FABB takes issue with police description of crash involving cruiser

The Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling (FABB) has written a letter to Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler taking exception to both the chief’s and the department’s descriptions of a crash between a bicycle and police cruiser on April 21.

Bruce Wright, an FABB Board Member and head of their Law Enforcement Working Group, says in the letter that the FABB has “major concerns about the department’s response to the crash,” which happened around 10:20 a.m. on Easter Sunday in the 7700 block of Richmond Highway.

The collision was captured on a dashboard camera in a car driving south on Route 1, as well as the police cruiser’s in-car camera. The video shows the police cruiser stopped while waiting to make a right turn on red out of the Mount Vernon Plaza shopping center the intersection of Fordson Road. The cruiser begins pulling forward to make the turn and then strikes the 55-year-old cyclist after he had entered the intersection riding north.

Wright says Roessler was incorrect to say the cyclist was going the wrong way, noting that the cyclist was on a mixed-use path intended for pedestrians and bicyclists, rather than the roadway. The letter also takes issue with the FCPD’s official statement on the crash, which says the bicyclist hit the cruiser, and not vice versa.

Alexandria resident Thomas Crawley suffered minor injuries in the collision. He was later cited for failure to pay full time and attention.

“It is simply impossible for the cyclist to have hit the cruiser if [dashcam] video footage is to be believed,” the letter says. “We also have concerns about the Chief’s quote, which is contradicted by the Department’s official version and creates the perception that the cyclist was riding extremely recklessly.”

The collision was not reported by the police until three days after the incident, following the publication of the video on social media and Covering The Corridor.

Wright says the FABB wants further clarification for why the cyclist was cited, and requested a meeting the the FCPD to discuss the issue further.

“We would like you to clarify your comments and correct the police statement,” Wright says in the letter. “If other officers read your comments and act accordingly, cyclists will continue to be blamed for legal behavior such as riding against traffic on a trail or sidewalk and riding in a crosswalk.”

The full letter, which was shared with Covering The Corridor and other media outlets, can be read below:


Dear Chief Roessler,

I am writing on behalf of Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling (FABB) regarding FCPD’s response to the crash that occurred on Richmond Highway at Fordson Road on Sunday April 21. In an April 24 article in the Washington Post you are quoted about the cyclist injured by one of your officers in the crash: “… He’s going the wrong way. He’s going against traffic. He’s going against the red pedestrian signal. Once that bicycle enters the roadway, they’re subject to all the vehicular laws.”

The Fairfax County Police’s official statement about the incident states that the cyclist was riding on the sidewalk, a mixed use path along that section of Route 1 and not in the roadway. Further, that statement says “Our investigation shows the officer had the right of way and determined it was safe to enter the intersection when the cyclist came off the sidewalk and hit the cruiser.”

We have major concerns about the department’s response to the crash with the cyclist — which both the police dashcam footage, and bystander video footage show to be untrue. It is simply impossible for the cyclist to have hit the cruiser if either video footage is to be believed. We also have concerns about the Chief’s quote, which is contradicted by the Department’s official version and creates the perception that the cyclist was riding extremely recklessly.

  1. The cyclist was riding on a paved trail parallel to the road where it is perfectly legal to ride in the opposite direction of traffic.
  2. A cyclist entering the roadway, in a crosswalk, is considered a pedestrian and vehicular laws do not apply. According to VA code 46.2-904, “A person riding a bicycle, … on a sidewalk or shared-use path or across a roadway on a crosswalk shall have all the rights and duties of a pedestrian under the same circumstances.”
  3. The cyclist did not hit the cruiser, the officer driving the cruiser hit the cyclist.

The cyclist should not have entered the crosswalk if there was a working pedestrian signal and the DON’T WALK signal was indicated. However, FABB is concerned that your statements and the official police statement implied wrongdoing on the part of the cyclist when that was not the case (riding against traffic on a trail, riding in a crosswalk, and hitting the cruiser).

We have heard similar comments from police in the past about riding on the sidewalk or in a crosswalk. In fact, such comments prompted FABB to seek a meeting with Chairman Sharon Bulova and Deputy County Executive Roher to discuss Department understanding of the law as it applies to bicyclists. A result of the meeting was the production of a police training video by Officer Allie Eggers entitled “Bicycle Focused Laws.”

We would like you to clarify your comments and correct the police statement. If other officers read your comments and act accordingly, cyclists will continue to be blamed for legal behavior such as riding against traffic on a trail or sidewalk and riding in a crosswalk. In addition, the comments feed into the community viewpoint that all bicyclists are scofflaws and will flaunt the law.

We are also concerned the cyclist was cited using Fairfax County code “82-4-24. Operator to give full time and attention to driving.” According to that law, “No person shall operate a motor vehicle upon the highways of this County without giving his full time and attention to the operation of the vehicle.” The code specifically states “…motor vehicle upon the highways…” According to VA code 46.2-100, “a bicycle shall be a vehicle while operated on the highway,” not a “motor vehicle,” and the cyclist was not on the highway, he was in a crosswalk. We would like further clarification regarding this citation.

There was no mention of the responsibilities of the motorist, the officer who struck the cyclist. Had the officer looked right he would have seen the cyclist approaching. It was the officer’s responsibility to cautiously enter the intersection and to look right before turning, advice given as part of the Street Smart campaign event held two days after the crash.

We would like to meet with you to discuss these issues and to see if we can collaborate on improving communication between FCPD and the bicycle and pedestrian community. Please contact bruce@fabb-bikes.org to schedule the meeting.

Sincerely,

Bruce Wright on behalf of the Law Enforcement Working Group, Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling (FABB)

CC: Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
Covering The Corridor
The Washington Post

5 Comments

  1. JKB
  2. William Tramble
  3. Jamie Tyler
  4. Jeff
  5. More Civility Please

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