Location: Lawrence

No Justice in Douglas County

It looks like David Dillon’s killer will not be held accountable for his actions.

From the Lawrence Journal-World:

Criminal charges will not be filed against the motorist who was distracted by electronics when he struck and killed a Douglas County sheriff’s lieutenant who was riding his bicycle, District Attorney Charles Branson announced Friday afternoon.

Lt. David Dillon, a deputy for the jail operations division of the sheriff’s office, died in the June 28 accident. Dillon, 44, was off-duty when he was struck from behind by a 2003 Oldsmobile driven by Kyle Van Meter, 21, the Kansas Highway Patrol said.

The accident caused the right front tire of the car to be flattened from impact with the bicycle, a highway patrol report said. The seat of the bike was found under Dillon’s body.

“Van Meter admitted to being distracted by his radio and told authorities he did not see Dillon until he hit him,” Branson said in a news release.

A highway patrol report said Van Meter, of Eudora, was also distracted by a cell phone during the accident, which occurred in the 1900 block of North 1400 Road, just one mile west of Eudora. The report indicated inattention and failure to yield the right-of-way were contributing circumstances in the wreck.

Branson said his office has returned the case to the highway patrol, suggesting the state agency issue citations for unsafe overtaking/passing, following too closely and failure to wear a seatbelt. Branson said he met with Dillon’s family this week to discuss the results of the investigation.

“If any good can come from the tragedy we can only hope people will slow down and pay attention to their driving,” he said.

Just incredible.

As long as the District Attorney has taken to make his decision, I’d begun to fear the worst, but now that it’s come to pass, I’m simply stunned.

Negligence, readily admitted, and yet no charges. How can this be seen as anything other than a gross miscarriage of justice?

Read more about the accident took David Dillon’s life and the subsequent report from the Kansas Highway Patrol.

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About The Author

By Randy Rasa, editor/webmaster at Kansas Cyclist, the web's premier Kansas cycling information site, featuring authoritative guides to Kansas cycling clubs, bike shops, organized bike rides, touring, trails, and much more. [learn more]

8 responses to “No Justice in Douglas County”

  1. Roger says:

    Sadly, this sounds too much like a case we had a couple of years ago in Illinois. A cyclist was killed when a car driven by a woman downloading a cell phone ring tone struck him.

    The woman ended up being charged with a traffic offense, but at least the prosecutor was courageous enough to explain the rationale. Cycling advocates wanted reckless homicide charges filed, but the prosecutor explained that current state statutes allow reckless homicide cjarges only when the conduct was “willful and wanton” and that the current case law would not have supported the reckless homicide charge in this accident.

    Since then, the prosecutor, the victim’s family and cycling advocates have been working to create a charge that would cover circumstances such as this. This summer, a task force recommended new laws, and the Illinois General Assembly probably will consider them next year.

    Without knowing Kansas statutes or case law, it sounds as if the Douglas County DA may have been stuck with the same problem, but it sure would have been better if the prosecutor had explained the rationale behind his decision.

  2. Jack says:

    Since Douglas county can not stand up for one of their own, what makes me think they will protect my two children attending KU. Need to rethink where they will go to school next year.

    This is clearly a case that exemplifies the need for legislation to ban cell phone use while driving and stiffer penalties for hitting cyclists. Hopefully the Highway Patrol will step up.

    Gov, are you listening at all.

  3. Jim Turner says:

    Let’s see………..
    A woman from Washington State kills two road workers with her truck and gets 26 years……..

    A kid from Eudora kills a Deputy on a bicycle with his car and NOTHING, NOT EVEN COMMUNITY SERVICE, Come on, you have got to be kidding me…..

    that makes it OPEN SEASON on cyclists in Douglas County.

    Sadly unbelievable, but I am not surprised. The Bicycle Friendly signs need to come down NOW. It is a cruel joke.

  4. Dan Payne says:

    Sadly motorists in Kansas are generally NOT held accountable for any deaths or injuries they cause to bicyclists or pedestrians.

    My daughter was walking in a marked crosswalk at K-State last year when she was run over (and dragged 20′) by a motorist that had decided that he didn’t have time to scrape the frost off of his windshield before he took off driving.

