Man issues citizen citation after police decline to investigate red-light collision

Man issues citizen citation after police decline to investigate red-light collision

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Knoll’s mangled bike.
(Photo: Cedar Knoll)

A man nearly crushed last week by a large box truck whose driver allegedly ran a red light on Martin Luther King Boulevard has issued a rare citizen citation after Portland police declined to investigate.

According to Cedar Knoll, a food courier for the local company SoupCycle, the man drove his truck at high speed through what would have been a well-established red light at the intersection of NE Dekum Street and MLK Boulevard (map). Knoll said the driver only stopped the truck and returned to the scene after a witness drove after him and flagged him down.

A police officer who came to the site told Knoll, accurately, that it would be against Portland Police Bureau policy to investigate the incident or issue an officer-initiated citation because Knoll didn’t need to leave the scene in an ambulance (for more on the PPB’s investigation policy, read our report from 2008).

Here’s Knoll’s account of what happened, written before he issued the citizen citation:

dekumview

Looking eastbound on Dekum at MLK.

I was biking east on Dekum, the semi was travelling south on MLK. I had a green and not a new green, a well established green, the cross-walk counters were counting down but I still had plenty of time. Anyway the semi just came flying (I say flying because it seemed really fast, and one of the witness swears he must of been speeding) through the intersection right in front of me, I hit my brakes but couldn’t stop in time and hit his trailer just in front of his rear tires, I think his rear tire caught my front rack or possibly handle bars. I sort of moved my body backwards as quickly as I could to get out of the way. He just kept on driving, he said later he never felt or heard a thing, although he admitted he did see me and was wondering if I was going to hit him. He also told the officer that he had noticed he may of been going a bit fast, I don’t have that recorded or anything though.

I flagged down a cop, who took an account down from both witnesses and myself. The cop would not fill out a police report, because I was OK and not leaving the scene in an ambulance. My bike is totalled (over $2,000 in damages) but luckily I am pretty much fine. The cop didn’t give the driver any kind of citation or ticket. The driver, did not admit to running the red light, but he also didn’t deny it.

I think it’s interesting that even in a situation where its not my word against the driver, there are witnesses saying the driver is at fault and my bike is obviously broken, the police still wont find the driver at fault or even put it down on the drivers record.

(Note: Knoll said Friday that after seeing the officer’s description of the truck he realized it may have been an unusually large box truck rather than a semi-trailer as described above.)

A call Friday morning to the driver’s employer, Stericycle Inc., hasn’t been returned yet. We’ll update this story if and when we hear back.

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In an interview Friday, I asked Knoll what could have made someone run a solid red light.

“He basically said he doesn’t drive MLK very often,” Knoll said. “It was sort of funny, because he said he was nervous about crosswalks because there’s crosswalks all over MLK, so he was watching for those and didn’t see the light at all.”

“I just called the cop and I was like, look, I feel like this guy was totally at fault, and I would like to issue a citation.”
— Cedar Knoll

“One of the other witnesses said he was going really fast,” Knoll continued. “He even told the officer that he may have been going a little bit fast. … To me, if you’re on a road in a giant truck that you don’t drive very often, maybe you wouldn’t drive faster than the speed limit. But I don’t know.”

Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson confirmed that an officer had responded to the scene.

“Generally though, non-injury, non-criminal crashes are not investigated and we facilitate insurance exchange,” Simpson said in an email. “Crashes are recorded in a person’s DMV record.”

Here’s the PPB’s official guidance on which sorts of collisions an officer should devote scarce resources to investigating, from the bureau’s policy manual:

investigation criteria

Thanks to the Portland Mercury for having this PDF online.

Upset by the police action, Knoll contacted the city auditor’s office to file a complaint. Complaint investigator Eric Nomura, he said, “got back to me within a few hours and told me about the option of enacting ORS 153.058 through Portland Police Bureau directive 860.10.”

The policy lets citizens initiate their own traffic citations. We’ve reported occasionally on the law, and The Oregonian has created a useful comic-strip explanation of how it works.

“I just called the cop and I was like, look, I feel like this guy was totally at fault, and I would like to issue a citation,” Knoll said afterward. “I had to go to the courthouse and sign the citation.”

If the case advances, Knoll will need to appear in court to identify the driver and say what happened.

“I don’t think that people do this very often,” Knoll said.

Knoll’s boss, SoupCycle owner Nate Schlachter, said the PPB policy not to investigate traffic collisions that don’t involve major injury has him worried about Portland’s long-term ability to understand issues like this one. The Portland Bureau of Transportation, for instance, relies heavily on collision data to set priorities for safety projects.

“As an employer who has up to 6 people on the road three days a week I am concerned about how the city is tracking these types of incidents for use in analysis and hopefully planning and policy,” Schlachter said in an email.

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