A case involving expensive attorneys, a legal gray area, courtroom activists and potentially millions of dollars is going to trial next week in Bend.
All over a traffic citation.
FedEx truck driver Trenton Derek Sage, of Terrebonne, is fighting a traffic citation he got last fall when he hit and killed a cyclist in downtown Bend while making a turn. The trial in Deschutes County Circuit Court involves the tricky legal question of whether a bike lane continues through an intersection, and the court’s findings could impact a high-dollar civil suit filed by the cyclist’s family against FedEx.
About 11:20 a.m. Nov. 20, Sage was driving a FedEx tractor-trailer north on NW Wall Street when he turned east on NW Olney Avenue. Cyclist Jonathan Chase Adams was also traveling north on Wall, on his way to work at Carl’s Jr. in a marked bike lane to Sage’s right. He was struck by the side of the tractor-trailer as he rode through the intersection and Sage turned.
Six months later, District Attorney John Hummel announced he was not charging Sage with a crime. Instead, he gave Sage a traffic citation for failure to yield to a rider in a bicycle lane.
“I charged a traffic violation because a traffic law was violated, and I declined to charge a crime because a crime was not committed,” Hummel said at the time.
Typically, traffic citations are issued by law enforcement, but in this case, Bend Police declined to cite Sage due to the department’s interpretation of state traffic law — Bend police didn’t think Sage failed to yield to a cyclist in a bike lane.
Sage, 52, does not accept the citation. He has retained Portland defense attorney, David T. McDonald to fight it.
“I believe he’s not guilty of the charge against him, and he has the right to a trial. A moving violation can have an adverse impact on a (commercial) driver’s record and ability to work,” McDonald said. “We’ve entered a not guilty plea, and there’s a lot of evidence that supports our contention.”
On Thursday, McDonald’s office filed subpoenas ordering eight Bend Police officers involved in the investigation to appear with all text messages and other communications relating to the case.
Adams lived in transitional housing shortly before his death, and he didn’t have a will. His mother lives in California, and his father lives in Bend. The parents have retained Bend personal injury attorney Nathan Steele and in December, petitioned the local circuit court for his mother to be appointed his representative in court so the family could sue for wrongful death.
Steele said what plays out in Sage’s trial could affect civil negotiations between Adams’ estate and FedEx’s insurance carriers.
Adams was the first cyclist to die in traffic in Bend in six years. About a month after his death, Bend dentist Marika Stone was hit and killed while riding single-file with two other cyclists on a county road east of town. The driver in that instance is believed to have been impaired by pharmaceutical drugs. She’s been charged with first-degree manslaughter and is awaiting trial.
Stone’s family has retained Steele, and is seeking $32 million in a wrongful death lawsuit.
The figure is so high because Stone ran a successful dental practice capable of earning big money for years to come, Steele has said.
Sage’s trial is scheduled to start Tuesday morning in the courtroom of Judge A. Michael Adler.
Bend attorney and cycling advocate Peter Werner said this week he’s alerted members of several local cycling groups to Sage’s court dates.
“Regardless of what his socioeconomic status was, he was a roadway user and he was struck while in the bike lane,” Werner said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org