Drunk Kills Bicyclist

Drunk SUV driver kills UO student bicyclist; policy limits settlement

A University of Oregon student on his bicycle was killed when he was run down by a sport utility vehicle driven by Patrick C., who had spent a long evening consuming alcohol.

The crash and its causes

Patrick C. drank alcohol at a party; he drank alcohol at Rennie’s Landing bar; and he drank alcohol at John Henry’s, known for its $2 well drinks. Patrick told police officers that he began drinking after 7:30 p.m. on the 18th and continued drinking until about 1:30 a.m. on November 19th. After drinking at John Henry’s, running up an unpaid tab, and leaving his credit card at the bar, Patrick walked to his SUV, and drove across town and back again, taking 11th Street on his return trip.

East 11th is a one-way street in downtown Eugene, with a designated bicycle lane. The speed limit is 20 miles per hour. At 11th and High Street, the bicycle lane is clearly marked and the street is well-lit. That same night, the UO student had been working late with fellow business students on what was the final project of his college career.  At the conclusion of the evening, the student got on his white Raleigh bicycle and rode towards his home, taking the 11th Street bicycle lane.

Patrick was familiar with that street, because he traveled there almost every weekday. Approaching the intersection of 11th and High, Patrick’s SUV was in the bicycle lane and was driving much faster than the 20 mph speed limit. Patrick told police officers later that he was not looking straight ahead in the direction he was driving, but instead was looking off to his right.  He told a Eugene Police Officer in a videotaped statement taken at the crash scene that he was “just ending my night really, and f___ing driving down 11th going home . . . . I believe I was looking over to my right over here looking at whatever the f___ is over here and all is I look up ahead again and I see a guy and I’m holy f___ and I had no time to stop when I saw him.” He then told the officer: “I see him boom, boom I hit him.”

Police officers responding to the scene reported adequate visibility for drivers heading west on 11th Street. A police officer reported, “I could easily see other officers, vehicles and small objects at considerable distance – a full city block or more – due to the street lighting.”

That section of 11th has no visual obstructions and provides a straight and level line of visibility for drivers.

Eleventh Street is an important bicycle artery for University of Oregon students. This section has a posted speed limit of 20 miles per hour. The drunk driver estimated he was driving 30 miles per hour, ten miles faster than the posted maximum speed limit. However, the drunk driver significantly understated his speed. Accident reconstruction indicated he was traveling at least 48 miles per hour.

The UO student was in a marked bicycle lane when the drunk driver ran him down. The physical evidence at the scene and accident reconstruction analysis confirmed this.  At the jailhouse interview, the drunk driver said it was “hard to know” if he was driving in the bike lane.

There was overwhelming evidence that Patrick was drunk when he crashed into the bicyclist. The first officers on the scene noticed that Patrick smelled of alcohol, had “glassy, bloodshot, watery eyes,” and that he responded to questions in a “disjointed and confused manner.” An inventory of his vehicle uncovered an empty bottle of vodka. The officer wrote that during the field sobriety test, “Patrick stepped off line during the instruction and after the second time, I had to tell him to get back in the starting position only to step off the line again.” A police camera recorded Patrick veering uncontrollably to the right of the designated line and hopping on one foot before almost  falling.

In the police car, Patrick admitted, “I had been drinking, I hit a guy . . .what the f___ else could you do?” When asked by a police officer whether he was feeling the effects of alcohol when he hit the bicyclist, the drunk driver replied, “Umm (laugh), yes. Yeah. There’s . . . there’s no way . . . I was uhh, in the right state of mind.” When discussing his intoxication, Patrick admitted; “You know, like you said, you can smell it. I mean I’m not going to lie. Yeah.. I’ve drank but I have eaten. Between the time I drank and drove . . . I feel fine.” In explaining his mis-estimation of his own intoxication, Patrick later acknowledged: “that’s a drunk mistake. You know, that’s what drunk people do all the time.” 

A breath test revealed that Patrick had a BAC of .15, nearly twice the legal limit.  During a blood draw, the drunk driver joked, “[w]e all know I don’t need any more alcohol.” The blood sample tested positive for THC, the active intoxicating ingredient in marijuana.

The SUV driver was so intoxicated he could not accurately remember the events of the night. He did not know whether he went into his house after John Henry’s but before driving; he did not remember whether he later stopped at Qdoba or whether he ate; and just twenty minutes after a conversation with 911 dispatch, Patrick told a police officer that he did not call 911. In a follow-up interview, Patrick again denied he called 911. Patrick “did not know who called 911, or if the Officer happened to be in the area. He told [the officer] he did not call, and, ‘It definitely wasn’t the victim.’”

The SUV driver was driving drunk in the wrong lane, not paying attention, at more than twice the legal speed limit. Because of his misconduct, the Lane County Circuit Court found Patrick guilty of Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants and Criminally Negligent Homicide in the death of the UO student bicyclist.

Human losses

We sometimes do not want to think too deeply about what has been lost when a young person is killed.  Such a loss can be devastating to surviving family members, but it is also a loss to all of us. The student was an exceptionally promising young man who died when he was just 24 years old. He was vibrant, smart, athletic, and loving. He was survived by his parents, brothers and a sister.  He is still missed by many others.

