Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Driver allegedly strikes bicyclist on GW Parkway, law firm offers $10K reward

November 21, 2011 - 12:13 PM
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Danger on the Parkway. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Five cyclists journeyed onto the George Washington Memorial Parkway on Oct. 9 for what they fancied was a "last ride" on the scenic road, given the National Park Service's recent moves to prohibit cycling on the long stretch of northern Virginia pavement. The prohibition sparked some contention between the NPS and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association earlier this year, as WABA's executive director fought for bicyclists' right to use the GW Parkway. NPS declared in early August that "the roadways of the Parkways are too narrow and unsafe to allow both bicyclists and motorists utilize the same roadway lanes."

This last October ride was hardly a peaceful one, however. As the five cyclists headed north from Mount Vernon, the bicyclists were casually riding when what appeared to be a gold or bronze Cadillac began driving up behind them about an hour before noon and not far from Collingwood Road. The driver, allegedly a white man with dark gray hair upwards of 70 years in age, veered over across lanes and apparently was mouthing something to the drivers. "He was obviously upset about them being on the Parkway," said James D. Turner, an attorney at law from Alexandria.

Suddenly chaos reigned on the GW Parkway. The driver hit his brakes, the car screeched, and smoke filled the air. One bicyclist ended up on the grass. Another faced a far worse fate. What happened next left bicyclist Phil Hepburn bedridden for six weeks with a broken hip. He still goes to therapy three to four times a week and with lasting damage to one of his legs.

"He ended up with his face underneath the muffler," Turner told me. The bicyclist was apparently "almost dead on the table."

According to the bicyclists, the driver sped off after striking them. The attorney has been friends with Hepburn for years and weeks after the October 9 incident, Turner offered a $10,000 reward for information on the driver's identity — for what the flyer called, in clear bold language, "attempted murder with a motor vehicle." Here's the flyer that Turner has presented to residents of northern Virginia, local newspapers, the Chamber of Commerce, and anyone he can think of in the last week or so:

Chocolate strawberries

"I figured why not," Turner said of the flyer and reward. The attorney doesn't want to speak badly of the NPS Park Police but hasn't been happy with the response, which he called "very limited." Local police defer to NPS and Park Police authority, given the case's location.

I've attempted to contact the Park Police for comment, talking to multiple individuals associated with the GW Parkway and ultimately referred to Park Police spokesperson Sergeant David Schlosser, who I've not now (nor in the past) been able to reach at his phone number. Fort Hunt Patch, who also reported on this story, ran into similar roadblocks. The case serves to raise greater questions about level of NPS communication with the communities they serve, in particular the region's ardent bicyclists. NPS has, in all fairness, hosted positive events such as Feet in the Street and held its first public town hall earlier this fall.

But this incident reinforces the impression that a certain (and hopefully small) percentage of drivers out there will bully the more vulnerable on the road. Several bicyclists in the District recently made this case in front of the D.C. Council and supported a bicyclist anti-harassment bill that would grant cyclists greater legal protections and the ability to more easily sue hostile drivers in civil court. The most prominent case has been that of struck bicyclist Evan Wilder, whose experience was captured on film and has now been widely shown.

Turner simply wishes time had allowed for him to offer the $10,000 award sooner. The incident deserves more awareness, Turner believes, and it has begun to receive it this month. The bicyclists were able to offer descriptions of the car, the man, his likely origin, and part of his Virginia license plate. Just this morning, Turner told me, he had received a call from someone who had a fuller idea of the plate's numbers based off a recent sighting. He told me he's hopeful about finding the person responsible for hurting his friend.

Few parties emerge completely innocent here. At clear fault, of course, is the driver if these allegations are true. His actions are the worst, and regardless of anything else, the Park Police should be pursuing the incident. No person deserves malicious, intentional attack, as alleged. Yet the bicyclists themselves were riding on a road where their passage was prohibited. I imagine several drivers will point to that with a certain level of frustration — though again, such frustration would hardly justify attack. Turner seems right to pursue the case in his unorthodox way given the lack of action that has apparently happened. I'm still unclear on the degree to which the Park Police have investigated this incident, and I'll let you know if I ever hear back from Sergeant Schlosser.

Why did any confrontation have to result in such severe injury? What a shame.

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