Driver enters plea in fatal bicycle collision

URBANA -- A rural Tolono man who hit a Champaign couple on a tandem bike, killing a woman, has pleaded guilty to two petty traffic offenses.

Errol Maul, 31, pleaded guilty Monday morning in Champaign County Circuit Court to failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and to unsafe overtaking of a bicycle.

He was fined $1,000 for each of the offenses, the maximum penalty he could have received.

The pleas came in connection with the March 7 accident that claimed the life of Cindy Combs, 53, and critically injured her husband David Combs, 51. The accident happened at about 4:30 p.m. on County Road 500 E near 1800 N, north of Bondville.

State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said a crash reconstruction specialist determined that Maul was driving 56 mph in a 55-mph zone when he hit the Combs’ tandem bicycle from behind.

"There is no bike lane or shoulder. They were about three feet into the roadway," Rietz said. "Maul reported that he looked over at paperwork on his passenger seat, looked up and saw the bicycle and tried to stop but was unable to in time to avoid hitting them."

Mrs. Combs was pronounced dead at the scene. Mr. Combs was listed in fair condition Monday at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.

Rietz said she recently added the count involving unsafe overtaking because "I thought it was a better charge."

Reitzs said she had received several emails from concerned citizens about the accident. "Sheriff Dan Walsh and I and Rep. Chapin Rose and Sen. Mike Frerichs met with some local members of the bicycling community and Ed Barsotti, head of the (League of Illinois Bicyclists), on Friday. The conversation centered around legislation regarding options for prosecuting traffic fatalities, including crashes involving vulnerable users of the roadway, especially bicyclists and pedestrians."

Rietz said she has worked with Barsotti in the past on legislation to try to enact a negligent vehicular homicide bill that did not pass.

"Friday, we discussed a new law that was passed that focuses on bicyclists but continues to require proof of recklessness on the part of the vehicle driver. The sheriff and I explained we did not have proof of recklessness here," Rietz said.

Under a new law effective Jan. 1 concerning conviction for traffic offenses that result in death, the Secretary of State could revoke Maul's license, Rietz said. The Champaign County Circuit Clerk's office will have to send the necessary paperwork to Jesse White's office to get that done, she said.

Rietz said Maul had no prior convictions, including traffic. An earlier report indicated Maul may have been looking at a map, but he got a map out after the accident to determine and report his location, Rietz said.

Maul’s plea had been negotiated by attorney Robert Kirchner, who died on Sunday, and Assistant State’s Attorney Sam Rosenberg. Kirchner’s associate, Ruth Wyman, appeared on Monday with Maul.

Comments

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gcziko wrote on April 18, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Not mentioned in the article is a law that became effective in Illinois in January 2011 that stipulates the automatic revocation of the driver's license of anyone convicted of a traffic offense that results in the death of another person.

From Public Act 096-1305
HB4580 Enrolled LRB096 04110 AJT 26824 b

(625 ILCS 5/6-205) (from Ch. 95 1/2, par. 6-205)
Sec. 6-205. Mandatory revocation of license or permit;
Hardship cases.
(a) Except as provided in this Section, the Secretary of
State shall immediately revoke the license, permit, or driving
privileges of any driver upon receiving a report of the
driver's conviction of any of the following offenses: . . .

16. Any offense against any provision in the Illinois
Vehicle Code, or any local ordinance, regulating the
movement of traffic, when that offense was the proximate
cause of the death of any person. Any person whose driving
privileges have been revoked pursuant to this paragraph may
seek to have the revocation terminated or to have the
length of revocation reduced, by requesting an
administrative hearing with the Secretary of State prior to
the projected driver's license application eligibility
date.

sahuoy wrote on April 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this Code, except as to special regulations in this Article XV [625 ILCS 5/11-1501 et seq.] and except as to those provisions of this Code which by their nature can have no application.

