Grand Jury to be used to determine probable cause in case of assault of a cyclist by local Mayor Mark Furrer. The victim is represented by cyclist and St. Louis Trial lawyer Michelle Funkenbusch.
The felony assault and property damage case against Sunset Hills Mayor Mark Furrer has been switched from the preliminary hearing docket to the St. Louis County Grand Jury. The case stems from allegations Mark Furrer intentionally hit cyclist Randy Murdick with his car after yelling “get off my $#^&ing road” several times. As many of you know, our law firm represents the cyclist in the personal injury case and we make it our regular practice to advocate for cycling safety and for sharing the roads. We have been asked many questions about the pending felony case and impeachment process. The Grand Jury hearing is scheduled this Wednesday December 10, 2014. The St. Louis Grand Jury process has been in the news a great deal lately with the “no true bill” finding regarding Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
On October 1, 2014, a Complaint was filed in St. Louis County, Missouri against Sunset Hills Mayor Mark Furrer for Second Degree Assault and First degree property damage, C and D felonies, following his attempt to run Randy Murdick off the road. Randy was on his bicycle while the Mayor was driving his red Mercedes convertible. According to the Prosecutor’s office, the investigating officer will be the only one to testify. The victim has not been asked to testify. The proceeding, like all Grand Jury proceedings, is closed to the public. We will likely find out the results Thursday.
Three independent witnesses support Randy Murdick’s version of the events. The Mayor has claimed in the media that Randy tried to hang onto his convertible after running a stop sign. Randy has vehemently denied the Mayor’s allegations and those allegations are not supported by any witnesses.
SUNSET HILLS BOARD OF ALDERMAN OPEN MEETING TUESDAY DECEMBER 9th, 2014 TO VOTE ON IMPEACHMENT ORDINANCE
Tuesday December 9th, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. at the Sunset Hills Community Center will be the monthly Sunset Hills Board of Alderman meeting wherein they will be voting on the impeachment procedures introduced at the last meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, you have to make a request to speak if you wish to do so. You will have three minutes. We encourage all Sunset Hills residents and cyclists in our area to attend and voice your opinion at the meeting. We have learned that the Mayor may attempt to limit the opportunity to speak to only Sunset Hills residents and businesses. We were given a copy of a letter today wherein he is seeking Board of Alderman support to shut down non-residents from voicing their opinions. As a St. Louis Trial Law Firm, we believe that any attempt to limit non-residents from speaking is unconstitutional and we hope that you show up and make your voice heard if you use the roads in Sunset Hills or believe in supporting safety for all the vulnerable road users.
Some alderman, residents, and non-resident cyclists have been very vocal about the need to impeach the Mayor for his actions in this case and for other unrelated reasons. Cyclists and supporters of the Mayor both attended the last meeting heating up the room during the open forum. Some believe he should not be impeached unless he is found guilty of a crime first, while others believe the unethical actions he admitted to in the media, along with his actions since the alleged crime occurred, is enough to impeach. Missouri state law does not require a finding of guilt to impeach a Mayor in a city the size of Sunset Hills; however there are currently no ordinances in effect regarding impeachment procedure in Sunset Hills. The findings of the Grand Jury and likely the police report will be available before the vote to impeach the Mayor, which could come as early as January or February 2015.
WHY A GRAND JURY IN THE CRIMINAL CASE?
Some people may be confused as to why a Grand Jury is necessary as a “Complaint” was filed on October 1, 2014. That is true, however, there must still be a finding of probable cause to proceed to trial in Missouri. Here, the criminal justice process starts by the filing of a document called a “Complaint” wherein the prosecutor states that they believe probable cause exists that the defendant committed certain crimes. This filing is followed by either a preliminary hearing OR a Grand Jury proceeding resulting in an indictment if a “true bill” is issued. The prosecutor’s office in the Mayor’s case decided to send it to the grand jury either before or after it was scheduled for preliminary hearing at the last docket. This is within their right to switch to a Grand Jury.
