Tuesday, June 17, 2008

About that Plain Dealer Article

I thought it would be disrespectful to include a diatribe in the same post as the one sending condolences to the Patrick Hickey family, so I have started a new post about the Plain Dealer article reporting the accident. In a nutshell, it sucks, as do the "comments" of Lt. Thomas Stacho. Here is the article in its entirety:

A 20-year-old Parma Heights man was killed in a crash Friday.

Patrick Hickey was riding his bicycle to work and crashed into a beer truck at Oakpark Avenue and West 25th Street, a coroner's spokesman said.

He was pronounced dead at 6:55 p.m. at MetroHealth Medical Center.

Police said the accident happened at 3:40 p.m., when Hickey was riding north on the east side sidewalk along West 25th. The truck was also going north.

The truck turned east on Oakpark Avenue and the bike collided with it. Hickey was thrown to the pavement.

Lt. Thomas Stacho said Hickey was riding a bike that didn't have brakes. He was not wearing a helmet. And he was wearing headphones, listening to an I-Pod.

The truck driver was not cited and voluntarily submitted to drug and alcohol testing.

As I read this, Hickey was heading north on the sidewalk and the truck was also heading north. Then truck then turned right (east) onto a side street that Hickey was crossing at the same time, still heading north.

It seems to me like Hickey had the right of way here, doesn't it?

I obviously don't know what happened, and I am not trying to vilify the driver here. Two days ago I failed to see a cyclist on the sidewalk while pulling out of a side street I regularly use. He fortunately stopped, and I let him go, but it made me realize how fast something like that could happen. It's very scary.

Going back to the article though, the part about the i-pod, the "no brakes," and the helmet is very disturbing. Was the i-pod a factor? Was it being played excessively loud? Does a person give up his/her rights as a cyclist if they are using an ipod?

Same for the helmet. Would it have saved him? Where were his injuries? It is very possible that his failure to use a helmet had zero effect on the outcome of this tragedy.

Although I cannot verify this, the "no brakes" comment is a lie. I spoke with someone today who said that Hickey was a bike messenger at some point, which of course means that his "no brakes" bike was most likely a fixed gear with adequate stopping power.

Overall, the article represents the "bikers are guilty" attitude that permeates the media and law enforcement. Including the bits about the i-pod and the no helmet without facts to verify whether these things even made a difference in the accident is very suggestive and unfair. The "no brakes" sentence is also unacceptable (assuming it was a fixed gear with braking power). Stories like these only serve to rile up readers and add to an already disturbing anti-bike sentiment. Just read some of the "comments" after the article to see what I mean.

So, after reading the article today, I called Donna J. Miller, its author. She answered the phone and we discussed the accident. She assured me several times that the driver had the right of way. She was actually quite militant about it. When I pressed her as to why this was the case, she said that the cross street where the accident happened was a "big" intersection and the truck surely had the right of way. I then got her to pretty much admit that she had no idea how big the intersection was and that she had lied to me. I later checked mapquest and verified that the street onto which the truck turned was in a fact a side street, not a "big" intersection. (not that it would really matter in terms of whether a cyclist traveling parallel with a vehicle has the right of way). After I caught her lying to me, I told her that she engaged in "bullshit journalism that fosters a biased attitude towards bikes." She didn't like that too much. We talked a bit more, and when I asked her if she had inquired into whether the driver was listening to his car stereo when the accident happened (a valid question since she included in the article the fact that Hickey was listening to his i-pod), she hung up on me.

After reading the article, speaking to Ms. Miller, and thinking way too much about this tragedy today, I have come to one conclusion: Patrick Hickey was guilty of being a cyclist in Cleveland. Who will be next?


Anonymous said...

Patrick went to school with me. I didn't know him but I am also a student who commutes to and from work. Traffic can be sketchy and the article doesn't give much credit to Patrick. Granted, he may have been careless or maybe it was the truck. No one knows, but thank you for calling out the journalist on her remarks about cyclists.

JC Sell said...

Thanks D,

This so unfortunate.

Seems like poor journalism, as it relates to cyclists v. autos, has become epidemic. That, coupled with shotty police work, is a dangerous combination that only degrades the cyclist image.

I'm curious/furious as to why the police felt the need to quickly blame the cyclist, publicly, without a thorough investigation. Or, maybe the real question is: Will there be a thorough investigation?

Cheryl said...

From a close friend---Patrick was awesome young man who was a believer in Christ. Helmets are important but in this case I know a helmet would not have saved him. This is a wake up call to all people, and especially young people--we can all be gone as quickly as Pat--It's a new day--rise up--live right-be sure of your destiny. If this tragedy has also sobered you start looking for answers and don't stop until you find them. I did-when a friend died and I've never been the same. Please come to Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Hts on Sun 9:15 or 11:15

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for the young man's death. But you're assumptions are wrong. A bicyclist on the sidewalk never has the right of way crossing an intersection, unless they dismount and cross as a pedestrian. I don't see anything wrong with the news column.

ds said...


Do you have a source for that assertion? I have heard that before, but I have yet to read anything that verifies that. Even if that is true, I would still argue that a driver has a responsibility to ensure that there are no pedestrians/cylists approaching the sidewalk. (I would also asssume that at least 9 out of 10 people believe that a cyclist on the sidewalk would have the right of way here).

