Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A killer walks free

This is a tragic update of the Larry and Sierra Gaunt saga. Monday, jury selection began for the trial of William Johnson in the deaths of the Grandfather-Granddaughter cycling duo as they trained for last year's MS-150 fund raiser.

The trial went quite a bit quicker than I'd expected, and the decision went to jury early today as the prosecutor rested its case. After five hours of deliberation, William Johnson was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

This whole case sickens me. The way the law treats gross criminal negligence of motorists sickens me.

It's one thing to give the motorist nothing but a slap on the wrist when the cyclist was riding erratically, breaking laws, after dark without any lights or reflectors. This was in broad daylight on a wide, open road. Simply living with the knowledge that you killed two people should not count as a just punishment.

Folks, there are concealed-carry laws in both Kansas and Missouri. Perhaps it's time to start riding in flocks and packing some heat. I have zero faith in our officials and legal system to protect us as cyclists in this city.


Noah said...

And yes, I do realize that I'm letting my conservative colors fly a bit, and that I have a good chunk of readers who probably don't think weapons have any place on the road.

To those, I say motorized vehicles used as blunt instruments of death-mongering are more a weapon than a subcompact handgun. Motor vehicles kill more people in the US than guns do. Deal with it.

Chris said...

"This whole case sickens me. The way the law treats gross criminal negligence of motorists sickens me." I think your quote here is a bit off target...the legal system as a whole is the real problem. Since we were not in the courtroom for the trial we don't know all the fact but the burden of proof was NOT met in this case. Yes it's a horrific ending to a well publicized case. Maybe when gas goes to $10 per gallon we will have more bikes on the road than cars.

Noah said...

If these two had been killed while gramps was putting a spare tire on a Camry, Mister Johnson would likely be behind bars.

The problem I have is that since it involved bicyclists, this case was par for the course in Kansas City. I can't think of one motorist-vs-bicyclist case since I've started riding where a motorist ended up guilty as charged for harassment, assault, or manslaughter. I don't have enough fingers to count the number of motorists who either weren't charged at all, or were found not guilty in that same timeframe.

Anonymous said...

The other thing to keep in mind is that sadly, it was a jury of "our peers" that decided on the not guilty verdict. While I hardly agree that concealed carry is the answer to this problem, I do agree that something's gotta change when it comes to the law and cycling.

Noah said...

Three of "our peers" pulled boneheaded motorist maneuvers on Karen and I this afternoon. Not sure why I'd expect them to be any more forgiving in the court room.

Sirrus Rider said...

Hummn! As a Texas CHL carrier it has crossed my mind to carry my sidearm; however, a bicycle is a nasty, salty environment for a pistol. Also, even the smallest concealable self defense acceptable pistol is much too bulky for riding on a bike.

Also, in Texas if you're packing you have the duty to retreat to avoid the conflict. Pulling the weapon is the ABSOLUTELY last line of defense. Plus, it's preferred to reach for non lethal means of defense first (Pepper Spray, or even a tactical flashlight.)

Sounds like the DA was inexperienced and dropped the soap in front of the Defense Attorney. 'Tis a shame that juries take a "He had it coming" attitude towards Cyclists.

MRMacrum said...

I am not sure what a gun would have accomplished here, but I'd have no problem at all if a cyclist chose to carry one. If the two riders were riding with traffic, a gun would not have helped.

Regardless, there is an attitude in this country that cars have some sort of divine right to the road and anyone else out there better be careful.

All in all, there is not enough information for me to make a judgement. And I did take the time to read several articles on it. Seems it may have been a case that hinged pretty much on the driver's version and the slim forensic evidence at the scene. Reasonable Doubt covers a wide area.

Anonymous said...

Lots of folks blaming the 'system', but the 'system worked. The prosecuter failed. The prosecutor has to lay out the evidence to convince the jury 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' It is more likely that the prosecutor spent very little time or effort in preparing for what several think should have been a slam-dunk. Don't blame the 'system', blame your elected prosecutor and hold him accountable.

Noah said...

A spoonful of sanity from a local mailing list:

As the law now stands, a motorist is guilty of a crime only if he does something worse than being careless or negligent. Running a stop sign, crossing a center line, or blatantly running down two cyclists is not a crime by itself, unless there was some added element of recklessness involved. Common reckless elements are speeding or drinking. Talking on a cell phone may be another.

