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.