That is not the point, however. As I said in the post, I do not know whose fault the accident was because I wasn't there. My main beef with the article was the suggestive inclusion of the (quite possibly irrelevant) facts about the helmet and i-pod, as well as the likely false statement about having no brakes. My beef with the author of the article was that she misrepresented the facts to me on the phone. Even if she was "right" about who was at fault, her beleif was based on the incorrect assumption that the cyclist's rights change based upon the size of the intersection he approaches. It also does not give her the right to lie to me on the phone.


cyclonecross said...

This is a really unfortunate accident. I did not know Patrick, but it's hard to hear about this. My condolences to his family and friends.

I'm really questioning the accuracy of the PD article. I haven't looked at the comments to the article on the PD website, but I'm sure there's some going to be inflammatory comments.


JimmyNick said...

I hate to be so trite as to say I agree with all of the above, but I do.
-- My sympathies for Patrick and his family and friends are genuine, although this post isn't the ideal place to express them, and although I didn't know him.
-- There is a huge void in understanding among journalists and cops about what is right and wrong when it comes to cyclists' rights of way. Some of that, in both cases, is ignorance. Some of it is a result of the same small level of malice toward cyclists that pervades the rest of society.
-- The particular journalist in question shouldn't be representative of anyone but herself (and she rarely represents herself well). However, unfortunately, everyone loves to make generalizations about "the media" -- just like they like to make stupid generalizations about "bikers" and (in our circles) those evil motorists (a fraction of 1 percent of whom actually treat cyclists poorly). Stereotyping is a fact of life.
-- In this case, it's easy to understand rage against the machine: As a matter of personal integrity, common courtesy and good customer relations, no reporter should treat a caller the way this one did.
-- This last thought isn't referring to Patrick specifically -- just about the context of this discussion in general. I'll repeat this until I die: If you assume others will yield you your legally correct ROW, you will assume yourself into the grave. Specifically, if you ever, ever are on the right side of traffic -- whether in the street or on the sidewalk, on a bike or on foot -- and you proceed thinking that any right-turning vehicle will stop, you are taking a potentially mortal risk.

- JN

Ray Huang said...

Reading any negative comment about cyclists in general from "car" drivers (WERE all car drivers too) just rubs me raw. What, all of us intelligent, self preserving, safe cyclists (who do break some rules of the road as do ALL drivers) deserve to hear anything from someone who thinks they are smarter than us because we choose to ride,commuet, exercise on bikes?

Let me put it this way, let me spend only 10 minutes driving behind you and write down all the stupid shit you do...shall i remind you? How about cell phone, eating, adjusting radio, smoking AND talking on the cell phone, rolling stop signs, cutting someone off, no turn signals, running a red while speeding, radio blaring loud on your favorite song, not hearing an ambulance, speeding through school zones, speeding. Shall I continue?

cyclonecross said...

Ray, you couldn't have said it any better. I've recently adusted my driving habits, partially in response to gas prices and partially because "it's the right thing to do". When I drive the speed limit on the interstate, all I seem to see is people (a large percentage of which are in SUV's) zooming by me like I'm standing still. This of course isn't reality, because I don't see the people who are like me and driving the speed limit (as they don't catch up and pass me). And I do from time to time pass other motorists who are driving under the speed limit as they should but are going slower than me.

The number of people killed in auto accidents greatly exceeds the number of cyclists killed. This points to the root of the issue: drivers zooming around killing each other and other road users.

I don't have any details other than the piece by Donna J. Miller for this accident. However, based on the article and questions about its accuracy I don't think one can say one way or another who was at fault.

Kyle K said...

Pat Hickey was a friend of mine and a fellow 2006 graduate from Valley Forge High School. As a fellow biker and Snakebite Racing member, I find this article by Ms. Miller disgusting and ill-informative. As a cyclist, Ms. Miller should understand that bikers have the right of way and I guarantee that Pat knew his surroundings and had breaks on his bike. This is a very sad event and blaming an innocent 20-year-old on his death publically is inhumane and cold hearted.

Julie Lewis-Sroka said...

So sad. Just another example of why misconceptions about cyclists go on and on...

Anonymous said...

I have known Pat my whole life, and it took me almost a month to finally google search articles to see if people were writing anything about him. He was like a brother to me and I miss him dearly. I'm glad to see that you are arguing the case, because it is, as you said, bullshit. Pat knew his way around the area and certainly knew how to ride a bike. That truck had no business turning down a side street, anyway. And there are so many "NO TRUCKS" signs around that specific area, as well. I'd love to have a word with many of the news crews right about now. I give my thanks to everyone who sends their sympathy. It's very appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I have avoided reading anything that talks about Pat's death, including his obituary which I have in a dresser drawer until today. I read the Plain Dealer article and could not believe the attitude the author had towards his death. She pretty much was just like, yeah he died..oh well his fault, and the comments left by viewers were not necessary. Don't you think Pat's family will read what is being said about their son? They need to be comforted and the last thing they need to read about is people who didn't even know Pat giving their "point of view" about the accident. As you can probably already tell Pat was a friend of mine, and it killed me to read all that B.S. Anyways, thanks for calling the reporter and questioning her biased information.

daniel hickey said...

the pd article was crap!
I knew pat very well and he was a very skilled bike rider and knew what he was doing. thank you very much for calling the reporter because people need to learn to share the road! A share the road bike ride is being held on august 14 in honor of my brother patrick.
love u man!