Charles Pickett Jr., the driver who killed five riders and injured four more with his pickup truck in Kalamazoo, Mich., has been found guilty of all charges.
In June of 2016 Pickett drove his pickup 58 mph in a 35 mph zone while orbiting on methamphetamine, muscle relaxers and pain medications and then plowed into a group of cyclists out for an evening ride. He killed Debra Ann Bradley, 53, of Augusta; Melissa Ann Fevig Hughes, 42, of Kalamazoo; Fred Anton “Tony” Nelson, 73, of Kalamazoo; Lorenz John “Larry” Paulik, 74, of Kalamazoo and Suzanne Joan Sippel, 56, of Augusta. He also injured Jennifer Johnson of Kalamazoo; Sheila Jeske of Richland; Paul Runnels of Richland; and Paul Gobble of Richland in the June 7, crash.
Pickett was found guilty of five counts of second-degree murder, five counts of operating under the influence causing death, as well as four counts of operating under the influence causing serious injury.
A jury of seven men and four women reached the verdict after deliberating less than four hours. The trial itself lasted just more than a week. More than 20 people were called to testify, many stating that they had seen Pickett operating the truck erratically in the minutes preceding the crash. An accident reconstructionist testified that Pickett didn’t apply the brakes until after he had hit the first rider.
In the weeks following the crash the local cycling community was forced to defend itself and its behavior from broad victim blaming. This conviction is a victory not just for the families of those killed, the injured and the broader community, but for cycling itself.
At the time I wrote something that bears repeating:
Idiotic behavior by any cyclist doesn’t matter. It’s utterly irrelevant. Nothing any cyclist does justifies running them over with a two-ton hunk of metal. Nothing. There’s nothing that a cyclist can do that absolves a driver of the responsibility to avoid hitting a cyclist. Sure, riders have done things and will continue to do things that have made striking them unavoidable, but no amount of two-wheeled idiocy frees a motorist from the obligation to try to avoid said idiot—you have to try. Not hitting things is a fundamental responsibility of anyone operating a vehicle and goes to the heart of licensing. All license holders are alleged to understand that you don’t hit things.
No hitting. It’s the same deal as kindergarten, right?
So as we work to convince the world that hitting a cyclist is a “crash” and not an “accident” we must also begin the process of educating the world that just as short skirts don’t cause rape, the manner in which a cyclist rides does not cause cars to hit them.
All too often drivers hit cyclists and are let off with punishments that would make a slap on the wrist seem excessive. Often, they get away without the police even investigating the incident. This case is a rare success in a war that will remain in favor of drivers for years to come. It is, however, a positive sign that when law enforcement sees the damage done they may be encouraged to defend us.
Pickett will be sentenced on June 11. He faces up to life in prison for his crimes.
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