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Why Driver Who Dragged a Cyclist in Bridgeport Should Face Felony Charges

Scott Jacobson. Photo: GoFundMe

Earlier this week there was a horrific act of traffic violence in Bridgeport. An SUV driver struck Scott Jacobson as he rode his bicycle and dragged him hundreds of feet, causing grievous injuries.

While DNAinfo initially reported that the motorist was only charged with failure to exercise due car for a pedestrian in the roadway, a misdemeanor, police told me the driver was charged with several other misdemeanors, including reckless driving. However, local attorneys who specialize in bike cases argue that the perpetrator should have been charged with aggravated reckless driving, a felony.

On Monday at around 6 p.m., Jacobson, 47, was riding home after biking with his two sons to wrestling practice at De La Salle Institute. He was near the intersection of 35th Street and Lowe Avenue, where a firehouse is located, when a 26-year-old man driving a 2000 Dodge Durango made a U-turn on Lowe and struck him, according to Officer Laura Amezaga from Police News Affairs.

The cyclist was dragged hundreds of feet. “If it wasn't for the witnesses and the firemen running to his rescue to stop the vehicle, Scott might not have made it,” Kimberly Cannatello Lazo wrote on a GoFundMe page she launched to raise money for the victim and his family.

Jacobson was taken to Stroger hospital with his pelvis fractured in three places, including the ball of the upper femur, which fits in the hip socket, according to Cannatello Lazo. He has severe road rash over much of his body, with muscle and bone visible in some locations. His recovery is expected to take six months, during which he will be unable to work.

Amezaga said the driver “stayed at the scene” after he was stopped. It’s hard to believe that the motorist had been unaware he was dragging Jacobson for such a long distance, so it seems likely he was fleeing the scene and would had continued dragging his victim, perhaps causing fatal injuries, had bystanders not intervened.

However, the motorists wasn’t charged with leaving the scene of a crash. In addition to failure to exercise due care and reckless driving, he was charged with failure to keep in lane, improper U-turn, driving on a revoked license, and uninsured vehicle, all of which are misdemeanors, according to Amezaga.

Chicago bike lawyers told me that the driver’s egregious actions warrant a felony charge of aggravated reckless driving. “The fact that the driver didn't stop immediately, dragging Scott for hundreds of feet, warrants more serious charges being brought,” said attorney Brendan Kevenides of FK Law, a firm that specializes in bike and pedestrian cases (and a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor). “This was a crime.  It seems like the driver didn't care whether Scott lived or died."

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 6.02.29 PM
The 3500 block of South Lowe Avenue. Image: Google Street View

Kevenides noted that while reckless driving is generally considered a misdemeanor, the charge becomes aggravated reckless driving where the violation results in great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to another. "This incident seems to clearly fall under the category of aggravated reckless driving in light of Scott's profound injuries," he said.

Attorney Michael Keating from the bike-focused firm Keating Law Offices (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) agreed that the driver’s actions called for more serious charges. “It appears that the police investigation showed that the driver acted ‘willfully and wantonly,’ meaning the police felt motorist chose to act dangerously and with disregard to the bicyclist, thus justifying the charge for reckless driving,” he said.

“However, given the severity of the bicyclist's injuries in this crash there could have been even more severe penalties,” Keating added. He noted that the reckless driving statute in Illinois provides that reckless driving which results in serious, permanent injuries qualifies as a Class 4 felony. “This more serious felony charge could result in up to three years of jail time and a fine up to $25,000.00. It's possible that the state's attorney's office could look into a felony charge given the severe injuries to the bicyclist."

Matt Willens from Willens Law, another firm that handles bike and pedestrian crash cases also agreed that the driver deserves more serious charges. “Frankly, I don’t think we are going to see drivers facing more serious charges anytime soon, absent recklessness such as impairment,” he said. “In general, society -- including legislators, judges, and jurors -- is quick to identify with a driver who injures a cyclist, rather than with the injured cyclist. People feel bad about punishing someone they can relate to.”

Thoughts are with Jacobson and his family as he recovers from this horrible ordeal.

Updated Friday 5/6 6:20 pm: DNAinfo recently interviewed Jacobson at the hospital. Jacobson says he pleaded with the driver, Joshua Thomas, to stop, and he believes Thomas intentionally fled the crash scene because he was driving with a revoked license.

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