    After his vehicle struck her, he “thought he might have hit something so he pulled over to see if he had.”

    He was initially charged with several violations, but in the end he got off with a slap on the wrist and at most had to pay about a $50 fine!!! (A friend of mine had to pay three times that amount because his vehicle touched the white edge line on a highway where not pedestrians or bicyclists were allowed).

    After several months of surgeries and recovery, my daughter was finally able to go back to school. It still astounds me to know what all my daughter had to go through and how much of her life had to be put on hold, while the idiot motorist got to go on with his life like nothing ever happened.

    What a luxury it is for Kansas motorists to be able to drive as stupidly as they want and not be held accountable for their actions.

  5. Jim Wilson says:

    After complianing to Branson here is what I got….

    I understand your anger and frustration in the death of Lt. David Dillon. He was a friend and colleague of mine and he is sorely missed. Unfortunately, the Kansas Legislature and Kansas Courts have plainly stated that bicycles and motorcycles share the same status as any other vehicle on the road, and again unfortunately, they do not receive any special consideration given their delicate nature versus a 3000 lb. machine.

    Mr. Van Meter will be cited for the traffic offenses he committed. However, due to Kansas law and Supreme Court interpretation, his actions by law are not criminal. Traffic infractions are not considered criminal offenses. The Supreme Court has determined that there has to be more than mere negligence on the part of a driver to be held criminally liable for the death of another. It is not a matter for me to agree or disagree but apply the law as I am sworn to do.

    Below this email is a copy of the leading Supreme Court case dealing with this type of issue. It has a good discussion of the inherent problems with how our law is written. It should be of great interest to those in the bicycle and motorcycle community and hopefully with its publication can become a discussion tool for how our laws should be changed.

    Sincerely yours,

    Charles E. Branson
    District Attorney
    Douglas County, Kansas
    111 East 11th Street
    Lawrence, Kansas 66044-2909
    PH: (785) 841-0211
    FAX: (785) 832-8202


  6. Mark55 says:

    Cars collide with each other in this manner, with and without injuries, and no one is criminally prosecuted. In essence, simple negligence, also known as inattentive driving (which is cited against drivers who are at fault in accidents), is a motor vehicle code violation, but not a crime. Felony requires willful intent, for example to harm another, or to become intoxicated and then drive, resulting in harm to another, which is not established in the case at hand.

    This tragic event raises important issues.

    The differences in speeds and vehicular masses between cars/trucks and bikes will always put cyclists at greater risk of serious injury than drivers. Minimizing the rate of collisions’ occurrence is paramount.

    Criminalizing cellphone usage while driving can be done, but it won’t eliminate all distractions or inattentiveness. When driving, people “operate unconsciously”. Cyclists must do what they can to “wake drivers up”, not because they have a legal obligation, but for their own safety.

    Bright daytime-visible flashing taillights, particularly DiNotte’s 140L and 400L at the present time, as well as high-lumen flashing bar and helmet headlights, are very effective in snapping drivers to attention earlier (at greater distances) than when they encounter unilluminated cyclists.

    LED technology has rapidly evolved since 2007 to produce very high luminosity lights, and cyclists should take advantage of this great development. Prices on these lamps are currently higher than we would like–but they will drop dramatically over the next few years.

    In the meantime, cyclists have to decide how much safety and peace of mind are worth to them. I have a legal right to use the road, with or without lights in daylight. But I also know that taking an above-and-beyond measure to proactively send an alerting signal to drivers that I am in or near their pathway is in my own personal interest.

    Bike-only lanes and a public-awareness “share the road” campaign need to be developed. This lies in the future, hopefully not-too-distant. You can get bike lights now.

  7. Randy says:

    @Mark55: “Felony requires willful intent, for example to harm another, or to become intoxicated and then drive, resulting in harm to another, which is not established in the case at hand.”

    But isn’t distraction or inattention just as dangerous an impairment as driving drunk? Certainly the consequences can be (and in this case, were) just as serious.

    So therefore shouldn’t the law should treat any impairment that results in injury or death, whether it comes from intoxication or inattention, equally as seriously?

  8. […] response to last Friday’s decision by Douglas County District Attorney to not file criminal charges against the distracted driver who killed David Dillon in June, there were a number of thoughtful […]