increase physical activity. “I’d like to see more people out there being healthy and active so they don’t have to come see me in the hospital,” he said. “We’ve got such a health problem in this country with obesity and no encouragement for people to get on their feet. You have to drive two blocks to the store because there’s no safe way to walk.”
David would like to see Mississippi pass a ban on cell phones and texting, although he’s not very hopeful (34 states and the District of Columbia have some type of ban, although a recent study shows they may not be effective). “I despise cell phones in vehicles,” he told me. “But it’s a tough hill to climb. Cell phones are too much of a convenience.”
For now, he’s using his blog to spread a simple message. It’s at the bottom of every post he writes:
SHARE THE ROAD, IT’S A LIFE
PUT THE !%@$# CELL PHONE DOWN BEFORE YOU KILL SOMEBODY
GET OFF THE COUCH, LIFE IS FOR DOING STUFF
SUPPORT BIKE WALK MISSISSIPPI, THEY WILL HELP MAKE CHANGES HAPPEN
BE BRIGHT AND BE SEEN
I Love My Little Darlin,
Get Grist in your inbox