This last Saturday, Joseph Novotny of Stevenson Ranch became the latest local cyclist killed in a hit-and-run drunk driving incident. (Note that I refuse to call them “accidents.”)
It should never have happened.
According to the local Santa Clarita paper, the driver of the pickup had been reported to the police just minutes earlier after nearly sideswiping another car. After calling 911, the other driver followed him as he drifted across lanes, onto the sidewalk and the median, and into a fence.
He continued talking with the dispatcher as he followed the truck up Bouquet Canyon Road, then watched in horror as it crossed onto the other side and hit five cyclists riding on the opposite shoulder head on.
Unfortunately, sheriff’s deputies arrived just moments too late.
That wasn’t the first opportunity anyone had to stop him, though. That came in 2007, when the then 18-year old driver was first convicted of driving under the influence. Or they could have stopped him last year, after he knocked down a utility pole in another drunk driving incident.
They also might have gotten him off the streets for any of his multiple arrests for illegal drug and alcohol possession, selling tear gas and obstructing police officers.
Instead, this past Saturday he was allegedly driving drunk, with a suspended license — despite the early hour and being under-age. Now two cyclists face a long recovery from serious injuries, and another is dead, leaving behind a wife and devastated friends.
According to one of those friends, despite being a relatively new member of the Santa Clarita Velo Club — Novotny and his wife moved to the Santa Clarita area just last March after living in Minnesota and Belgium — Novotny was an experience rider and a great hill climber. In fact, he sold Novotny his first road bike over 20 years ago and they frequently rode together. Novotny had even been the best man at his wedding.
Now he’s dead because the authorities couldn’t — or simply didn’t — keep a repeat offender off the roads. And the driver is scheduled to be arraigned today on charges that may include murder, driving under the influence and hit-and-run causing death.
Since the driver was underage, it’s also possible that whoever supplied him with the alcohol and/or drugs, or sold it to him in violation of the law, could face charges if the authorities choose to pursue it.
Yet even if this young man spends the rest of his life in jail — which is a distinct possibility — it does nothing to stop the larger problem of intoxicated and/or hit-and-run drivers.
At least three L.A.–area cyclists have been killed in hit-and-run incidents by accused drunk drivers this year alone — Novotny, Jesus Castillo and Rod Armas. Add to that Patrick Shannon, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Orange County recently, as well as countless others who’ve survived their injuries, including local cycling leader Roadblock.
Then there are all the pedestrians and vehicle passengers who’ve been killed or injured in hit-and-run and/or drunk driving incidents this year alone, including Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, in 2007 alone, an estimated 12,998 people were killed in alcohol-related motor-vehicle collisions — and an estimated 50% – 75% of drivers whose licenses get suspended will continue to drive anyway.
Newly elected councilmember Paul Koretz addressed this problem on here recently, as did his opponent David Vahedi. MADD proposes a campaign along the lines of what Vahedi suggested, including increased police enforcement as well as interlock systems that can prevent drunk drivers from starting their cars if they’ve been drinking.
Personally, I think the solution is a strict two-strike and you’re out policy.
On the first offense, the driver’s license is permanently revoked; after a period of one to two years, he or she can appear before a judge and request permission to apply for a license — but only if they’ve successfully completed a counseling program and agree to place an interlock system on any vehicle to which they have access.
Meanwhile, any vehicles registered in the driver’s name will be impounded until the license is restored, or sold to compensate any victims. And no one, anywhere, for any reason, should ever get another chance after a second violation.
Anyone caught driving after their license has been revoked should face mandatory jail time, with no possibility of early release. And any person convicted of leaving the scene of an accident should lose all driving privileges permanently, forever. Even for the first offense.
But nowhere near as harsh as what Novotny’s family and friends now face.
Full disclosure — My 16-year old cousin was killed by a drunk driver when she was thrown from a car driven by her own father, who then ran over her and drove home without ever noticing she was missing. Also, one of my childhood friends was killed just before our senior year of high school when a drunk driver jumped a 20-foot wide median strip on an Interstate highway and hit his car head-on at over 70 mph. She walked away without a scratch; he and his passenger were killed instantly.
The Wheelmen list all the finishers for this years Grand Tour, but there’s no mention of the two who didn’t make it, Rod Armas and his son. Am I the only one who thinks that’s shameful? Stephen Box examines the bikes on Metro controversy, while the Bus Bench takes the other side, and complains about those oppressed cyclists. Newport Beach beats L.A. to the punch on bicycle sharing. The cycling lawyer offers good advice for when tempers flare, while the other cycling lawyer notes that not one driver has been cited for violating Arizona’s three-foot passing law in Tucson this year. Two Milwaukee bike cops are struck in separate incidents. Evidently, it’s still illegal to park a bike on the sidewalk in Jacksonville. No bikes involved — thank God — but see how fast an accident can happen. Just Williams finally gets the instructions on how to fold his Ikea folding bike. Finally, a Berlin brothel offers a discount to anyone who arrives by bike.