Decatur Cyclists Angry About How Fatality Handled
They say the lack of prosecution in the Paul Taylor death proves something's wrong in the way police handle bicycle incidents.
Cycling safety became Dave Mathews' passion after a bad bike wreck 18 months ago, and he grew more serious on the subject after a pickup struck and killed cyclist Paul Taylor.
Mathews became downright angry after authorities announced last week nobody will be prosecuted because they don't have evidence to make a case.
"We're human beings too," said Mathews, who started a Facebook page about bike safety in Atlanta. "We're not disposable creatures."
This kind of anger and frustration has spread through the Atlanta biking community, which has long complained about lack of respect on the road. As a commenter on a Patch story said,
Let me get this straight, if I run over a cyclist at 6:20am and the 4 lane road is otherwise empty of cars so that the bike could be avoided -- I still get to kill somebody for free? I may not be an experienced investigator of traffic fatalities — but it is clear that neither are the Decatur City Police. These other police agencies can "review" all they want — if the initial investigation (by Decatur) is incomplete or flawed, it is too late.
Decatur police said they simply didn't find evidence that would allow them to prosecute Jorge Mercado-Perez, 58, of Snellville, who was driving the Ford Ranger truck that struck Taylor. Two other police agencies reviewed their findings.
DeKalb County Solicitor Sherry Boston announced Friday she would not prosecute. If she had moved ahead, the case would have been a misdemeanor.
Taylor, 53, worked at Emory at Grady. The truck hit him about 6:20 a.m. April 30 on North Decatur Road, near the intersection with Willivee Drive. Mercado-Perez told Decatur police "the bicyclist appeared to be kneeling in the roadway as if he had fallen."
An autopsy report did not confirm or challenge his statement. There were no witnesses.
Some bicylists say the handling of the case proves something's wrong with the way police enforce bike laws.
Mike Sheehan of Decatur said in an email to Patch that he thinks police did what they could. "This decision demonstrates a flaw in the our system of laws that I hope can be corrected so that we are all protected from these types of incidents."
Atlanta bicyclists have long complained about inconsiderate motorists who hog the road and pass them too closely.
Said Mathews, "Why is the cyclist not given vehicular rights? They're not given a fair shake, not even close."
In the Taylor death, some cyclists complained police didn't give Mercado-Perez a sobriety test, though he has at least one conviction for driving under the influence. Police said a 2003 court ruling prohibits them from administering such a test just because a wreck occurred.
How dangerous are Atlanta streets for bicyclists? An Atlanta Journal-Constitution story quoted the Atlanta Bicycle Association as saying 28 people died in bike related accidents in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties between 2003 and 2008.
Matthews said his wreck with a car did more than damage his body -- he needed 15 facial stitches and three root canals. He got a settlement but lost his "innocence" about cycling.
After Taylor's death, Mathews got into memorials that cyclists call "ghost bikes."
He spray-painted a bike white. He applied gold letters to the frame saying "RIP Paul Taylor" and "4/30/12" -- the date Taylor died. For good measure, he attached a sign saying "RIP Paul Taylor."
Then he chained the bike to a wrought iron fence at Superior Avenue and North DeKalb Road. It's there today, reminding passers-by that Taylor died a short distance away.