On August 15th at 1:30pm, 54 year-old Ralph Roane was struck and killed while riding his bicycle by a Baltimore City employee driving a Department of Public Works truck at North Chester and East Chase streets. The city employee fled the scene. He has since been arrested and charged with a fatal hit and run. Despite the investigation being complete, Baltimore Police have cited pedestrian error as a possible cause for the crash. The decision to make that piece of information public, before a thorough investigation has been complete, highlights the challenges around crash reporting in Baltimore City.
We've reached out to Police to obtain a copy of the report. After a week, we received a voicemail from Major Ward of the Eastern District. We have responded and are now awaiting a return phone call.
We commend the Baltimore City Police for finding and charging the City employee who fled the scene. We are disgusted that someone certified to operate a commercial vehicle and trained by the City would have such disregard for human life. No matter the cause, there is no excuse for leaving the scene of a collision and not attempting to render care for someone who has been injured.
That very same day, a 66 year-old man was struck in a hit and run in West Baltimore. His name and condition are still unknown. Roane was the second bicyclist fatality in Baltimore City this year. The first was Marcus Arvin, 25, on June 6th, biking around what seems to have been a double parked car.
Arvin's family has hired an attorney, and the investigation into his death is still ongoing, though police again initially cited pedestrian error.
Making sure families have the support they need to navigate something as traumatic as losing a loved one to traffic violence is of the upmost importance to Bikemore. Friends and families of victims are encouraged to reach out to us. We can provide referrals to attorneys, and advocacy on behalf of victims and their families.
Maryland is one of four remaining states (along with the District of Columbia) to use Contributory Negligence to assess how a victim is allowed to collect damages. A contributory model states that if the victim is found to have contributed at all to the injuries, then they cannot be awarded damages. In contrast, most states have moved to a comparative model, meaning that damages can still be sought for the percentage of fault not assigned to the victim. Contributory Negligence is particularly harmful to vulnerable road users like people walking or biking, including those navigating the street with a disability. Not only are they likely to be more injured in a crash, vulnerable users are less likely to be able to give statements at the time of the crash--meaning that police only ever hear one side of the story--that of the person driving the car.
This makes how police report and document crashes--especially in how they assign blame--critical to how likely it is a family is able to seek justice on behalf of their loved one who was injured or killed in a crash.
In Baltimore, we often see bias from police and the media play out in ways that is unfair to victims and their families. When someone only experiences the city's roads by car, it can be difficult to understand the perspective of someone walking or biking. Our city streets have been designed to maximize vehicle speed--amplifying the risk of injury or death to anyone that may cross the path of a person operating a motor vehicle. This makes anything moving slower than a car appear "in the way" even when they are walking or biking lawfully. This leads to conscious and unconscious bias in reporting that often assigns more blame to the vulnerable road user. Additionally, many officers responding to crashes don't always know the laws as they pertain to people who bike. We hear stories all the time of police citing pedestrian error when a person riding a bicycle isn't wearing a helmet or reflective clothing--neither of which is required by law. We know these biases to be even more prevalent in our communities of color--where police bias against vulnerable road users can intersect with proven police racial bias.
DC has already made moves to update their contributory negligence law to account for the imbalance that occurs in traffic crashes that involve vulnerable road users.
We are working closely with WABA to develop a path forward to seek similar changes to Maryland law. We hope to be able to advance the conversation among state lawmakers this year.
Removing bias against vulnerable road users requires comprehensive policy reform. We must change the negligence laws as they apply to vulnerable road users in Maryland, press the media to report on crashes in a way that does not victim blame, and institute police reform that improves crash reporting. Bikemore is working step by step to seek these policy changes.
Last week's news of the Baltimore City Police using covert aerial surveillance might offer something of value to vulnerable road users. When vulnerable users can't tell their side of the story, perhaps the controversial aerial footage can. To test this theory, Bikemore recently submitted a Public Information Act request for footage shot on and around the times of the crashes that took the lives of Ralph Roane and Marcus Arvin. The department has 30 days to respond to our request.