A Deschutes County Circuit Court judge on Tuesday ruled a cyclist hit and killed in an intersection by a FedEx truck did not have the protection of a bike lane.
FedEx driver Trenton Derek Sage was found not guilty of the violation of failing to yield to a rider in a bicycle lane. Last November, Sage hit and killed Bend man Jonathan Chase Adams, 31.
Judge A. Michael Adler’s ruling affirmed the decision of Bend Police to not cite Sage with an offense. Typically, traffic citations are issued on the scene by law enforcement officers. But in this case, Sage was cited by Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel six months after Bend Police declined to cite Sage.
The case had implications beyond the lives of Sage and Adams. Prosecutor Andrew Steiner said many people today do not treat bike lanes like vehicle lanes, though they are.
“This is cultural,” he said. “Many people just don’t think of them as lanes.”
Steiner attempted to make the case that bike lanes continue through intersections, citing Oregon Department of Transportation guidelines for road construction and recent court cases and legislation in Oregon.
But Tuesday afternoon, Adler announced he did not agree. He said he saw “no authority” to support the contention that bike lanes continue through intersections in Oregon.
He also said by speeding downhill through an intersection and past a semi-truck with its blinker on, Adams was not exercising “due care” as a user of the road.
“His speed carried him outside the protection of the bike lane,” Adler said.
Testimony on Tuesday revealed details about the accident. At around 11:20 a.m., Nov. 20, Sage was driving a white FedEx Ground semi-truck hauling a 25-foot trailer north on NW Wall Street, just blocks from the Deschutes County Courthouse. He was stopped at NW Olney Avenue about 10 cars from a red light. He had his blinker on preparing to turn right.
Adams was also traveling north on Wall, in a bike lane alongside the travel lane, heading to his job at Carl’s Jr. He was not wearing a helmet or reflective clothing or a light. Adams intended to go through intersection and not turn right onto Olney Avenue.
Witness David Robertson, the driver immediately behind Sage on Wall Street, provided the courtroom with a detailed description of what happened next.
After the light turned green, Sage approached Olney Avenue, and as he started making his right turn, he and Adams collided, Robertson said.
Robertson, a battalion chief for the U.S. Forest Service, said Adams was “bombing” downhill toward the intersection when he struck the saddle tank on the side of the FedEx trailer. He bounced several times into the side of the trailer as it turned trying to separate himself from it.
“I started screaming, ‘No! No! No!’ but my window was up,” Robertson said. “You know, it’s November and it’s cold out.”
Adams put his left leg down, and it was caught by a wheel, which dragged him under the trailer, where the rear wheels drove over him.
In all, eight Bend officers were subpoenaed by Sage’s attorney, David T. McDonald, who shook hands with them during a break and thanked them for their testimony.
Robert Pinnock, the first officer to arrive at the accident scene, described Sage as “candid and cooperative,” and consistent in his answers during an interview at the scene and later, during a follow-up at St. Charles Bend.
In the morning Tuesday, after opening statements, the prosecution played dashcam footage of the incident taken from Sage’s vantage point in the truck. The clip appears to only show a truck turning right at an intersection. But Steiner stopped the tape with the truck about 20 feet from the intersection.
Bend Police crash reconstruction expert John Beck said it’s possible to make out a small speck in the rearview mirror that is a fast-approaching Adams.
Adler stared intently at the image from his seat about 10 feet away.
Sage was accompanied to court Tuesday by a number of supporters, including his supervisor at FedEx, who said Sage had never committed a violation in his seven years with the company.
McDonald, Sage’s Portland-based attorney, said after the verdict was read he’d advised his client against speaking to the press.
According to family, Jonathan Adams grew up in Southern California and moved to Bend seven years ago to be close to family and because he loved the region’s outdoor amenities.
He was a gifted athlete with a soft spot for kids, according to his mother, Janet Adams.
Jessica Adams, 24, said there aren’t many photos of her brother.
“He didn’t like having his picture taken,” she said. “Neither do I. We’re the same like that.”
Jessica Adams said her brother was her protector as far back as her earliest memories.
“He was the gentlest, warmest and most genuine person I know,” she said. “He was 100 percent honest — to his core. I am very proud to have him as my big brother.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org