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Hit & Run against Michael Bluejay

Michael Bluejay, 33 (Friday, 10-27-00, 5:30pm, S. Congress just north of Barton Springs Rd.)
APD Case No. 00-3011170

The short summary is that a motorist intentionally hit me, damaging my bike, and then fled (hit & run). The police were easily able to locate the motorist from the license plate tag, but even though the motorist admitted to hitting me and to fleeing, the police did only a cursory investigation, didn't contact me, and declined to file charges against the driver. Only after persistent nagging on my part did the police finally give the motorist a ticket for the least serious charge (leaving the scene), and didn't charge him with intentionally hitting me (a felony). But I can't even verify that the police actually issued the ticket. Consequence to the motorist: Ticket for leaving the scene (given only after persistence on my part), if he got even that.

Here's the longer version:

I was bicycling on my last Critical Mass ride, going south on S. Congress right before Barton Springs Road. I was riding squarely in the right-hand lane when another cyclist behind me yelled, "Bluejay, look out!" I wasn't going fast to begin with because of all the car & bike traffic downtown during rush hour, and I instictively hit my brakes when I heard the person yell, so at that point I was going VERY slow. I looked over my shoulder where the warning had come from, and I saw a white 1998 2-door Chevy Metro accelerating quickly towards me. I was going too slow to ride out of the way quickly, and since I was riding a recumbent bike, I simply put my feet down and picked up my bike to move it into the next lane on the left, to get out of his way so he didn't kill me. As I moved my bike, because it's long and heavier in the back, the front park of the bike pivoted slightly back into the right-hand lane. I looked at the driver, who had slowed down, and since he'd slowed down and we'd made eye contact, I was about to put my bike back down and get back in the lane, since I had the right of way, but a split-second later he charged through, hitting my bike and running over the front wheel, and knocking me to the ground because I was holding onto the bike. He made a right turn onto Barton Springs road, and other cyclists gave chase. The driver drove recklessly and broke several laws trying to get away, including speeding, and making a right-hand turn (onto S. 1st) from the LEFT-hand turn lane, right through a red light. Cyclists got the license plate number, and I called the police, who arrived quickly and were very professional in taking my report. They found the motorist's name and address from the tag number, told me they would go talk to him, and gave me a case number which I could reference when calling the Traffic office to check on the status of the case. (Over a week later, I have heard nothing at all from the police. Yes, I will call them soon to follow up, but I wanted to see how active the police would be in following up on this case themselves. The answer is, not very.) The police did not give me any information about the driver, but I was able to find it myself from his tag number (ZJY 53B): W. Dean Talmage Jr., 620 S. 1st #312, Austin TX 78704. He is a while male who looks to be in his mid-40,s clean-shaven, with short, graying hair. Curiously, I was unable to find a Texas driver's license for him, although he purchased his vehicle here in Austin.

Update 11/6/99: I tried calling the police on 11/6 to find the status of the case, but found that the officers had given me the wrong phone number. (The correct number is the main APD number, 974-5000, then press option 2 for the Traffic Office.) I called and was told that the case had not been assigned to a detective yet.

Update 11/24: I called to get an update, but got a recording saying the office was closed. (This was the day after Thanksgiving.)

Update 11/29: I called and was transferred to Detective Norris. He told me that the police had closed the case due to a lack of evidence (and hadn't bothered to let me know). But lack of evidence?! What about the witness listed in the report? He said that no witness was listed in the report.(?!) What about the driver's version -- did he deny what had happened? Norris said that the police had not contacted the driver. (He wasn't home when the patrol officers went round right after the assault.) Why hadn't the police contacted me to see if I had more witnesses, or to even let me know that they were dropping the case? No answer. Even then, Norris did not ask for contact information for the witnesses I offered. He told me that he'd make an effort to contact the driver, and if he could, he would let me know. I said, "Okay, so you'll let me know IF you can contact him, but what if you can't?" Norris said only that they'd make an extra effort to contact the driver. Norris didn't ask to verify that he had my correct phone number from the report, so I had to make sure he had it.

Update 12/4: Detective Norris called me back, and told me that the motorist admitted to hitting me and to fleeing, but that he claimed it wasn't his fault for hitting me (Norris can't tell me why), and that he fled because he feared that the other cyclists would assault him -- which is crazy, because he had his window rolled down, and looked anything but scared. Norris offered that he didn't believe the motorist's story. Norris said the motorist had agreed to have his insurance take care of the damage to my bike, and suggested I contact him, which I agreed to do. I asked about criminal prosecution of the motorist, and Norris replied that he didn't know what happened and didn't have enough evidence. I reminded him that I had additional witnesses which he hadn't expressed any interest in contacting; did he want their contact info? He seemed to wonder why I wanted criminal charges filed if I were getting reimbursed for my bike damage. I explained that the motorist intentionally hit me and intentionally fled, and that these are crimes that he should be held accountable for. Norris begrudgingly said he would accept my witness information. I told him I would compile it and call him back with it.

Update 1/15/01: I was finally able to track down another couple of witnesses. I hand-delivered a letter and my list of witnesses to the police dept. for Detective Norris.

Update 2/16: I didn't hear from Detective Norris, so I called him. He told me that he called the witnesses and that he filed charges against the driver for leaving the scene. (But not, apparently, for intentionally hitting me.) This is just a misdemeanor -- the driver pays a small fine and is on his way. I asked how I could confirm this -- could I get a copy of whatever he filed at the police department? Norris said that those type of records are not available to the public. In short, according to him, there is no way for me to confirm whether he really gave the driver a ticket or not.

Update, 2/23: Last week I called all the witnesses, and with only one exception, they all said that Norris had never contacted them. (Norris had told me that he had contacted "some of the witnesses", plural, not just one.) I went to the police station and left a letter for Norris asking him to charge the driver for the more serious crime of intentionally hitting me (a felony), not just fleeing (a misdemeanor, handled with a ticket). If he thought he didn't have enough evidence, I asked that he give the case to the District Attorney so a grand jury could decide

While at APD I checked their computer, and it said that no action had been taken, even though Norris had told me that he'd sent the driver a ticket for leaving the scene. I went to the Public Information Office, and they looked up the case, and showed me on the screen where Norris had written in his case notes that he had sent the motorist a ticket; the staffer thinks that Norris simply forgot to update the code that indicates that the case is resolved. I noticed on the screen that Norris' notes say that he talked to the driver and that Talmage "said he did not hit the bicyclist". This contradicts the letter the motorist sent me in January. (He alluded to hitting me by saying "I was worried terribly about you" and that he had gone to police headquarters to tell them what happened. I will give Norris a copy of this letter.

Update, 3/6: I have not heard from Norris. I sent him another letter, explaining that Talmage did not deny hitting me in his letter, and I enclosed a copy of Talmage's letter.

Update, 3/19: Norris called me and said that Talmage couldn't be charged with aggravated assault because he was already charged with leaving the scene, so that would be double jeopardy. I argued that leaving the scene and hitting me were two separate crimes, so I saw no problem with charging him with both. Norris disagreed. He also argued that he thought the case would be extremely difficult to prove. I then repeated what I said in my letter, which was that if he didn't think he had enough evidence, could he at least turn the case over to the D.A. and let them decide? After some persistence on my part, he agreed to run the case by his "in-house DA" (whatever that is) tomorrow and let me know the results.

Update, 3/22: I called Detective Norris, and he said the in-house DA has been busy and Norris hasn't had a chance to talk to him, but that he'll let me know when he does.

Update, March 2001: Norris said that his DA isn't interested in considering this case. I gave up at this point.

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