Why Jolene Friedow only got a traffic ticket in the collision that killed Mark Angeles

Why Jolene Friedow only got a traffic ticket in the collision that killed Mark Angeles

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SE Gladstone and 39th looking eastbound. The collision happened right where the blue car is in this Streetview image.

On Friday afternoon the Portland Police Bureau issued a statement about the crash in May that killed 23-year old Reed graduate Mark Angeles. The woman who was driving the truck at the time of the collision, 40-year old Jolene Friedow, has been given a traffic citation and will not face criminal charges for her actions.

Many people have reacted to this decision with disbelief and anger. How can someone be found guilty of a “dangerous left turn” (ORS 811.350) yet not be held criminally responsible for the consequences of that turn? Why was Friedow not cited for careless driving to a vulnerable roadway user?

“Nothing about her driving was legally sufficient to support a careless mental state.”
— Laura Rowan, Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney

Since Friday I’ve reviewed the nine-page memo on this case (PDF) written by Deputy District Attorney Laura Rowan. I’ve also interviewed Rowan to try and get these questions answered.

First I’ll reset the case and then share additional details about what happened…

This collision occurred at 12:02 pm on the northeast corner of SE Gladstone and Calle Cesar Chavez. Gladstone has green painted bike lanes and bike boxes at this intersection and there is no left turn signal.

Friedow was headed eastbound toward Cesar Chavez in a Ford F450 truck that was towing a Volvo sedan. Angeles was biking westbound on a fixed-gear bike that had a front cantilever brake. To clarify, the bike’s rear sprocket was threaded onto the hub and did not have a freewheel mechanism. This means when his bike was in motion, Angeles was not able to stop pedaling. He could stop the bike one of two ways: pull on the front hand brake and/or by pushing back on the pedals to resist their forward momentum.

According to the police investigation and witnesses who were at the scene, Friedow turned left from Gladstone onto Cesar Chavez and the collision with Angeles happened in the middle of the intersection. Friedow was not on the phone and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Two cameras captured footage of the collision: one on-board the tow-truck and one from a nearby gas station. PPB officers reviewed the footage from both cameras.

Camera footage allowed police to conclusively determine what phase the signals were in when Friedow and Angeles entered the intersection. According to the report, as Friedow entered the intersection, the signal changed from green to yellow. “Her vehicle was within the intersection at the time of the light change from green to yellow.” Angeles however, entered the intersection with a yellow light.

As per ORS 811.260(4), when a yellow signal is showing you are required to stop before entering the intersection. If you cannot safely stop, you can proceed “cautiously through the intersection.”

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Two different officers who reviewed camera footage in their investigation found that it does not appear that Angeles went “cautiously” through the intersection.

“Per the Oregon Vehicle Code, Mr. Angeles’s right of way had terminated prior to him entering the intersection and MS. Friedlow’s right of way terminated as she entered the intersection.”
— From the memo written by DDA Laura Rowan

Using the camera footage and crash scene reconstruction analysis, investigators found that Angeles was 64 feet east of the intersection when the light turned yellow and he was traveling 28 mph at the time of the collision. At that speed, the light would have still been yellow when he entered the intersection. A GPS device on-board the truck revealed that Friedow was going 10 mph at the time of the collision. The posted speed limit at the intersection is 25 mph.

According to the police report, the gas station camera showed Angeles “in the bike lane at a rapid rate of speed” and as he approached the intersection, “he began to pedal faster.”

Then there’s this passage in the memo: “Officer Close reports that as the light changed to yellow, the cyclist appeared from a shadow cast by a tree (see lead photo).” Officer Close also commented that Angeles did not appear to slow down at all prior to the collision. In fact, he appeared to do the opposite: “Officer Close opined that Mr. Angeles may have seen the light change, lowered his head to pedal faster, and may not have noticed the tow truck turning.”

Another officer who reviewed the footage had a similar assessment:

“It appears that Mr. Angeles does not attempt to slow or accelerate as he approached the intersection… After watching both videos, Officer Enz reports that he did not observe any change in Mr. Angeles’s speed, direction of travel, or body posture indicating that Mr. Angeles perceived any change in the traffic signal, other vehicles, or any impending hazards as he approached the intersection.”

Since Angeles had a yellow signal, he did not have the right-of-way. This was a key finding of the investigation. Here’s how the memo sums it up:

“Per the Oregon Vehicle Code, Mr. Angeles’s right of way had terminated prior to him entering the intersection and MS. Friedlow’s right of way terminated as she entered the intersection.”

Since both vehicle operators’ right-of-way had terminated at the time of the collision, the investigation could not prove who had it.

Right-of-way aside, the evidence in this case shows that neither vehicle operator appears to have been aware of the other prior to the collision. That’s an important finding for how it relates to any consequences Friedow might face.

Friedow repeatedly told first responders at the scene, “I didn’t see him.” She was also clearly distraught at what happened:

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The DA did not pursue criminal charges against Friedow because they did not feel they could prove she acted “recklessly” or “with criminal negligence.” Both of those mental states require a person to be aware of a risk and then choose to disregard that risk in a way that constitutes a “gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person would observe in the situation.”

Many people have wondered why Friedow was not cited for Careless Driving to a Vulnerable Road User (ORS 811.135). DDA Rowan said they consulted with the PPB about this and ultimately decided that, “Nothing about her driving was legally sufficient to support a careless mental state.”*

Put another way, the DA looks at Friedow’s conduct on a “reasonable person standard.” “Would it have been reasonable,” Rowan explained, “for a person in her situation to have done something differently.” In order to cite for Careless Driving they would have had to prove that Friedow was driving in a way that would be, “likely to endanger any person or property.”

Since the DA and the PPB believe Friedow only became aware of Angeles’s existence after the collision, they can’t prove she acted unreasonably. “Besides the horrible and tragic result,” Rowan said, “there was nothing about her driving that would be likely to endanger persons or property… She just never saw him.”

*UPDATE, 11/10 at 3:15pm: I followed up with the Portland Police Bureau to learn more about why they decided Friedow should not be charged with Careless Driving to a Vulnerable Road User. Here’s what I just heard back from Sgt. David Abrahamson at the PPB Traffic Division:

Careless Driving to a Vulnerable Road User (VRU) is a general, all-inclusive violation with which a wide range of violations may apply. However, judges have ruled differently on its interpretation, usually requiring a conglomeration of conditions; the manner in which the operator was driving; what the operator should have seen, was able to see or should have done come into consideration. Based on the video evidence, it is unclear whether or not Mrs. Friedow would have been able to clearly see Mr. Angeles approaching on his bicycle. Careless to a VRU falls under Oregon Statutes 811.135, which states: “A person commits the offense of careless driving if the person drives any vehicle upon a highway or other premises described in this section in a manner that endangers or would be likely to endanger any person or property.”

Failing to yield a left turn is not in and of itself “driv[ing] in a manner that endangers or would be likely to endanger” a VRU if the judge rules the VRU could not objectively be seen.

Dangerous Left Turn is specific to the violation which Mrs. Friedow committed and is more certain to be upheld by a judge than the Careless to VRU. Sub section (c) of 811.350 simply states the operator is in violation when he/she “Does not yield the right of way to a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction that is within the intersection or so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.”

The facts in this case do not support a charge of Careless Driving but they fully support a charge of Dangerous Left Turn, which is why that charge was issued to Mrs. Friedow.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org


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