Today marks nearly 4 ½ months since I became a victim of a hit and run bicycle accident on my quest to ride across country. As noted in this bizarre story, (see day 3 of my Ride Across America), the driver demanded I pay for the damages to her car commenting that is it is how done in her “country”. While she has been in the US for over 14 years, I found it incomprehensible and appalling to demand that the victim of one’s actions to pay for the damages one causes.
Since the accident I have heard from many friends, family and advocates suggesting I take views which are as diverse as the partisan views in DC between Democrats and Republicans. At times emotional and at times political and anti-immigrant, everyone had their points of view. No one was right or wrong and to be honest, my position vacillated between the extremes.
At the end of the day, I decided I needed to move forward and forgive the driver for her poor judgement and in my view, her lack of morality. While some of my physical injuries may be permanent and the emotional scars long-lasting, I had to take a view what is the greater good for the community. If I were to have taken a hardline approach and objected to her attorney’s plea bargaining with the District Attorney how would I benefit? Conversely opposing her plea to reduce the charges from a class C felony to a class A misdemeanor, I had to ask what would be achieved? To be clear it was an accident and in unintentional, but leaving the scene of an accident was a deliberate action. If she had been found guilty of a felony it would be carried on her back for the rest of her life. This was a hard decision to make and my view was clouded as the driver has yet to exhibit any remorse or offer an apology.
Acting in the best interests of the community, the Court agreed with the plea and sentenced her to a high risk driving course, limited use driving privileges with suspended sentence with the risk of jail, 100 hours of community service and a fine.
The lesson here for us all is the need to take a step back. There is nothing to be gained from treating someone poorly even if they have done the same to you. One of the questions I asked myself, is how would I feel if a family member was in a similar situation? The answer was clear, show compassion!
None of us are perfect, yet if we make a mistake I believe we need to own up to it and be held accountable. The Courts action today represents a step towards closure. I am hopeful as we move forward to the civil penalties and damages phase wrongs can be righted and we can move on with our lives. (Court Coverage)
Below is a copy of my statement provided to the court
On August 20th I embarked on a life-long dream of riding my bicycle cross country. Being an avid cyclist and bike racer in my earlier years, I was well prepared physically. Saving for several years this ride was a present to myself for my 60th birthday, but also in memory of my father who died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. To-date I have raised over $15,000, while working along the trip to raise awareness of the disease and the impact to caregivers. My father was a man of a few words, but one who encouraged my cycling, to set goals and follow my dreams.
The ride was through Trek Travel including 20 other riders, 5 staff and three support vehicles supporting us over 3,800 miles over 47 days. The combined cost exceeded $20,000 per person. The journey started on August 20th with the dipping of our wheels in the Pacific in Astoria, Oregon and riding through the eclipse into Portland. On the third day of the ride, August 22, my life was forever changed. Heading east on Route 30, riding in a paceline with our blinking lights for visibility. Our group was the lead group of riders with 2 other groups following us with support vehicles behind stretched over 2 miles. Riding smoothly around a slight curve and incline the next thing I knew was I was skidding along the pavement in the middle of the road.
From the pavement, I saw the back of a white car and parts of a mirror bouncing along the road. Several riders came to my aid. I was somewhat in shock and in disbelief inspecting the deep wounds on my arm, elbow and hip. The driver, (later identified by the police as Natalya Zakhariya) first identified herself as a nurse offering some saline solution to wash my arm. The next moment she noticed the damage to her car and took the solution and gauze cloth and attempted to rub a black scrape off the side of her car, (apparently from the handlebars). She then turned to me stating I needed to pay for the damages to her vehicle, specifically stating $200. I could not believe this. The damage to my clothing alone was in excess of $200 not be mention the damage to the bike and my physical self.
By this time other riders came on the scene including an orthopedic surgeon and one of the guides who was also a nurse. They guided me away from the driver and evaluated me for possible broken bones and concussion. During this time, I overheard her making a statement to one of the other riders and guides that in her country cyclist pay for car damages. One guide requested her drivers license and insurance information while others where on the phone with 911. According to several witnesses she then made a phone call to another party and then slowly got in her car with her passenger and drove off.
The physical impact of the accident alone was significant, but her actions afterwards made it traumatic. After being evaluated for injuries, I turned around and walked a few feet off of the shoulder of the road, knelling, sobbing and speaking to my father. I apologized for letting him down thinking I could not continue the ride. As strange as it sounds my father gave me the inspiration to continue.
Without the encouragement of my father, family and fellow riders I never would have finished the ride. Other than an area of road construction forcing us to take a detour in the vans, I was the only qualified and trained rider of the group who did not ride every day and every mile.
Fast forward to today, I still have sensitivity in my hip, soreness and pain in my elbow and numbness in my left hand. I learned this week I have nerve damage in my left arm, causing me to wake up the majority of nights due to numbness in my left hand. During the day I cannot hold an object in my left hand such as a phone for more than a few minutes without my hand going numb. I now need to wear a brace on my left arm and wrist at night to help the nerve heal versus having to have surgery.
While I am healing physically and the physical scars are permanent, I am still trying to manage the emotional impact. As family, friends and colleagues will attest I often am unable to share the story without losing my composure. Hearing Ms. Zakhariya’s explanation that she saw riders on the road, but that she was unable to pass since there was a double solid line is just indefensible. Never did she offer an apology or regret then or through subsequent communications with her attorney.
To this day I cannot comprehend how anyone be so callous and demand money from another human being they injured. I do not accept she was scared and confused as she had the composure to call a friend, refuse to provide her driver’s license and then decide to leave the screen of the accident. Her statement at the scene that demanding payment from other parties was a common practice in Russia is inexcusable. I remain perplexed how a nurse, mother and wife of minister could be so insensitive. She appeared more focused on the damages to her vehicle then to the injuries to me.
While I do not feel that the crime she was charged with and that she is pleading guilty to is severe enough, I am not opposed to the guilty plea. I accept the misdemeanor due to the effect it would have on her patients and the impact of a felony on her future employability. It is my hope the Court restricts her driving privileges, requires mandatory driver education and commits her to preforming community service. I believe one needs to be accountable for their actions and the Court needs to take steps to help prevent future harm to the community.