The student came to the University of Oregon to study business after graduating from school elsewhere.  He studied sports marketing at the U of O, which has an international reputation in the field. The young man was working on his final project for his business degree shortly before he was struck down and killed. The University of Oregon’s Charles H. Lundquist College of Business later posthumously conferred a degree on him.

A Senior Instructor at the University of Oregon who taught the student said he “was gifted. He had an effervescent personality and used his strong group and interpersonal communication skills to lead the team to evaluate alternatives to the complex problem his client had posed. [He] had a clarity of ambition and maturity wrapped around a great skill set. I have no doubts that he would have excelled in his chosen profession of marketing.”

The young man was a hard worker and a self-starter. During school breaks he sold academic books door to door in Nebraska, worked for a marketing agency in London, and worked at a start-up intercity bus company in Warsaw.  During his time at the University of Oregon, he made a strong impression on the faculty and on his peers. The professor of his Business Leadership and Communications class wrote of him, “He was very much concerned with doing great work, putting in his all, and making an impression each and every day. I’m sure these ideals would be the hallmark of [his] life, not just his career.”

The Director of Career Services for the Business School, wrote that “I got the impression that [he] was going to be successful in whatever he chose to do, because he was going to do whatever it took, however long it took, to achieve his goals.”

Shortly before his death the student applied for an internship at an elite marketing firm in London.  Not yet knowing what happened, three weeks after his death, the firm offered him a paid internship to begin upon graduation from the business school. When his prospective employer heard of the young man’s death, he wrote: He “was a fantastic guy. He came across very well. Full of energy and an inquisitive mind. He would have been a great asset to our company”

The student was much more than an ambitious, hardworking young man, interested in pursuing a business career. He had a passion for life.  One example of that passion was his love of skiing. He had been part of Great Britain’s Olympic Development Program for skiing. He was the English champion in the Grand Slalom and Super Grand Slalom (Super G) skiing events, representing Great Britain in China and Turkey at the World Student Games. At the University of Oregon, he was on the ski team both as a competitor and a coach. The Oregon Daily Emerald newspaper reported that the Oregon Ski Team “relies on its own leadership to give advice on the slopes.  A large part of that leadership is junior [name withheld for privacy reasons] who skied for the Scottish national team and is a certified coach in Scotland.”

The young man was spontaneous, fun-loving, and generous. The outpouring of love and support for him after his death reflected the great affection felt towards him.  His family received many cards of condolences. Excerpts are telling:

Every person he interacted with came away with a sense of fun and adventure...

Thank you for bringing such a wonderful man into the world. He taught me so much about enjoying life.

He was amazing. I didn’t get to know him very well, but he lived with some of my best friends. It was obvious when he was home…aside from his general volume, he lit up whatever space he was in.

He was a fabulous young man.

I will forever remember him for the jolly funny guy he was while also being competitive and serious about his passions. I just hope I can embody him in some way for it will make me a better person.

The 1st time I hung out with him we all went to his house and he made us all haggis.  I didn’t like it that much but it really struck me how generous he was to be going through so much effort to do something nice for someone he didn’t really know.

I wanted to say this to the crowd, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was on the ski team with him for two years. You learned today how much fun he had, and we had with him today. All of this is true, but for two years, I picked up on how deliberate and “on top of it” he was. He was never the last to be ready, he was never holding us back.

He was one of my best friends and meant a lot to me. He had such a positive impact on my life. Everyone wanted to be friends with him. He was a brilliant guy.

On that November day, Patrick decided to drive too fast, well over twice the speed limit. This drunk driver did not pay attention, and was not looking ahead of him. He drove his SUV in the bicycle lane instead of the automobile lane. The drunk did not notice the young man cycling in the bike lane in front of him, and the SUV hit him  from behind. The bicyclist was found by Eugene Police officers laying in an awkward, twisted position, with his torso twisted and blood coming from his head.

When the paramedics arrived at the scene, they found the bicyclist laying on the asphalt, unresponsive, with agonal breathing. His breathing was irregular, with periods of apnea (not breathing). Blood dripped from the left side of his head. He barely had a pulse.

At the hospital, he was trying to breathe and to swallow. The head CT showed swelling and traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhaging (bleeding) on the left side of his brain. A neurosurgeon examined him and found his condition was “likely terminal.” The surgeon then called the bicyclist’s father to share the news that his son was not likely to survive.  His friends set up a vigil in the hospital. Despite the efforts of the surgeon who performed emergency neurosurgery, the hospital staff, and the support of his friends, his condition deteriorated. The blood flow to his brain was slowing and he began having multiple organ failures. He died before his family could arrive in Eugene. The Lane County Medical Examiner determined that the cause of death was “blunt force head trauma due to bicycle-SUV collision.”

A local attorney recommended to the family that they ask us to represent them both in the process of the criminal case against the drunk driver and also in the wrongful death civil case afterward.  We were honored to do so, but it was an incredibly sad responsibility. The wrongful death case settled for the full amount of the insurance policy limits.

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