Tom Held reports on his blog, The Active Pursuit, that the 20-year-old woman who was texting when she crashed into James Weiss riding his bicycle in Kimberly a year ago, has been convicted of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle and will be sentenced on August 20th. According to news accounts, District Attorney Carrie Schneider will recommend a two-to-three-year prison sentence for Little Chute woman, PaKou Xiong, along with four to five years of extended supervision. Schneider is also expected to ask for a community service order that would require Xiong to speak publicly about her case or the dangers of texting and driving.
Soon after she left work, Xiong hit Weiss, 46, from behind while both were eastbound on Kimberly Avenue after midnight on July 28, 2012. Weiss, the manager of the Liberty Hall Banquet and Conference Center, suffered severe head injuries and died one week later. Phone records show Xiong began texting almost as soon as she began driving home from work that night. Phone records showed a half-dozen messages received and sent in the six minutes prior to the crash, and she was actually typing a text when she hit Weiss.
There are a couple take-aways this tragic and avoidable crash (note that I did not say “accident”) most of us can learn from. The primary lesson is that distracted driving can result in the deaths of innocent, vulnerable road users. Most of us who ride bicycles also drive cars. Many of us are just as guilty of distracted driving, but we have been lucky enough not to hurt anyone. Many of us have also been passengers in cars where the driver is texting, speeding, failing to yield to a pedestrian, or just eating a cheeseburger. We can all be safety advocates for sharing the road by asking our friends and relatives to give driving the full attention it deserves.
Finally, the other important factor in this fatal crash is that Weiss was not wearing a helmet. People who know me know I don’t always wear a helmet when I ride in the city. I know there are many studies that show riding a bike (even without a helmet) is safer than driving, taking a shower, walking down stairs, etc. I also know that if you are hit by a car going 45-50 mph, a helmet might not do you much good. All that said, it remains true that you dramatically reduce your risk of serious head injury in a crash if you are wearing a helmet.
We all evaluate risks differently, but please, think before you ride or before you answer that call on your phone while driving a motor vehicle. Let’s do all we can to help reduce the number of avoidable deaths like this one.