Cyclist Struck and Seriously Injured in Westerly



Cyclist Struck and Seriously Injured in Westerly

We are sorry to report that it’s happened again.  Another cyclist has been struck on Rhode Island roads and currently, it looks like the motorist will just get away with it.  According to the cyclist, Russ Harkay, he was riding along route 1A in Westerly when

[the motorist] turned right at [the] Langworthy Inn onto Shore road… in doing so , he crossed a lane and plowed into me and my bike. He told the police that the reason he never applied his brakes is that he never saw me until it was too late. I am listed on the same form as a pedestrian and as having been struck by his car.

If you follow bicycle accidents around the country, there seems to be a common thread.  Most police departments focus sorely on automobiles and either don’t care to or don’t have the ability to differentiate between reporting accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians.  While some can argue there is little difference, it makes it almost impossible to track statistics on such accidents.  Russ continues by saying

today I saw my [principle care physician], he ordered a battery of tests and cannot believe no one was charged. According to the police report, I was riding in the bike lane on the side of the road as I should, had flashing strobe lights on my Marin Stelvio carbon fiber bike, and , of course, was wearing the helmet that saved my life. There is damage to my hip where I was hit and I will suffer arthritic changes.  I continue to suffer from the concussion that caused me to lose consciousness for 30 doing his best to see that the driver is cited. I still have not been interviewed by the police and called the station today requesting that they do so to complete the report.

The accident occurred on August 13th and as of August 17th he had still not been interviewed by the police.  Russ has gone so far as contacting the police, requesting that he be interviewed.  I have not yet heard an update as to whether this interview has been granted.  As of yet, the driver has not been cited for any sort of moving violation.  I’ve said it before and, unfortunately, I’ll likely say it again, accidents do happen, but people need to take responsibility for the result of their actions.  Russ appears to have been doing everything he could, yet he will likely live with physical handicaps for the rest of his life and, aside from the moral implications, will have nothing to remind him of the life long changes he has inflicted upon someone else.

I’ve been unable to find any mention of this accident in any papers.  Also, the online police reports posted to the Westerly police department website only go through August 8th, so there is no mention of the accident yet.

It’s time for Rhode Island to have the laws on the books, ensuring that the police have the ability to charge drivers with something when they are involved in an accident and for a court of law to uphold those charges.  Once again, RIBike will be work to get Vulnerable Roadway User legislation passed during the next session, this is another sad reminder of how desperately such legislation is needed.

We will update everyone as more details are made available.


  • Aug 20, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    I just called and spoke with someone from the Westerly Police Department. The sergeant who answered the phone, he honestly said his name so quickly that even after asking him to repeat it I couldn't catch the name, confirmed that the accident did occur in their region.

  • MattyCiii
    Aug 21, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Driving is a privilege not a right. It's time for a law that requires a driver who hits a vulnerable person (pedestrian, biker, motorcyclist) must, regardless of whatever else may come of the investigation, surrender their license for some substantial period of time (say 1 to 6 months). "I never saw the victim" is not innocence by lack of malice, it is guilt by gross negligence.

    Fear of being separated from their beloved SUVs, fear of riding the bus, or (gasp) fear of walking or cycling these roads themselves might get us vulnerable roadway users some empathy.

  • Labann
    Aug 21, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Screw empathy. A criminal conviction goes a long way while prosecuting a civil suit, which you're likely to win.

    A motorist CANNOT, under all circumstances, federal and state laws, run over bicyclists or other vulnerable users of roads. Pressing charges is minimal, because of the low $75 fine, but is convincing evidence when you sue for millions.

    Makes you reconsider driving at all, an activity ill suited to the unsafe roadnet provided and fraught with all sorts of potential liabilities, not the least of which is obesity and other health issues. Why do you think you have to show evidence of financial responsibility or insurance before you can register a vehicle?

    On the other hand, bicycling is free. They can hardly enforce any motor vehicle control law against bicyclists, although they might dismiss charges against motorists if bicyclists are in the act of violating them. So, yeah, "Bike Right", providing that avoids accidents to begin with, although, in many cases, it doesn't.

    Early morning heard then watched a sedan racing to a stop sign. Timed my cross rather carefully, since driver who never even slowed was carrying on a cell call, drinking coffee, and smoking a cigarette. Distracted? Shouldn't even be behind the wheel!

  • Barry
    Aug 22, 2010 at 9:01 am

    It can'thelp the current victim, but the League of Amercan Bicyclists reports that Delaware just passed a "vulnerable road user" law that their Governor signed. When a careless motorist actually injures a cyclist or pedestrian, they are subject to fines up to $550, completing a traffic safety course, 100 hours of community service, and a license suspension. While we failed to pass a similar law in the last legislative session in RI, RIBike will try again in the next one, in hopes it deters some of the careless driving well described above and/or results in a more just set of consequences.

