Driver hits Denton cyclist, cyclist ticketed

photo credit: Gerald Torrance

After completing an early morning 30 mile ride last Sunday, Southridge resident Alex Newton did not expect to get hit by a car, lectured by a responding police officer, and ticketed for failure-to-yield, all in his own neighborhood.

I had just stopped beside the neighborhood swimming pool on Woodbrook at Hollyhill and was about to cross Hollyhill on my way home. I do not remember seeing anyone while I was at the stop sign or when I started off into the intersection, but as I was getting clipped into my pedals and back up to speed mid-way through the intersection I looked to my right and out of the blind corner I saw a red Corolla coming at me. I started to accelerate as much as possible and thought that I was through the intersection, but to my surprise, was hit on the right hand side of my rear wheel and derailleur by the front passenger fender of the Corolla. My bike skidded a few feet to the left, but I was able to get my foot out and catch myself without falling.

After catching his breath, Alex reports that the car driver (Johnny Miller) demanded to know what Alex was doing in the road and yelled “I am going to call the cops”.  Alex agreed that police involvement sounded ideal, so they waited for the first officer to arrive.  While waiting for police, the driver continued to yell at Alex.

Johnny began yelling from across the street that “you didn’t stop!” and “what were you doing in the street!” I replied that I had stopped and that I there was no one in the street when I crossed. He yelled that I was a liar and that said that he saw me not stop. I was confused; I asked him why then if he saw me didn’t he stop?  He yelled that I was a good liar but still a liar.

At this point, the situation descended further into chaos, as the first police officer arrived and berated Alex, accusing him of running the stop sign.  Officer Danny Steadham, #124, accused Alex of “cussing this gentleman”, until the police dispatch corrected Steadham and reported no cussing during the 911 call.  Then, the situation gets more surreal as the Steadham threatened to write Alex a ticket for running the stop sign, describing that cyclists need to be taught a lesson.

Danny then let me know that he was going to give me a citation for not failure to stop at the stop sign. I told the officer that I had stopped, but he cut me off to tell me about the 8 cyclists he had seen earlier that day run a stop sign and how he has been lenient in the past with cyclists,but that we have to learn to obey traffic rules. I told him that regardless I had stopped. The officer then yelled over to Johnny to ask how long he had lived here. Johnny replied 13 years. Danny then asked if he knew the turn well, and Johnny told him that he did. Danny then told me that if Johnny had lived here for 13 years and knew this intersection that he wouldn’t have speed through, that in fact you couldn’t make the corner that fast. He went on to explain that he had tried to see how fast he could make the same corner during calls and therefore the he could not have been speeding. He let me know that he was going to write me a citation for not stopping and continued to lecture me on the subject of bicycles obeying all the same traffic rules as any other vehicle. I again told him that I had stopped.

As the situation continued to worsen, Officer Steadham’s sergeant arrived and attempted to calm the scene.  In an attempt to clarify what the record would indicate, the sergeant recanted his understanding of the accident.

He copied down the make and model of the frame and said that this is how they were going to file the police report: I had stopped at the stop sign and then proceeded into the intersection not seeing the car, the corner is a blind one, and Johnny had a large front left pillar and mirror and that he had not seen me. Mind you I am not a small man, and I was wearing a bright orange jersey on a bright yellow bike.  The officers then proceeded to let me know that even though I had stopped, as I was still operating a vehicle and coming from a direction that did not have the right of way, that I would be getting a citation for failure to yield right of way at a stop controlled intersection. He said that it would have been the same if I would have been in a car. Even though I had stopped at the stop sign it was still my responsibility to be clear of the intersection before any other traffic arrived from the direction that had right of way. I said that this didn’t sound right and asked if someone that was already in the intersection had the right to finish crossing. The sergeant joined in and said “well yes, in some cases, but not in this one”.

From glancing at Texas Transportation Code 545.153, it appears that the officers could be correct regarding Alex’s failure to yield.  The state law clearly favors vehicles already in the roadway. This, to governor Rick Perry, is adequate protection under current laws.  And that is why Rick Perry vetoed SB 488, the Safe Passing ordinance, which aimed to protect pedestrians; highway construction and maintenance workers; tow truck operators; stranded motorists or passengers; people on horseback; bicyclists; motorcyclists; and moped riders. Because the veto was completely unexpected, some municipalities have taken it upon themselves to pass local ordinances declaring the same kinds of protection. Councilman Dalton Gregory penned an editorial in favor of Safe Passing in Denton, but we’ve seen no support from other council members so far.

Wondering whether a sign would change the law’s determination, Alex questions the officers.

I asked if there was a “Caution children” or “yield to pedestrians” sign if it would still be permissible for drivers to run over the children in the intersection. The officer said that these signs would only be a warning and would not change the fact that the driver with right of way had no responsibility; it was up to the child, or parent if the child was younger, to beware of traffic.