In the Gaunt case everything hung on whether Johnson was speeding. There were no other known reckless elements involved. The defense attorney was able to convince the jury there was reasonable doubt about Johnson's alleged speeding.

We don't know if any cyclists were on the jury. We also know that a certain percentage of people don't think that cyclists should be on streets in the first place, which may have been a factor in the jury room, too.

Many advocacy groups in various states are pushing for a change in law, that would make it a crime to hit any pedestrian or cyclist in a car, where the pedestrian or cyclist was obeying the law and was in clear view. Until that happens, there will be a lot of verdicts like this one.

Here the road was four lanes, was nearly deserted, and had a shoulder. Visibility was excellent. Johnson got a 12-second look at the cyclists, according to the testimony. Yet he neither slowed down nor changed lanes. That is considered only negligence. His insurance is responsible to pay damages, but he gets only a traffic ticket for careless driving.

Ken Cobb

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that this verdict sucks! He didn't even move over into the clear lane to avoid them because "it's just his driving style."

Free license to kill bicyclists in KC. No punishment whatsoever.

Bob said...

I live in Vancouver, Washington and work in Portland, Oregon. This is an area where there are many bicycle activist, yet even here I sadly do not believe a jury would convict.

I commute home from my job at 11pm and sometimes I use the light rail system for part of my 22 mile commute home, where there have been incidents of cyclist being assaulted and beaten. The rest of my commute is in low traffic areas where opportunities exist for someone to carry out an attack on a lone cyclist. I refuse to be a victim of the “what if” mentality that keeps many people from bicycling at night or in certain areas of town.

I am a peaceful person who can get along with most anyone, do not want any problems with motorist or thugs, but I will defend myself. I carry law enforcement grade pepper spray and a concealed H&K P2000 SubCompact pistol for protection.

Douglas Bennett said...

I have just started biking again, and I have really noticed how unfriendly this area is towards cyclists in general. I do not commute via bike to work, but do carpool with a buddy. We have driven many routes to find a good route to work on the bikes, but just can't seem to find one we are comfortable with. I refuse at this point to be a vicitm of poor drivers if I can help it.

After the article on the driver vs cyclist road rage incident in Portland I am even more acutely aware of my surroundings.

I ride primarily in my local town South of the KC metro. We have a few trails and are constructing more on a regular basis. We have also seen an increase in crime from the city come this way with the growth we are experiencing. I have been a CHL holder for a year or so now and don't regret that decision one bit. The late night trips to the grocery store can be a real adventure these days let alone a 10 mile bike ride alone in the dark. I carry everytime I go out. I do agree this would not have helped in this situation though.
I am not sure what happened and I am so sorry for the family's loss. We can learn from this in that we must be vigilant and can not take things like simple traffic for granted.

Anonymous said...

If KC area cyclists felt strongly enough about this incident they would be best served to render justice on thier terms.

Anonymous said...

Combining Noah's hate and ridicule for all things not him (and his blind followers), his increasingly swelled head, and now this new penchant for an arms race, I can't imagine how his future will not be tragic.

Noah said...

That's a fascinating take on things. I might be opinionated but I don't think I hate anyone. I might prod people who ride against traffic. There are a few things I really do hate: Windows Vista, Wave-shaped bicycle racks, gnarly railroad crossings, working with mainframe computers, falling asleep on the bus (it gives me a headache), insipid "green consumerism", spending time in hospitals, and riding in rain at near-freezing temperatures. If you actually read what I write, you'd know exactly what I hate.

Don't mistake media attention for a swelled head. I'm still just a fat nerd on a bike.

This isn't an arms race. An arms race is a battle between two opposing parties to one-up the other in rapid succession. My stance on firearms has been unwavering for more than fifteen years, so this isn't "new" either. I just don't let my conservative colors fly all that often.

I suppose you intend on being the one to ensure the tragedy of my future, mister Anonymous?

Douglas Bennett said...


You my friend are clueless. Grow a pair and lay off the ganja. Wow, since when did self defense become an arms race? Last I checked I still don't know anyone with a a nuclear arsenal or even a battleship.

Seriously, ridicule and hate? I have to agree with Noah, have you ever read his comments?

On this one, "blind followers"? Really?
You're kidding, right? I actually laughed out loud at that comment. Last I saw, we wasn't recruiting for anything and I'll be damned if I can find a link to join his fan club.

Get back in your Prius and sell your ecoterror antiselfdefense stuff somewhere else.

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