Seward Cafe Community Member Killed in Hit-and-Run
Elyse Stern, a 28-year-old woman with strong ties to Second Ward businesses the Seward Cafe and Bedlam Theater, was struck and killed by a drunk driver on her bicycle at Cedar Ave S and Lake Street on March 30th.
The driver, Juan Ricardo Hernandez-Campoceco, has been charged with felony hit-and-run and driving while intoxicated. He has not been charged with criminal vehicular homicide.
I know that Elyse's friends and communities are collecting donations to create an education and outreach campaign to help bicyclists get access to lights and helmets. On Wednesday, the Bicycle Advisory Committee passed a resolution calling on the Minneapolis Police Department to participate in this campaign. The idea is that Elyse's memorial fund will purchase lights and/or helmets for MPD officers to hand out to bicyclists riding without lights and/or helmets.
The BAC also asked that MPD officers get training on the rules of the road, and that MPD spokespeople be careful in the aftermath of serious bike accidents to give even-handed advice to road users. Here is the statement from Sergeant Bill Palmer that has drawn criticism from bicyclists:
“I’m not blaming the victim here,” Palmer said, “but certainly one of the key lessons here is prevention. At 2 in the morning, you should take strong consideration of wearing a helmet ... and take strong consideration of having lights on your bicycle.”There are several problems with this statement, from the BAC's perspective.
The driver who hit Elyse was driving while intoxicated. If the MPD was going to use this tragedy as a "teachable moment," it would have been good to stress that people have a responsibility not to drive while intoxicated. A statement advising drivers not to drink and drive and bicyclists to use lights and helmets would have avoided giving the impression that this fatality was the victim's fault.
While Sgt. Palmer was careful not to directly state that helmets and lights are required by law, that is the strong implication of his statement. The only legal requirement is to have a front light at night, though a rear light (at minimum) is a good idea. It is unclear that a helmet or rear light would have saved Elyse's life. Claerly better decisions by Mr. Hernandez-Campoceco - not getting drunk and driving a car - would have been the best way to have prevented this tragedy. The BAC's resolution is asking that in a similar situation (though let's hope there are none), the MPD's public statements will be more careful and more even-handed.