In this case, Transportation Code 552.003 requires vehicles to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.  Further, state law requires drivers to “exercise due care” even without a crosswalk, according to 552.008.

Legal semantics aside, Alex supposes that this accident represents a danger to the neighborhood children, and he’s disappointed by the lack of empathy from the driver or police officers.

The strangest thing to me about the entire event is that nothing went as I would have expected. Of course I didn’t expect to get hit by a car, but then when I did, I expected the driver to feel some sense of responsibility or remorse not aggression and anger towards the victim. I expected that when the police arrived they would tend to the possibly injured cyclist and try to understand the situation instead of arriving with a defensive attitude for the driver and preconceived ideas on my behavior from earlier events. The last thing that I expected is that I would have received a citation for being an obstacle in the road while the driver that hit me was free to go. These things bother me at a deep level particularly because it was in our neighborhood only blocks from our house at a swimming pool that we thought would be great for our girls to walk to in the summers when they were older.

After looking at the Google Street View, I can’t help but think the ultra-wide roadway, the lack of a 4 way stop, lack of any pedestrian/children warning signs, and vehicle speed of the Corolla all add up to a perilous situation for pedestrians and cyclists.  Given the road curve, I question whether there’s sufficient line-of-sight to make this intersection safe for anyone.  I’ve swam at that pool, and that huge roadway could definitely use a crosswalk for children and parents to safely make it across.  Perhaps a 4-way stop and crosswalk are called for?  Alex’s accident should be seen as an opportunity to make a dangerous situation safer, especially since he survived unscathed.  There are plenty of lessons to be learned here for drivers, cyclists, police officers, pedestrians, and traffic engineers.  Let’s make this situation work towards a better future and not a bitter one.

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18 thoughts on “Driver hits Denton cyclist, cyclist ticketed

  1. Bobby says:

    I hate to be on the side of the cops, but if he had a stop sign, and the car did not, he was in the wrong. I eat, breathe, and dream of bicycles, but some of my fellow two wheelers ( no helmet, not obeying traffic laws, riding on the sidewalk, riding opposing traffic, etc…) act just as stupidly as the people in the box. No way to make a point for the case of equal rights on roads for cyclist. Bringing the bit about neighborhood kids is really a flawed debate tool called “begging the question”. Coexistence involves personal responsibility.

  2. howard says:

    Bobby, Alex has GPS data that shows he came to a complete stop. Also, if he unclipped, it’s likely that he touched a foot to the ground at the stop sign. Being a veteran cyclist with much experience, Alex seems not the “no-helmet, sidewalk-riding” type.

    If you look at the Google Street View of that intersection and pan right, the curve is definitely blind. Check it out. Our overall point, and Alex’s, is that there is room for improvement of the roadway. Petitio principii, we think not. There is an opportunity to make the neighborhood safer, regardless of the legal semantics.

    Alex shows great personal responsibility by asking what we can do to make this intersection safer for children and not by “fighting the man”.

    And I also think that the first officer’s generalization about the 8 other lawbreaking cyclists has zero bearing on how to handle this situation. Can we assume all drivers are predestined to speed and drive recklessly, because we see some operate this way?

  3. msn says:

    Howard:
    Thanks for the report and please let us know how this shakes out. How does Alex plan to respond to the citation?
    Cheers,
    Marie

  4. Kris says:

    Bobby I don’t believe you are an avid cyclist after reading the story and reading your response. I have ridden with Alex and he always has on a helmet and a bright jersey. On many occasions and I have ridden through this very intersection. There have been more than one close encounter due to the blind curve and the lack of respect for speed limits that drivers seem to have these days. Just because some disobey the rules of the road you have no right to group everyone together, especially in this case. If you do not go to a stop at that intersection you are taking a huge risk.

    In this case Alex is much more patient than I would have been honestly. To be almost all the way across the road, the driver telling multiple lies, to be cursed by the same person that hit me and then to be belligerently accused of doing something you didn’t by an incompetent police officer would have gotten a rise out of most. To remain patient as he has through this whole ordeal speaks a lot of his character and the story he has told here unlike the other 2 parties that have now turned this into a serious issue. An officer should never have the words we are going to teach this group of people a lesson. Welcome to police profiling once they begin to believe that. This is probably the same officer who ran around my wife in a turn lane crossing a solid white line and cutting her off just narrowly missing her a couple of months ago. He was in the wrong 100% and still pointed a finger at her and honked. If you can’t count on the people that are supposed to help maintain order what chance do any of us have out there on the roads.

