On October 1st, fifteen cyclists left Outspokin’ bike shop in Savannah Augusta, GA on their weekly ride across the state border into rural Aiken, SC. While riding along Beech Island Ave. the cyclists heard the revving of a truck’s engine moments before it collided with the group. The crash injured four cyclists and tragically left one other, Dr. Matthew Burke, critically injured with severe head trauma. After months in a coma, Dr. Burke passed away on Sunday. The driver, Daniel Johnson, claims to have been distracted while reaching for something.
Dr. Burke is survived by his wife Bonnie and 11-month-old daughter, Anna. At the time of the crash, Dr. Burke, a U.S. Army major and orthopedic surgeon, had been home from Iraq for about a year. Dr. Burke will be buried at Arlington National Cemetary. He was 38 years old.
Thanks to the vigilance of the Palmetto Cycling Coalition and South Carolina cycling attorney Peter Wilborn, Daniel Johnson was charged with reckless homicide. If convicted, Johnson faces a maximum of 10 years in jail and a mandatory five-year driver’s license revocation. The League commends the South Carolina Highway Patrol and the Aiken County Solicitor’s office for the thorough investigation, and having the courage to bring appropriate charges against Johnson.
The loss of Dr. Burke is a tragedy and it is our hope that justice will be served. Far too often we hear of similar stories in which law enforcement and prosecutors claim their hands are tied, that a gap exists in the law that lets offenders off with simple traffic violations. Unfortunately cyclists and other vulnerable road users exceedingly feel the brunt of this loophole. Several states are working to change these laws.
In New Mexico, HB 68 will add another layer of punishment options for careless drivers when the result of their actions causes severe injury or death. The bill will allow for misdemeanor punishment of up to one year in county jail and fines up to $1,000. Cyclists in New Mexico can take action to move the legislation forward here.
In Maryland, HB 363, Manslaughter by Vehicle or Vessel – Criminal Negligence, will provides a misdemeanor option for those who cause fatalities by driving in a criminally negligent manner. If convicted, drivers would be subject to imprisonment up to 3 years and/or a fine up to $5000. Cyclists in Maryland can take action here. HB 363 will be a major component of the Maryland Bicycle Symposium on February 22nd.
If your state is working on similar legislation, let us know.
Read more about Dr. Burke at the Alliance for Biking & Walking.
Jeff PeelPeel joined the League in March 2008 as a Program Specialist for the Bicycle Friendly Communities program. Peel has a BA in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi.
State and Local Advocacy Coordinator