In Missouri, a defendant who is subject to indictment by Grand Jury is denied the right to present evidence to explain or contradict the charge, although as we saw in the Wilson case, a prosecutor may choose to present contradictory or exculpatory evidence. The Mayor has no constitutional or other right to appear before the Grand Jury and will only be there if the prosecutor calls him as a witness. The handling of the Darren Wilson Grand Jury evidence and the fact he testified was unusual. It is unlikely the Mayor would be called as a witness, although not impossible. There are no defense attorneys involved in a Grandy Jury hearing. The fact that this case went to a Grand Jury is significant because if it went to a preliminary hearing the Mayor would have had the right to appear and cross-examine witnesses through counsel, unlike the grand jury indictment process. Plus, the public and media would be able to see the testimony in a preliminary hearing.
Even if a true bill is issued, the indictment is merely an accusation against the Mayor. The true bill is not “evidence” that the Mayor committed the crimes charged. He still has a right to a full criminal trial. However, as far as impeachment goes, if probable cause is found the “true bill”, if issued, could be relied upon by the Board of Alderman, along with the police report, for purposes of impeachment. Also, if a “true bill” is issued, an arraignment would then be scheduled, which is the formal presentation of charges against the Mayor in open court. During an arraignment, the charges would be read to Mark Furrer by a judge in the St. Louis County Circuit Court, and then Furrer would be asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. They can also ask to waive the reading and plead guilty or not guilty in paperwork. During this time is also when he may be offered a deal to avoid trial on the charges.
If you have any questions about a criminal or personal injury case arising our of crimes against cyclists, please do not hesitate to contact our firm. We would be honored to advocate on your behalf.
Michelle M. Funkenbusch
St. Louis Trial Lawyer and Bike Advocate
Top Ten Things to Do After a Bicycle Accident from St. Louis Bicycle Accident Attorney
Cyclists are injured and killed by hit-and-run drivers every day. Today, a cyclist was killed while trying to cross the street after exiting a well known bike path in Fullerton, California. Police are searching for a black vehicle involved in a hit-and-run accident that left the bicyclist dead. Police said the man that was hit appeared to have come off a popular biking trail and was crossing the street. The vehicle fled the scene, and then the victim was hit by a second vehicle, which stopped. The bicyclist was rushed to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after.
Here is a checklist to follow if you are hit while riding your bicycle and are still able to function. If you were not able to function at the time of the accident, or your loved one was killed, it is imperative you or your family contact an experienced bicycle accident attorney immediately. Make sure your family knows who you want them to call in an emergency. If you are a witness to an accident, please help the victim with the following top ten things to do after a cycling accident:
CHECKLIST FOR BIKE ACCIDENTS
1. Get out of the road to avoid being hit a second time; however, if possible, take pictures (or have someone else take pictures) before the bike or car are moved.
2. Get the phone numbers and names of all witnesses.
3. Make sure to remember what if anything the driver, passengers, and or witnesses admit or tell you about the accident.
4. Call the police immediately and make a police report. Do not let the driver talk you out of making a report.
5. Do not ignore your pain and blow it off. People are often hurt way worse than what they thought at the time of the accident due to adrenaline. Go to an ER or doctor immediately if you have any pain. If you do not document that you are injured in medical records, you have no case for personal injuries.
6. Ask to see the driver’s license and insurance information. Do not just let them write it down for you. Get the phone numbers to make a claim. Check the policy dates on the card to verify you have the correct insurance card.
7. Seek an estimate of your bike damage for repair and replacement value from a reputable shop like Maplewood Bicycle. http://www.maplewoodbicycle.com/. Do NOT try to fix it on your own without first getting the estimate.
8. Do not destroy anything that could be evidence such as a cracked helmut, torn clothing, bloody shoes, etc.
9. Do NOT give a recorded statement to the insurance company. They are NOT on your side and will try to trick you into saying something to use against you in court.
10. Call a bicycle accident attorney within 24 hours in order to preserve all evidence, to contact witnesses, to make sure the police have the correct story (in case a supplemental report is needed with your statement), and to let the insurance company for the driver know you are represented and cannot be bullied into a settlement that greatly undervalues your case.
Again, if you or your loved one are hit while cycling, contact Missouri Cycling Advocate and Bicycle Accident Attorney, Michelle M. Funkenbusch at 314-338-3500. If you would like a FREE hour presentation to your community group, athletic club, or children’s organization, on Missouri bicycle law and safety measures, please contact Michelle.
The Status of Bicycling and Walking in the U.S.