This is the same scenario with trucks and cars. A larger heavy weight vehicle in contact with a smaller light weight vehicle and the end result given the difference in size and weight of the two which is why 2 different speed limits are used. The same cannot apply to bicycles as they are slower and will not access higher car speeds on county roads. Given how much scenery or still life is missed when traveling at 30 or 50 mph it is extremely difficult to notice or see a bicycle especially when the riders are wearing like color clothing to their surrounding environment like the color of cars, grey, black, white, blue, green, tend to blend into certain areas. A modification of bicycle riders clothing or reflective gear should be made a county ordinance so bicyclist can be noticed easier and during inclement weather, rain, snow, etc. If the law is going to allow two extremely diverse vehicles use the same road at different speeds which if colliding will likely result in a death to the bicyclist there must be better alternatives to separate the two for everyone's safety. More must be done to prevent such tragedies as this. Very sad.

ronaldo wrote on April 18, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Rest assured that NO "expert" can conlude beyond a reasonable doubt that any driver was travelling 56 mph rather than 55 mph, within the legal limit. Looks like they just wanted to make sure that he was "driving illegally" since it appears as though they had no other way to convict him of breaking any law.

serf wrote on April 18, 2011 at 10:04 pm

I agree and disagree with your comment.

I agree that no expert can categorically state the exact speed of a vehicle at the time of the accident. At best, it's a close estimate. However, when the numbers are crunched, one does come up with a mph estimate. That number very well might have been 56 mph. I'm sure that if you were to ask the person who came up with that number, he or she would tell you that it's only an estimate based on the data that was collected. My guess would be that that specific number was latched on to by the prosecutor and/or the reporter without the knowledge or ability to explain how that number was reached (or what it really means).

I don't know why you are trying to make the claim that they were using that specific piece of information to show that he was "driving illegally." He wasn't cited for speeding or reckless driving. The citations he recieved had nothing at all to do with his speed. The citation for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident is routinely written to people who were going well under the posted speed limit. All it means is that you weren't able to stop before hitting something that you shouldn't have hit.

Therefore your suggestion that they were trying to convict him on the 56 mph claim is dubious at best.

HorsePunchKid wrote on April 18, 2011 at 11:04 pm

"I don't know why you are trying to make the claim..."

It's called "trolling", and unfortunately the comment section here at the N-G is not immune to it. The only winning move is not to reply; we both lose, this time.

gcziko wrote on April 18, 2011 at 11:04 pm

I see that due to my previous comment a new paragraph has been added to the article:

Under a new law effective Jan. 1 concerning conviction for traffic offenses that result in death, the Secretary of State could revoke Maul's license, Rietz said. The Champaign County Circuit Clerk's office will have to send the necessary paperwork to Jesse White's office to get that done, she said." (emphasis added).

The law says "the Secretary of State shall immediately revoke the license . . ." There is no "could revoke" about it. (emphasis added)

(a) Except as provided in this Section, the Secretary of State shall immediately revoke the license, permit, or driving privileges of any driver upon receiving a report of the
driver's conviction of any of the following offenses: . . .
16. Any offense against any provision in the Illinois Vehicle Code, or any local ordinance, regulating the movement of traffic, when that offense was the proximate cause of the death of any person.

mkm wrote on April 19, 2011 at 3:04 pm

I have two questions:

1) If, as brought up in this article, Errol Maul was not looking at his map instead of driving before/during the crash, what was he doing instead of driving? It would be impossible to not notice their visible tandem bike on a flat open road unless he was doing something else and not focused on the road.

2) Based on the fact that he must not have been focused on driving, that IS RECKLESS driving! How can it be classified otherwise?

sahuoy wrote on April 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Watching the road while you are driving is a requirement to within reasonable effort. Implying you also watch your driving based on peripheral vision, left, right, rear view mirrors, sky, taking everything in otherwise known as the big picture is used when you are driving. As for him not noticing a tandem bike is easily accomplished as from a distance the narrow profile could and or would resemble any other like profile at most any distance. Their slow speed would also help them to blend in with surrounding environment making them less noticeable. I'm not biased either way. What I tell you is simple face. Having driven a tractor trailer for 8 years, most people think I can see everything, true, to a point I can but I will also tell you many thing are ignored unless they are moving which adds them to the list of things to pay attention to while tracking my big picture of everything that is happening around me. No one can look in all directions at one time and at a fast speed, fast implying my speed compared to something moving slowly, anything can be missed, including fast moving deer, dogs, pigs, chickens, cars, trucks, motorcycles, bikes, kids playing ball, being chased, cops that run red lights, ambulances, fire trucks and on and on. Most any road is not wide enough to include a bike path but it doesn't stop a biker from using it.