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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : opinions : editorials February 26, 2015

7/31/2014 3:02:00 PM
Editorial: County Attorney needs to make decision in bicycle fatality case

It's often said that the wheels of justice move slowly, but with certain cases in Yavapai County one can't help but question if they move at all.

Specifically, the vehicle-bicycle crash that claimed the life of 48-year-old Gilbert cyclist Lynn Hartline has been in legal limbo since the May 17 tragedy.

Four days after the fatality on Cornville Road, Dwight D'Evelyn of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office said, "We expect to present our case to the County Attorney in the next few days." On May 31, D'Evelyn said the Yavapai County Attorney's Office requested more information and expected a decision by the end of the week.

On July 15, it was reported that the county attorney's office still had not determined if the 91-year-old driver from Cottonwood would face charges. That information came with the disclaimer that the county attorney's office policy is to conclude such reviews within 30 days of case submission.

At the end of that 30-day period, there is still no answer by the county attorney.

Certainly, this case represents a classic no-win dilemma for the County Attorney's Office. If no charges are filed, critics will contend that the justice system failed Ms. Hartline and her family. Others will question if the county attorney's office would have handled the case in the same manner if the driver were 20 years old instead of 91.

On the other hand, the man is 91, and by all accounts a long-standing honorable member of the community.

Either way the scales of justice are tipped in this case, it will leave a sour taste in the mouths of many.

There are aspects of this case that are reminiscent of the one involving former Mingus wrestling coach Tom Wokasch. In that case, Wokasch was a highly popular teacher and coach at Mingus Union High School who lost his job for allegedly misappropriating wrestling tournament proceeds into his personal bank account. His actions, claimed the former Mingus school superintendent, violated Arizona law.

Charges were actually filed in the Wokasch case, then without explanation they were dismissed by the county attorney. From there began the familiar line about the case being "under review" but in the end nothing ever happened. Wokasch was never officially vindicated. The claim that he violated state law was never validated. Investigators determined he diverted $18,796 of Mingus money into his personal bank account, but he was never prosecuted. The case just went away with no explanation as to why.

In Prescott earlier this year, 79-year-old LeRoy Berghoefer was struck by a vehicle in April while in a crosswalk. The driver was a 26-year-old woman who did not have a driver's license and said she was distracted by a child in the backseat. As of this week, there is still no decision on whether charges will be filed. It is "under review."

In each of these cases, it very well could be justified that criminal charges are not warranted. As one online reader noted this week, "Accidents happen even when good people do their best to avoid them."

If that is the case, then the county attorney should just come out and say so instead of peddling the disingenuous claim that the case is in a perpetual state of being "under review."

The scales of justice need to be tipped one way or the other.

Related Stories:
• Still no decision on bicycle fatality case
• Still no decision on charges in bicyclist Lynn Hartline death
• Ghost bike marks Lynn Hartline's death, memory
• Sheriff to present case to county attorney on weekend car-bicycle fatality

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Article comment by: Frank Lee Confused

Vehicular homicide (also known as vehicular manslaughter) in most states in the United States, is a crime. In general, it involves death that results from the negligent operation of a vehicle, or more so a result from driving while committing an unlawful act that does not amount to a felony. In the Model Penal Code there is no separate category of vehicular homicide, and vehicular homicides that involve negligence. Both are included in the overall category of negligent homicide.[1][2] It can be compared to the offense of dangerous driving causing death in other countries.

All states except Alaska, Montana, and Arizona have vehicular homicide statutes. The laws have the effect of making a vehicle a potentially deadly weapon, to allow for easier conviction and more severe penalties. In states without such statutes, defendants can still be charged with manslaughter or murder in some situations.[3]

The victim may be either a person not in the car with the offending motorist, such as a pedestrian, cyclist, another motorist, or a passenger in the vehicle with the offender.[4]

Posted: Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Article comment by: miss informed

It seems clear that the 90 year old driver of the car was at fault in this matter. He chose to disregard the safety of the bike rider, seeming more concerned about hitting oncoming traffic. The correct thing to do is obviously to slow his vehicle until it was safe to pass, He should face a judge in a court of law for his crime, regardless of his standing in the community or being a nice person. I am beginning to wonder if he is related to someone in a position of power and this is why his crime has gone unprosecuted.

Posted: Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Article comment by: Mary Heartman

@ Frank Lee Confused
Re: "The minimum penalty should be a suspension of license."

According to the initial article, that was done at the scene pending an investigation and final ruling by the court. Most likely, the County Attorney's Office is dragging its heels due to questions of extended liability on the part of organizers and sponsors of the event. Which, unless a 90-year-old man with an otherwise spotless record is convicted and held solely responsible for second degree murder, is a definite problem.

I don't know anyone who would incarcerate this man for the rest of his life for someone else's errors in judgment. Do you?

Posted: Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Article comment by: Frank Lee Confused

Bicyclists should avoid this road for their own safety. But, if a bicycle is on the road, the driver MUST avoid hitting the bicycle. The bicycle must be treated as any other vehicle.

In this case, the driver failed to avoid an accident which resulted in death. The minimum penalty should be a suspension of license. Depending on witnesses, negligent manslaughter is possible.

I hope this helps...(Perhaps Ms. Polk is busy prosecuting marijuana users).

Hey, should folks over 85 be driving at all? I personally know several over 80 year olds and driving with them scares the day lights out of me! They're almost as dangerous as a texting teen.

Posted: Monday, August 4, 2014
Article comment by: Arikara Tom

Cornville Road and Beaverhead Flat Road are dangerous for cars and much more so for bicycles. If you ride your bike on these roads you take your life into your own hands. If you think it's worth the risk, do it. You too can be a statistic!!!!

Posted: Friday, August 1, 2014
Article comment by: Not the way the justice system works

Also similar to the even more egregious Marisol Gonzalez case.

But let's understand the adversarial nature of the justice system.

The County Attorney simply won't file charges unless they believe they have a case they can win in court.

They don't go off half-cocked.

In the justice system, actual right and wrong are secondary to legal proof of right and wrong that can be demonstrated in court and convince a jury or judge.

Just ask OJ Simpson.

In this case, no charges being file speak volumes.

At a minimum what this says is there isn't enough convincing evidence to either prosecute or clear the driver.

That's unfortunate for everyone concerned, but it's not the fault of the County Attorney.

What we can hope to do is learn from this tragedy. Let's hope future bike event organizers pick a better road for their events.

Better yet, keep these big big events off our highways altogether.

We don't want to see any more bicycle fatalities.

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