Government officials working to promote bicycling and walking need data to evaluate their efforts. In order to improve something, there must be a means to measure it. The Alliance for Biking & Walking’s Benchmarking Project is an ongoing effort to collect and analyze data on bicycling and walking in all 50 states and the 51 largest cities. They have now prepared the third biennial Benchmarking Report which is 248 pages long. The first report was published in 2007, the second in 2010, and the next report is scheduled for January 2014.
WHERE ARE THE MOST NON-VEHICLE COMMUTERS?
According to the report, the top ten cities where the most people commute by bike or on foot are: 1. Alaska 2. Vermont 3. New York 4. Montana 5. Oregon 6. Hawaii 7. Massachusetts 8. South Dakota 9. Wyoming 10. Maine. The number one position, Alaska, indicates it is the state with the highest share of commuters who commute by bicycle or foot. The cities who ranked highest in commuting by bike and on foot are: 1. Boston 2. Washington, DC 3. San Francisco 4. Seattle 5. New York 6. Portland, OR 7. Minneapolis 8. Philadelphia 9. Honolulu 10. New Orleans.
Missouri ranked 40th out of the 50 states in the levels of commuting by bike or on foot.
This information comes from the 2007-2009 ACS Notes: This ranking is based on the combined bike and walk to work share from the 2007-2009 ACS. View graphs illustrating this data on pages 34 and 35 of the Benchmark Report.
WHICH IS THE SAFEST STATE FOR A COMMUTER BY BIKE OR ON FOOT?
This is difficult to determine, but one statistic to consider is the number of fatalities per population commuting by walking or biking to work. The arguably safest state based on fatality statistics is Vermont. The top safest states rank as follows: 1. Vermont 2. Nebraska 3. Alaska 4. Wyoming 5. South Dakota 6. North Dakota 7. Iowa 8. Maine 9. Massachusetts 10. Minnesota. See FARS 2007-2009 ACS 2007-2009. Note that this ranking is based on the fatality rate which is calculated by dividing the number of annual pedestrian and bicycle fatalities (averaged between 2007-2009) by population (weighted, or multiplied, by share of the population walking and bicycling to work). View these data on pages 56-62 of this report.
Illinois ranked in the top half of lowest fatalities/population commuting by bike/foot at 23rd,
but Missouri was in the 34th position.
The top twelve cities who ranked the safest based on the fatality statistics are as follows: 1. Boston 2. Minneapolis 3. Omaha 4. Seattle 5. Portland, OR 6. Washington, DC 7. New York 8, San Francisco 9. Philadelphia 10. Honolulu 11. Colorado Springs 12. Chicago. Kansas City, MO ranked 45th and St. Louis did not make the list because this report focuses on the 50 states and the 51 largest U.S. cities. Most bicycling and walking is in urban areas, and because of short trip distances, the most potential for increasing bicycling and walking is in cities.
Summary of Additional Facts From the Report
Bicycling and Walking Levels:
12% of all trips are by bicycle (1.0%) or foot (10.5%).
From 2000 to 2009, the number of commuters who bicycle to work increased by 57%.
In 2009, 40% of trips in the United States were shorter than 2 miles, yet Americans use their cars for 87% of trips 1 to 2 miles. Twenty-seven percent of trips are shorter than 1 mile, yet 62% of trips up to 1 mile long are by car. Residents of the largest U.S. cities are 1.7 times more likely to walk or bicycle to work than the national average.
Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety:
14% of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. are bicyclists (1.8%) or pedestrians (11.7%).
In the 51 largest U.S. cities, 12.7% of trips are by foot and 1.1% are by bicycle, yet 26.9% of traffic fatalities are pedestrians and 3.1% are bicyclists
Seniors are the most vulnerable bicyclists and pedestrians. Adults over 65 make up 10% of walking trips, yet comprise 19% of pedestrian fatalities and make up 6% of bicycling trips, yet account for and 10% of bicyclist fatalities.
Funding for Bicycling and Walking:
• States spend just 1.6% of their federal transportation dollars on bicycling and walking. This amounts to just $2.17 per capita.
Missouri was ranked 17th out of the 50 states in funding bicycling and walking.