    I hope Alex fights this case and there are a lot of people behind him. We have rights on the roads and if they want us off the roads then start putting in shoulders and bike lanes so we can travel. Just simply letting people run over us and then essentially rewarding them for it speaks very poorly of our society and what it is coming to. If we can’t allow our children to walk off of our front lawns then it is time to rethink things. I ask myself everyday how DFW has become so filled with people that would risk my family’s and my life to arrive at their destination 30 seconds quicker. I ask that question while I ride my bicycles and also when I am on my normal daily commute. It is a very sad state and it seems to be supported by the law in this case.

    • stearns says:

      Sorry Kris, but I’m an avid cyclist, racer and bicycle safety educator and what Bobby wrote is true. There are plenty of people who ride who don’t realize what they are doing to hurt the image of bicycle riders. I do hope Alex fights this case but what Bobby said is not intended to group Alex with those who do not obey the local traffic laws on or off the bike.

  5. I FEEL THAT THERE MIGHT NEED TO BE A STOP SIGN OR SOME OTHER TRAFFIC CALMING DEVICE AT THE INTERSECTION. IF THE MOTORIST CAME UPON THE CYCLIST TOO QUICKLY TO REACT TO HIM HE MAY HAVE BEEN TRAVELING TOO FAST FOR A NEIGHBORHOOD STREET. MAYBE THE STREETS SPEED LIMIT IS TOO HIGH FOR A CURVY ROAD WITH BLIND INTERSECTIONS.

  6. atxanon says:

    Bottom line.. cyclists need to wear a camera at all times.. everyone is biased against us.. so we need to make sure we have evidence for when this stuff happens…

  7. atxanon says:

    Also, I looked at the streetview.. in a neighborhood like that.. even if the cyclist totally ran the stopsign, no excuse for hitting them.. the neighborhood should be really alarmed if any pedestrian or cyclist is hit..

  8. Devin says:

    I’m glad Alex got in touch with you. My son and I were walking to that very pool on Woodbrook and Hollyhill when I saw Alex sitting in the shade, waiting for the officers to come to a conclusion on the situation. It’s too bad that I didn’t witness the series of events that took place moments prior.

  9. TeachEmALesson says:

    Blind corner my ass. Look at google street view again, or go over there. You can see the intersection of Woodbrook and Hollyhill from past Londonderry, and that’s over 500 ft away. At 30MPH that would be over 11 seconds. If Johnny was so impaired as to be unable to steer around a cyclist he can see from 500 ft away then he is definitely unfit to drive. More likely, he was trying to swerve into the cyclist, and that makes it Assault with a Deadly Weapon.

    More cyclists need to start carrying CHLs, maybe if Johnny Miller took some return fire he’d stop trying to kill people, learn to drive safely, and share the road.

  10. […] one of the strictest in the Midwest. In a classic example of police bias, a Denton, TX cyclist is berated and ticketed after stopping at a stop sign, then getting hit by a car coming around a blind corner. Now that […]

  11. Kris says:

    Was referring to this situation. Just as there are bad groups in every sport and every sect of life it does not apply here.

  12. Rod says:

    Most cops I see in Richardson TX are speeding therefore if any cop has a wreck it’s because the cop is speeding.

  13. Susan says:

    I live in Southridge, and am also a cyclist. Hollyhill is a very busy street, and motorists often exceed the neighborhood speed limit of 30 mph. Hollyhill is one of the few through streets in the neighborhood, so cars often speed here. For the driver to have hit the cyclist here, he must have been speeding. If the cyclist is legally at fault here, the laws need to be changed. The driver of the car sounds like a sociopath. Let’s get HIM off the road.

  14. Kathryn says:

    I am Alex’s wife and I am addressing city council on July 20th at the next council meeting. It starts at 6:30p and its at city hall. If you are a cyclist and believe Denton has room for improvement on this issue, please come and show your support. I am going to request a 4 way stop at that corner as well as painted cross walks. Its right by the neighborhood pool. I feel that Denton needs to pass the 3 ft safe passage ordinance that Austin, San Antonio, and a few other places have. I also feel that Denton needs more bike lanes. Theres such an active cycling community here. I am specifically requesting a bike lane be put on Pennsylvania, which is a major through street here in Southridge. Its the street all the neighborhood kids take to cross Teasley to get to the elementry school. These are safety concerns that need to be addressed…

  15. Laura says:

    Alex, I am so sorry you had this response from the driver and the police officer. This just shows how misguided people can be in their priorities. Even if this accident was your fault (which I don’t believe), the response you received was inhumane. I am glad to hear that you are doing well.
    As new to cycling, I am one of those people how does not own a helmet and, I wasn’t even sure if I had to obey the traffic signs or if the sidewalk is safer than the road. I apologize for that. I had no idea the negative effect my behavior has on the Denton cycling community. Expect to see me with a helmet by next Saturday and obeying the traffic laws next time I get on my bike.
    I am looking forward to see good changes.

  16. […] you’ll recall, Kathryn’s husband, Alex Newton, was hit by a car and then ticketed for “failure to […]

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