Fitchburg police call for charges against driver in cycling confrontation

Wisconsin Bike Fed

UPDATED: I have provided a copy of the supplemental report from the Fitchburg Police here which includes more information about exactly how the crash happened, the behavior of the victims before they were hit on their bicycles and witness accounts. It is also helpful to note that John Dohm has a history of aggressive behavior, including buzzing his neighbor’s house with a helicopter after a disagreement.

Fitchburg police have asked the Dane County District Attorney to issue criminal charges against a Madison-area property manager who allegedly ran two men on bicycles off the road in a confrontation August 26.

The decision to pursue reckless injury and disorderly conduct charges against John Dohm, 61, follows an extensive investigation and reverses a no foul call made by the officers who first responded to the crash on S. Fitchburg Road, south of Madison.

That initial finding was based on the conflicting statements from Dohm and the two men on bikes, elite-level riders Joe Maloney, 25, and Max Ackerman, a member of the University of Wisconsin – Madison cycling team. Both riders suffered head injuries and contusions after landing in the ditch.

Max Ackerman racing for the University of Wisconsin – Madison cycling team.

Dohm told the officers on the scene that he honked at Ackerman and Maloney to prompt them to move to the side of the narrow road, and that they responded with obscene gestures. In his version, he stopped to talk to the cyclists and they swerved around him.

Dohm then returned to his car. He reported that Ackerman and Maloney swerved into his car as he drove past on the two-lane road with no shoulders.

Scuff marks along the passenger side of Dohm’s Jaguar confirm the car and the bikes collided.

Ackerman and Maloney provided a significantly different account.

They told police that Dohm drove up close behind them, beeped his horn, then buzzed by within an arm’s length. They agree that they swerved around Dohm when he stopped and tried to approach them, but said the motorist swerved and knocked them into the ditch on his second pass.

Two witnesses reported that Dohm had been driving aggressively prior to the collision, but neither of them saw the impact that sent Ackerman and Maloney off the road.

After reviewing the initial reports, police investigators interviewed the bicyclists and witnesses again and gathered additional information. The follow up led to the request for charges, said Fitchburg Police Lt. Chad Brecklin.

If the district attorney follows the recommendation, Dohm would face two felony counts of reckless injury and one misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. Those charges could result in a maximum 25-year sentence for the owner of Regency Property Management.

Charles Giesen, a Madison attorney who represented Dohm in previous cases, said he had not reviewed the police reports and could not comment on the decision by the Fitchburg police.

Daniel Goldberg, an attorney who represents bicyclists and serves on the Wisconsin Bike Fed Board of Directors, called the potential charges welcome and significant.

“Mr. Dohm’s behavior was reckless and outrageous,” Goldberg said. “It reinforces the fears we all share when we head out for a ride.

“The recommendation for prosecution is a very important development for all riders,” he said. “Hopefully, it will remind motorists that cyclists have the right to share our roads with other vehicles. The District Attorney can send the message that those who refuse to understand this will pay the consequences.”

The Wisconsin Bike Fed will follow this case and report on what action the district attorney decides to take.

The Bike Fed provides free educational materials for motorists and bicyclists to promote safety for all on Wisconsin roads. Click here for the laws and guidelines that apply to people in cars and people on bikes.



17 thoughts on “Fitchburg police call for charges against driver in cycling confrontation

  1. About time we have felony charges for use of a car as a weapon! I suppose Assault with a Deadly Weapon is too great a charge to expect, though does not sound out of proportion to the event. Thank you for the follow up reporting.

    • Good question Joseph. If it were two cars, would it have been portrayed as a road rage incident, in which you are NEVER advised to get out and “discuss” the matter with the person threatening you? Here the aggressor seems to be saying he tried to talk it over reasonably and they refused to stop and talk so he had no choice but to run them off the road – excuse me, they then “swerved into his car”.

  2. I’m wondering, after reading another account of the incident, why didn’t these two geniuses didn’t pull over into single file when the car passed? It’s riders like these two that anger car drivers and give the rest of us a bad name!!

    • Johnny Dee,

      First, it is legal to ride two abreast. Second, they did pull over and ride single file after he honked and allowed him to pass, and he initiated the insults as he did so. The reports show they were riding far to the right of the road. But more importantly, it is not legal or moral to hit someone with your car, even if the other road user is behaving illegally. It is people like John Dohm that give drivers a bad name.

      • As much as I would like to believe what you say is true, it very simply is not. Statutes prohibit riding abreast when it impedes traffic. The police reports and drawings indicate that Max Ackerman and Joe Maloney continued riding next to each other throughout the entire incident. The evidence of one bicycle crashing into the other supports this. The car driver contends that the bicycles tried to prevent him from passing. If true, pretty stupid. It seems to me these two guys were out on the edge, got hurt and are hurting a whole lot of other people in the process.

        • Johnny, My understanding of the police reports has agreement among the parties on these points: Ackerman and Maloney moved from riding side-by-side into single file, and Dohm passed them. Dohm then stopped, got out of his car and attempted to talk to Maloney and Ackerman. They went around him. Dohm returned to his car and was in the process of passing the cyclists a second time when the car and the bikes collided.

          • Tom, unfortunately your understanding is incorrect. The police reports include that Ackerman and Maloney said they rode side by side throughout. The report also says that Maloney “…did not see if the driver of the black Jaguar jerked his vehicle and intentionally hit their cycles.” Mahoney also said “…the Jaguar attempted to pass both bicyclists but this time…made contact with his bicycle, causing him to hit the other bicycle…” That’s clearly side by side riding on a narrow 50 mph road with no shoulders. Dumb, and gives us all a bad reputation.