This ranking is based on the per capita spending of federal funds by states and cities on bicycling and walking using a 5-year average (2006-2010). Data is based on funds obligated to projects in this period and are not necessarily the amount spent in these years. The number one position, again Alaska, indicates the state with the highest amount of per capita federal funding to bicycling and walking. View these data on pages 86-87 of this report.
Here are some additional facts about financial benefits from the extensive report:
Public Health Benefits:
• Bicycling and walking levels fell 66% between 1960 and 2009, while obesity levels increased by 156%.
• Between 1966 and 2009, the number of children who bicycled or walked to school fell 75%, while the percentage of obese children rose 276%.
• In general, states with the highest levels of bicycling and walking have the lowest levels of obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), and diabetes and have the greatest percentage of adults who meet the recommended 30-plus minutes per day of physical activity.
• Bicycling and walking projects create 11-14 jobs per $1 million spent, compared to just 7 jobs created per $1 million spent on highway projects.
• Cost benefit analyses show that up to $11.80 in benefits can be gained for every $1 invested in bicycling and walking.
Download the complete report at: www.PeoplePoweredMovement.org/Benchmarking
Michelle M. Funkenbusch is a cycling advocate and Missouri trial attorney specializing in representing cyclists who have been injured in accidents. Please contact her if you wish for her to speak with your group about the benefits of cycling or if you have been injured in an accident. 314-799-6602. mmf@SaintLouisLegal.com
Missouri Cycling Advocate on the New “Four Foot” Passing Law in Pennsylvania.
There is no IQ test required to drive a car or ride a bike… but seeing accident after accident in St. Louis and the surrounding area in Missouri, I am glad to see the continued nationwide movement to pass “safe passing bills”. Every cyclist knows how it feels to have a car, truck or bus pass too close for comfort. I know many who have been hit by cars and survived to tell their tale, but not all. How many cyclists have experienced the “red pickup truck” cursing at them as they are passed on a lonely country road wide enough for all to be happy. Or how about the typical teenage girl in the Dodge Neon, texting her girlfriends, who turns straight into a cyclist. Motorists often misjudge the space needed due to inattentiveness, lack of the expectation of a cyclist, and lack of experience driving by cyclists. To make roads safer for bicyclists and other vulnerable road users, many states have passed “safe passing bills” to provide bicyclists the protection of law from passing motor vehicles.
On Tuesday, January 24, 2012, the Pennsylvania Senate voted to pass HB170, a bill that would require motorists allow a minimum of four feet when passing a cyclists on the roadway. If you review the bill, note that it refers to bikes as pedalcycles… not to be confused with motorcycles. The bill passed the Senate in a 45-5 vote and is now awaiting signature by their governor so it may become law. Once signed into law the Pennsylvania bill will require that:
- Bicycles in Pennsylvania must be operated in the right hand lane, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of roadway.
- This does not apply to a bicycle using any portion of the road due to unsafe surface conditions.
- Motorists must overtake a bicycle with no less than four feet between the vehicle and the bicycle and at a “prudent reduced speed”.
- No turn by a motorist may interfere with a bicycle proceeding straight.
Here is the link if you would like to read the bill:
The “four foot” law is significant in that most states that have passed safe passing laws have limited it to three feet. Three foot laws have come under scrutiny for still being too narrow. Some driver’s education handbooks instruct to give 6 feet of room when passing a cyclist.
No Three or Four Foot Law in Missouri: Must Pass at “Safe Distance”
Insurance Company lobbyists have continued their success in Missouri in blocking a three or four foot passing laws. They fear a rise in claims if a clear-cut law is passed. Currently, Missouri has no specific number of feet that you must overtake a bicycle, but there is a specific vehicle-overtaking-bicycle law. Overtaking law, “304.678. Distance to be maintained when overtaking a bicycle.”, (here) states “The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on the roadway, as defined in section 300.010, RSMo, shall leave a safe distance, when passing the bicycle, and shall maintain clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.” (italics added) Penalty: “Any person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of an infraction unless an accident is involved in which case it shall be a class C misdemeanor.”
If you have any questions about Missouri bicycle accident law, contact Michelle M. Funkenbusch, St. Louis Trial Lawyer and Cycling Advocate, 314-799-6602. Michelle provides free bicycle law education seminars to the community, high schools, scout troops, and adult social organizations. If you would like Michelle to speak to your group, please do not hesitate to contact her.