  • Aug 22, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Thanks to all of you for your thoughts. I hope this season and perhaps career-ending tragedy does lead to some meaningful legislation. I come originally from NH and VT, where the rights of cyclists are far more respected (as are those of runners, rollerskiers, etc.). I was appalled to read that the fine for running into a cyclists is about 1/4 that for littering! So many of us now have cell phones. Perhaps if we called the police with our complaints of road rage and the legislature gave them some teeth we could make a change. How about a mandatory quiz on the rules at the station? Failure results in suspension. For heaven's sake, at least an in-depth interview and a sobriety check! Meanwhile let's see if we can keep the police on their feet and educate them about the existing laws. If I had been driving my car instead and been broadsided, I would not have been hurt as severely but the driver certainty would have received a summons for reckless driving. "Not seeing" a pedestrian or cyclist is no excuse for not even applying the brakes—. The concussion is starting to clear but it will be a while before I can walk.A point of interest-my GPS/HR monitor recorded the entire incident and the exact time of the accident does not match the police report. I was also able to reconstruct my exact route and show that i was in the bike lane. Others may wish to carry such a little "black box" as well. Even shows the "joy ride" my bike was taken on before bringing it home.

  • John Satterlee
    Aug 23, 2010 at 5:33 am

    First of Russ, I am glad that you are OK, but sorry that you are sidelined.

    I ride frequently in Westerly and it is one scary place to ride as it is full of bad drivers to begin with and the closer one gets to the beach the worse the drivers get, they seem to have no sense of rules or common sense or anything.

    Last Tuesday I reported a malicious driver to the Westerly PD and I was surprised at how seriously my report was taken, now I know why.

    In my mirror I saw a car coming towards me in the shoulder, I was able to veer off as they rode by with taunts.Not finding any patrol cars I rode to the police station where an officer sat me down and took info.

    I know that they can't do anything in my case, but maybe a phone call to parents might prevent a future "accident" and I think the PD needs to know that these drivers are out there. I don't know if it does any good?

  • Aug 23, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Thank you for taking the time to go into the station, John. Perhaps if more of us are proactive and report such incidents, the PD will become more sensitive to the fact that one need not be in a motor vehicle to warrant their attention. I'm sure they are somewhat sensitized at this point and it may be a good time to press greater awareness and a willingness to enforce existing laws. Of course, cyclists need to be good citizens as well and obey the traffic laws strictly.

    Keep those cell phones handy and call in the plate numbers when you spot a violator or feel threatened. The PD does need to know that these incidents occur on an all too frequent basis. They should also arrange to meet you if you are willing to stay put at a certain address. The offender can be stopped by the network of patrol cars an one should be able to confront them and press charges.

    Interestingly, very close to where I was hit stands a sign saying "share the road" with a picture of a car and a bicycle. Time the police and public take this seriously.

  • MattyCiii
    Aug 23, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Hello Russ, I hope you make a full recovery.

    I like your comment about the black box. I ride with an extreme sports type helmet camera recording everything (since, well, riding on RI roads is indeed an extreme sport). It records 1080p quality, which always gets a clear shot of the license plate if the car passes within 10' of me. Sadly it always seems like the times "interesting" things happen the flash chip is full or the battery is exhausted, but soon I'll catch some bad motorist behavior on film and my first stop will be the police station – with video evidence of the crime in hand.

  • Ted Lewandowski
    Aug 24, 2010 at 7:27 am

    Call the State Police as Shore Road is a State Highway – they should be the ones investigating this accident and filing charges against the driver.

  • Lani
    Aug 24, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Russ, I am so sorry to learn of your accident — and am even more sorry to report that I also had a frightening incident that very same day, but in Providence. (Incidentally, I’m also a Vermonter — new to Rhode Island — and, like you, am horrified by the treatment of cyclists here.)

    While commuting across town to work at about 7:50 a.m. on Friday, August 13, I was intentionally run off the road by a driver in a white Toyota Camry. There is no doubt that the driver and car full of passengers saw me well in advance, as they shouted at me to "Get off the road!" and suggested I use the sidewalk, ("That's what sidewalks are for!"), as they came up behind me and passed me. Fortunately, I was not hit, as you were, but the car easily came within 8-10 inches of me, running me off the road and causing a bad scrape on my leg.

    Needless to say, I was obeying all traffic laws — properly riding in the right side of the right-most lane and making all appropriate signals to drivers near me. There was absolutely no way I could have remained mobile in my lane and avoided the collision. Traffic was light and the driver could have easily moved into the middle lane to give me a wide and safe berth.

    Deeply shaken, I took the license plate number of the car and attempted to report it to the Providence police as a "road rage" incident when I arrived at work about 10 minutes later. I was transferred several times, and each officer I spoke with seemed utterly unconcerned.

    The first policeman I spoke with told me that they don't investigate these types of incidents unless a police officer was present and witnessed it firsthand. I said that regardless of that, I wanted to file a report. He refused to even hear the details of the incident and transferred me.

    The second officer, a policewoman, told me that "People here don't know how to drive with bikes in the road" and suggested that, for my own safety, I "don't ride [my] bike" in the city. Appalled, I said I still wanted to file a report and cited the newly-approved "Frank's Law" (requiring safe passing:…. She did listen to the details of the incident and then transferred me.