          • Thank you for sharing Johnny. In the police report I have, Maloney is quoted as saying he “moved to the right in order to let the vehicle pass.” I assumed that meant lined up in single file, but the statement does not specify that. One other thing to consider: the road is narrow, but it’s also straight and there was no oncoming traffic. It’s hard to say just how much Maloney and Ackerman impeded Dohm. Bottom line is that yes, cyclists should move into single file when a car is approaching from behind. (There are a couple studies that suggest staying two abreast provides for a more efficient pass, but that’s a whole other debate). It will be interesting to see how this plays out if the case goes to trial.

          • I agree Tom. While it may be courteous for two riders to single up on a town road to let someone pass, it may not be legally required depending on the exact traffic situation.

  3. Where in the report it says “moved to the right,” it is in reference to the first time Dohm passed and yes, they admit to staying side by side (look at the police drawings). The second time he tried to pass, Dohm says Maloney moved to the left. Maloney and Ackermann say nothing. Regardless of the degree of impediment, Ackermann and Maloney were in violation of the statutes. Further, while you made a point of including Dohm’s ten yer old driving offenses, why didn’t you include Ackermann’s February, 2015 “Failure to obey a traffic signal” conviction?

    • I didn’t find Ackermann’s ticket in my earlier search, Johnny. Do you know what the original charge was?
      In that second pass, Dohm also was guilty of violating the law – providing three feet when passing a cyclist. After reviewing the police reports, the district attorney may direct that Maloney and Ackermann be cited for impeding traffic.

    • I have updated the blob post with the supplemental report from the Fitchburg Police. That includes the full interview with both victims, the witness and Dohm. Other readers can judge for themselves who to believe. I choose to believe the victims and the witness given Dohm’s long history of angry aggressive behavior. As for the failure to stop, that single offense hardly paints Ackermann as a violent, aggressive person. Mr Dee, you have every right to believe whomever you want, but nobody has the right pass someone on a bicycle so close that it causes a crash or to intentionally hit someone with a car.

      I routinely get honked at for driving the speed limit, tailgated, cut off, and even flipped off for obeying the rules of the road when I am behind the wheel of our car. I get honked at for stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks and even for putting on my turn signal to make a legal turn onto my street. Do some people on bicycles behave badly? Sure they do, but just as I don’t slam on my brakes when a car is tailgating me, Dohm had no right to threaten the two guys riding bikes even if they were riding two abreast when they shouldn’t have been.

      To be clear about the two abreast law, people have the right to ride two abreast unless they are impeding traffic. On a 22 ft to 24 ft wide town road, even bicycles riding single file force passing cars to cross the center of the road and travel in the oncoming traffic lane. Two experience racers can often ride close together and close to the edge of the pavement thereby taking up no more room than a single less experienced rider so they are not impeding traffic any more than if they single up. In group rides, riding two abreast, shoulder to shoulder, sometimes makes it easier for cars to pass by reducing the time spent in the oncoming lane.

      In the end, we all need to share the road with others and courtesy, not necessarily the law, may dictate we single up. I even sometimes put a foot down at a four way stop sign rather than track stand if it appears the person in the car doesn’t understand if I am going to yield the right of way to them. I am not required to put a foot down, but often I do.

      Mr Dee, it seems you want to make the point that some people should be more courteous or even more law abiding on bicycles because you ride and feel the bad behavior of a few paints you with the same brush. I get that, and the two biggest programs at the Bike Fed (Share & Be Aware and Safe Routes to School) are about sharing the road and teaching people how to ride legally and safely. But I feel your emphasis in this case is poorly timed, blames the victims and ignores the greater threat that John Dohm seems to pose when he is behind the wheel of a car or in a helicopter.

      • Dear Mr. Dohm,

        Johnny Dee? Really? Could you be any more conspicuous?

        You could’ve killed them. Period. Plead insanity and be grateful your kids know the difference between right and wrong as you clearly do not.

        This story makes me sick.

      • You are crucifying a man you know nothing about! “I choose to believe the victims and the witness given Dohm’s long history of angry aggressive behavior”. This statement is totally false and absolutely outrageous Dave, there is absolutely no history long or short of angry aggressive behavior, and you are being irresponsible by posting this fiction.

        BTW, If a car is coming behind you while you are on your bike, common sense would tell you to go single file not take up the whole lane with your buddy while flipping off the car driver. This is outrageous behavior and not very intelligent.

  4. We live near where the incident happened and make every effort to respect cyclists right to be on the road. However, there is a percentage of cyclists — in my experience I’d say less than 10% — who ride two abreast on roads in this area and force cars to slow from 45-50 mph to what they’re going and sometimes never go single file, even when there is oncoming traffic. Those with higher end gear and equipment seem more likely to behave this way, and I have even been stuck behind a group of about 20 cyclists taking up the whole lane on Purcell Road for 1.5 miles with oncoming traffic. There are two groups who ruin it for everyone — cyclists like those I just described, and intolerant drivers who think if the cyclists can’t go the speed limit they should go elsewhere. I hear a lot of criticism of the drivers but very little criticism of the cyclists, especially from cyclists and their organizations. Your silence and unwillingness to police your own puts everyone at risk. The law notwithstanding, if you block the lane riding two abreast and force every car that passes you to slow way down, you’re a jerk in my book. Would cyclists accept groups of joggers taking up so much of the lane that they couldn’t get a decent workout in with all of the stopping and starting?

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