As we reported in September, a motorist struck and killed 27 year-old James Quinn and injured his wife, Ashley, as they rode eastbound on Highway 333, a dedicated bike route east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Highway 333, also known as old Route 66, is a two-lane road that parallels Interstate 40 and is very popular among area cyclists.
Since that time, the details of the incident have become clearer. The driver was 19 year-old Angela Browning; she was returning form McDonald’s where she works as a manager. The police report indicates that Browning passed one group of five cyclists at about 60mph, moving to her left and across the yellow line to give them a wide-berth. When Browning saw an oncoming car in the westbound lane, she overcompensated and swerved back to the right and onto the shoulder, where she struck two other cyclists from behind. Browning didn’t see either of these cyclists until James Quinn flew onto her hood, windshield, and then roof.
Authorities pronounced James Quinn dead on the scene. Ashley Quinn also was thrown from her bike and suffered a dislocated shoulder.
Visibility on that stretch of road is unobstructed and neither vehicle was speeding.
The District Attorney has elected not to press felony charges in the case. Charges will be limited to careless driving and failure to maintain lane. Careless driving carries a maximum penalty of $300, failure to maintain lane costs $10. Although a 90-day jail sentence can also result from a careless driving charge, Albuquerque lawyers think this eventuality unlikely.
Although the legal system across the United States notoriously under-prosecutes motorists who injure or kill cyclists, New Mexico excels at stacking the legal deck against bikers. There have been several incidents of motorists killing prominent, responsible, law-abiding area cyclists in the five years I’ve lived in the state. This is actually the first instance I know of in that timespan where the D.A. has filed any charges.
Browning’s driving seems patently reckless – a much more serious charge. The circumstances, i.e. passing cyclists, warranted Browning to slow down and pass only when she was certain it was safe to do so. Clearly she proceeded at a speed she couldn’t control and swerved off of the road, killing a cyclist she didn’t even see.
The solution to the often unsafe road conditions is multi-pronged. Driver education may be the most important step. Many motorists are possessive of “their roads,” and don’t realize that cyclists have the same legal right to access. But enforcement of the laws, and prosecution when they’re broken, is another crucial facet