State v Mayer (2014) H&FLR 2014-65

State v Margaret Renee Mayer (2014) H&FLR 2014-65

230th Criminal District Court (Texas)

11 December 2014

Coram: Judge Hart.

Appearing for the Prosecution: Alison Baimbridge (of Harris County District Attorney’s Office)
Appearing for the Defendant: Guy Womack (of Guy L Womack & Associates)

Catchwords: Texas – criminal law – cyclist – collision with car – failure to aid – sentence

Facts: At 10:20pm on 1 December 2013, a truck driven by the defendant (aged 36) struck cyclist Chelsea Norman (aged 24).  Norman’s injuries included swelling of the brain which lead to her death. The defendant did not stop or attempt to aid the deceased after the collision.

At the time of the accident the street was dark.  The deceased was not wearing a helmet.  Her bicycle did not have lights and she was wearing dark clothing.  Investigators could not determine whether she had been riding in the bicycle lane. The defendant had been drinking with coworkers and become lost while attempting to drive home.  It was not established whether she was intoxicated.

The defendant was charged with failing to stop and render aid, a felony.  She pleased not guilty on the basis that she claimed to have thought that she had hit a tree and not a person.

During the trial the jury were advised that the defendant had been convicted of driving while intoxicated in 2002 and that she may have regularly abused alcohol and drugs. In April 2014 she was remanded after breaching her bail conditions by drinking alcohol.  The jury were also shown photographs of the deceased’s autopsy (1).

Held: The defendant was convicted of the charge presented.  It was open to the court to impose penalty ranging from two years probation to twenty years imprisonment.    She was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment.

Judgment

Sentence was decided by the jury and no written judgment is available.  This report has been prepared based on accounts in the Houston Chronicle on 11 December 2014 and 12 December 2014, on radio station KHOU on 10 December 2014 and website Click2Houston on 10 December 2014.

Note: The strong penalty imposed in this case suggests it may represent a high water mark in hostilities between motorists and cyclists. In 2014 commentator suggested that some motorists might understandably take steps to harm cyclists (2).  One Australian broadcaster referred to cyclists whose conduct falls short of perfection as “cockroaches on wheels” (3), although no doubt the implied threat of extermination was unintentional (4).   One might hope that the dissipation of antagonism predicted by Allen Mikaelian is underway (5)

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(1) There is room for doubt as to what inferences the jury could usefully have drawn from these photographs.  See Kevin Davis, ‘Brain Trials’, 98(11) ABA Journal 36 at 39-41 (2012).

(2) Courtland Milloy, ‘Bicyclist bullies try to rule the road in D.C.’, Washington Post, 8 July 2014.

(3) Derryn Hinch, ‘Cockroaches on Wheels’, Human Headline website, 19 August 2013.

(4) Disturbingly, ‘cockroaches’ was the name used by the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide for their victims: Prosecutor v Bizimungu, The Independent, 18 May 2011 (Int. Crim. Trib. Rwanda, 2011); United States v Munyenyezi (1st US Cir. Ct. App., Lynch CJ, Thompson and Barron JJ, 25 March 2015, unreported).

(5) Allen Mikaelian, ‘Pedaling through Memory’, 52(6) Perspectives on History 61 (2014).