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Bicycle Infrastructure

Livermore Police Blame Hit & Run Victim for Her Own Death

The corner where Boyle was killed in a right-hook crash with the driver of a gravel truck. Image: Google map

Livermore Police are filing no charges against the hit-and-run driver of a gravel truck for running over and killing cyclist Christine Boyle, who was reportedly in a crossing that's part of the Iron Horse trail.

From the Pleasanton Weekly, which reported the police decision on Wednesday:

Boyle was riding off the sidewalk on eastbound Stanley Boulevard just after 8 a.m. Dec. 21 to cross straight at the intersection within the crosswalk, when at the same time a gravel truck with trailer was making a right turn from Stanley toward the Isabel Avenue/Highway 84 connector.

The Weekly also reports that "investigators determined Boyle's movement in the roadway was in violation of the California Vehicle Code, making her the at-fault party" and that "...there are no criminal charges pending. The driver of the truck was fully cooperative and unaware that he had collided with her," according to Officer Taylor Burruss.

That is to say he was "fully cooperative" after fleeing the scene and remaining at large for at least a week, going by the dates of the reports. "They put the blame on my aunt and that’s why no charges have been filed," Boyle's niece, Barbara Clibbens, told Streetsblog. As to the nature of Boyle's violation, Streetsblog reached out to Burruss for more details and will update this post. However, Clibbens said the police told her Boyle was at fault because she was riding in the crosswalk, rather than walking her bike. She added that the Livermore police have refused to send her a copy of the crash report.

The Livermore police are wrong about the California Vehicle Code [see note at bottom], which doesn't actually ban crosswalk riding, but rather leaves it up to local jurisdictions. Furthermore, given this crossing's incorporation into the Iron Horse Trail, as pointed out by an advocate familiar with the area, the vehicle code defines a bike crossing as a "portion of a roadway included within the prolongation or connection of the boundary lines of a bike path at intersections where the intersecting roadways meet at approximately right angles." In other words, Boyle had every right to be biking in that crosswalk.

But no matter how one interprets this particular crossing, Andy Gillin, an attorney (and Streetsblog sponsor) who specializes in traffic collision law, said it doesn't exonerate the driver. "What an outrageous conclusion by the Livermore police department!" he wrote in an email to Streetsblog.

In Streetsblog's view this case is fairly simple: a truck driver is responsible for the safe operation of his vehicle. Reports said a witness saw Boyle trying to push off the truck to avoid getting run over, but that she fell and was crushed under the trailer. In other words, she didn't ride blindly off the sidewalk into a turning truck; she was in the crosswalk and the truck driver right-hooked her. The driver's admission that he didn't even know he hit her is a confession of inattention and negligence.

But "I guess it’s okay to run over a wonderful woman who did nothing wrong, as long as you say 'I didn’t see her,'" wrote Clibbens in her email to Streetsblog.

Christine Boyle at Lake Tahoe
Christine Boyle at Lake Tahoe. Photo used with permission from her niece.
Christine Boyle at Lake Tahoe. Photo provided by her niece.

Streetsblog also tracked down Jessica Benavidez, one of two witnesses. She emailed that she is still traumatized and did not provide any further information. However, shortly after the crash she posted on social media: "I had a front row seat to this accident last Monday. Please, be careful out there, you just never know what can happen. Hug those you love a little tighter, tell them you love them before you leave, don't leave things unsaid. Life is precious and far too short. Stay safe everyone."

Note: an earlier version of this post said that Boyle may have committed a technical infraction by riding in the crosswalk. Further analysis and a correction by a Streetsblog legal advisor, as well as the guidance of Bike East Bay, confirmed that the California vehicle code does not ban crosswalk riding in any way. “E.g. & 21650, subd. (g) Operation of bicycles on should of highway or sidewalk or bicycle path “or along any crosswalk” is not prohibited by the section, if such operation is not otherwise disallowed. Kelly v. EZ Rider & Compnay (Cal Ct. App., Dec. 17, 2014 No. D063065) 2014 WL 7178080, at*1"

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