Earlier this month, fifty-year-old Charles Pickett of Battle Creek, Michigan crashed his car into nine bicyclists and then fled the scene. He is now facing five counts of second-degree murder and four counts of reckless driving causing serious bodily harm.
Just minutes prior to the collision, police in the area had received several concerned calls prompting them to search for an erratically driving truck. According to one eyewitness, he had just narrowly missed being hit by the truck as he was leaving a local park. He further stated that he didn’t have time to warn the bicyclists before the truck collided into the group – ranging in age from 40 to 74.
The bicyclists were part of a group who referred to themselves as the “Chain Gang” and regularly took long rides together. They were just 5-miles into their typical 30 mile ride when Pickett struck the bike-enthusiasts. According to the Kalamazoo Sheriff’s Department, after the truck made impact, Pickett bailed from his truck and fled the scene on foot. Police were able to swiftly find and arrest him.
In addition to the criminal charges Pickett already faces, he may also be subject to civil liability. In hit-and-run bicycle accidents, the injured cyclists and the cyclists’ estate following a wrongful death, may bring a lawsuit to recoup damages in the form of medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
While there has been speculation that Mr. Pricket may have been drinking and driving, this has not been confirmed. Police and the local prosecutor have yet to give any indication as to the cause of the accident aside from stating that the preliminary crime lab results had been received. There has been no indication that the findings will be released before trial.
The son of one of the deceased cyclists, Larry Paulik, made a statement early on June 11, forgiving Pickett and hoping to have this terrible accident be a way to “educate against the many causes of these accidents. Whether they involve drinking or road rage or texting while driving.”
Most jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, have what are commonly known as “Hit and Run Laws” which make it a criminal offense to be a party to an accident and then flee the scene without ensuring the safety of all involved. The basis for these laws is to ensure that when an accident occurs those involved will make certain there are no injuries and give aid to those who are injured. If you flee the scene- like Pickett- the punishment is always more severe- even if the accident itself was not initially the fault of the one fleeing.
According to the most recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 32,675 fatalities in 2014 due to car crashes. 726 of those fatalities were cyclists who were struck by a vehicle. The NHTSA reports that most accidents involving a vehicle striking a cyclist happen primarily in urban areas between 6p.m. and 9p.m. during the weekdays. The majority of these accidents (65%) do not have any alcohol involvement.
If you are involved in a hit-and-run accident, whether you are a cyclist, pedestrian, driving your car or notice your unattended car was hit, write down any information you can think of about the incident. Having as much information as possible helps police locate the hit-and-run driver and gives your insurance company information to help them file your claim.