After Two Broward Bicyclists Were Killed, Riders Ask Why Nobody Was Charged
As the cycling community in Broward County buries two of its own this week, many are wondering why the motorist responsible for the deaths was not charged in the accident.
This weekend, hundreds of cyclists gathered at the site in Davie where Denise Marsh, 53, and Carlos Rodriguez, 62, were struck on Nov. 25. Both Marsh and Rodriguez died, and several other riders were injured in the accident.
The driver of the car that struck them, 33-year-old Nicole Vanderweit, was distracted by something right before the crash, according to Davie police. A spokesman for the police department has said that Vanderweit — who didn’t return a phone message — may have been blinded by the morning sun.
But fellow cyclists and those on the ride that day say the excuse offered by police doesn’t check out. The cyclists weren’t blinded by the sun, meaning the driver that struck them from behind shouldn’t be either, said Arnie Prieto with Cycling Family Broward, which organized the ride that morning.
“The sun excuse, it’s just not true,” Prieto said. “If we can see down the road riding our bikes, how is the sun going to affect her worse?”
Prieto said it’s common for police to give drivers breaks after accidents with bikes, something the cycling community has seen after multiple crashes.
Part of the problem is that Florida laws are lenient for drivers who accidentally kill or injure a cyclist, said Michael Gale, editor of Cycling Quarterly magazine.
“These laws need to be changed,” Gale said. “At most, she’s looking at involuntary vehicular manslaughter, maybe a ticket and some points on her license; that’s just not right.”
Florida Statute allows police to charge a driver who kills someone while operating a vehicle in a reckless manner with felony vehicular homicide. But if the driver wasn’t acting in a reckless manner when the deaths occurred, the driver may not be at fault, even if the driver was speeding or ran a red light.
Gale and Prieto both joined the groups who gathered on Saturday and Sunday to honor Marsh and Rodriguez. Many arrived on bikes and wore cycling jerseys, putting flowers and memorials on the spots where they lost their friends.
“It was just tough,” Gale said. “I get choked up just thinking about it. Many of my friends were there, hugging each other and crying.”
At the memorials, riders who were present at the crash described the chaos and carnage they witnessed. The stories have been shared for a week now on social media and in text streams between cyclists. Some have asked fellow cyclists to barrage state lawmakers with phone calls and emails to get the laws changed, while others have begun petitions of online signatures.
Gale said the first thing that has to happen is better education for motorists, cyclists and police.
“There’s not enough knowledge out there of what the laws are and what you’re supposed to do when you come up on a cyclist in the road,” Gale said.
While the state’s laws may be lenient for those who kill or injure a cyclist, Florida Statute is clear on giving bicycles access to roadways, assuring that “every person propelling a vehicle by human power has all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle.”
“Unfortunately, these types of accidents are going to continue until we can educate people on the law,” Gale said.