    I left a voice-mail message with the third officer, who spoke his name too quickly in his message to catch. I gave a concise description of the incident, provided the car's description and license plate number, cited Frank's Law, and requested that he call me back. I left my name and phone number twice, to be certain he had my contact information. It's been 10 days, and I have not heard anything from him or anyone else in the PPD. I tried yesterday to follow up, but no one I spoke to could figure out with whom I had left the message, and they seemed uninterested in pursuing it.

    I would be happy to speak further to anyone in the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition — and will happily provide information about the car, incident, and my phone call to the PPD — should anyone want to help me bring some attention to this matter. This is a quality-of-life-issue here in Providence and all of Rhode Island in which politicians might take interest, particularly given that this is an election year. Also, we have a brand-new protective law, let’s make sure it works for us!

  • Lani
    Aug 24, 2010 at 9:28 am

    ps: Anyone using that link I provided, the State House's press release about Frank's Law, will need to delete the closing paragraph mark in your address bar.

  • Aug 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks to Ted and Lani

    I am sorry to hear about your incident, Lani. Coming here from VT is truly an awakening! Going form cycling in the Greens to having garbage thrown at yu and airhorns blown in your ear–quite the contrast. let's hope that civilization can advance here. Persevere. Keep upn the pressure. Maybe describing my case will help.

    State police-a good idea. unfortunately, I was unconscious. I'd like to pursue that now, as it is obvious that the locals aren't going to do anything, much less interview me. Ted, how do I reach them now? Might be worth a try!

    I'm busted, as is my bike, and I have a pile of bills. Why should a lawfirm in Providence get 1/3 and take three years to settle this? (provided I last 3 years) Will need surgery to regain appearances and use of hip, and that implies risk and downtime. Head is just now clearing. It's not even clear who was driving the car! The newspaper and police report are at odds. I should think someone as thorough at State would be more able to get to the bottom. Wonder why thy didn't respond. Eliminates local bias.

  • Aug 24, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    A criminal conviction goes a long way while prosecuting a civil suit

    As I understand it, and where we run into problems, is that an accident is not a criminal offense. To be criminal, it requires some sort of pre-meditation. That said, I find it impossible to believe there aren't multiple moving violations, enough to suspend someones drivers license, for actually HITTING someone.

  • MattyCiii
    Aug 24, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    If someone is sitting in the front seat of a car drunk, and the keys are in the ignition, the car does not even have to be running for the police to get a drunk driving conviction.

    We need laws that are equally powerful. A person was hit – that's all the state should need to administratively take a license away. Negligence or intent? ADD criminal charges. Injury and harm to the victim? ADD civil liability.

    Would contacting the DMV directly help in any way? Do they have the power to investigate and/or adjudicate administrative revocation of the driver's license?

  • Labann
    Aug 25, 2010 at 3:49 am

    BTW, bad treatment of bicyclists is not exclusive to Rhode Island. Over the weekend, I happened to be riding in RV alley, Rt 165 in CT. Seems drivers of huge vehicles, including pickups and SUVs, can't estimate their width very well. I was passed repeatedly within 6 inches. They don't have Frank's Law in CT.

    Fortunately, on a bike, you can often leave pavement if you must.

    You shouldn't have to confine your riding to deserted side streets, but it does help avoid mishaps. Flat, straight stretches are preferable, but historically were overdeveloped with intersections and strip malls and they encourage speed.

    I never ride without my Take-a-Look rear view mirror (ideally safety glasses mounted), which has literally saved my life at least a dozen times.

  • Lani
    Aug 25, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Poor treatment of cyclists certainly isn't exclusive to Rhode Island — I have lived in Portland, OR, and Europe, places where cyclists are largely treated with respect and caution, but incidents still happen. However, the ignorance and ill treatment here in Rhode Island is particularly prevalent, and often seemingly intentional and downright malicious.

    There is clearly a need for better education about how we share our roads — and bicyclists need to be just as educated as drivers. How do we do this? Do we need to look at successful communities, such as Portland, as role models? Do we need to write grants and secure funds for education in schools? (The Vermont Bicycle Coalition, for example, does a wonderful and very effective program in elementary schools about bicycle safety.) Do we need to lobby the RI Dept. of Transportation to add right-of-way questions to driver safety tests?

    The Obama administration, and particularly Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, have made alternate transportation a hot issue. (See and… ) Is there support on a federal level that we can tap into? What else can cyclists here in Rhode Island do to improve our own situation? I'm still new to this state and I don't yet know the answers, but I'd like to learn and be proactive.

  • Labann
    Aug 27, 2010 at 7:58 am


    RIDOT has a good pamphlet on sharing the road that I have been distributing for almost a year at libraries and wherever I can. It's here…

    Can't say it's very popular, not nearly as likely to be picked up as the Guide to Bicycling in the Ocean State map (out of print) of which I gave out 6 cases.