August 20, 2010 in City

Shawn Vestal: Driver created ‘horrible bond’

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Colin Mulvany photo

Ted Chauvin holds the bike he was riding April 15 when he was hit by a car driven by William Knight. Knight, driving without insurance and with expired tabs, hit and killed a pedestrian two months later. Chauvin has been told that it is unlikely Knight will be charged.
(Full-size photo)

William Knight was driving his 1997 Kia without insurance when he hit a bicyclist outside Cheney in April, police say.

A few days later, he was cited again: no insurance, expired tabs, driving with altered plates.

So Becky Jeffries finds it hard to accept when she’s told by the state patrol that Knight was likely not to blame for hitting and killing her stepfather, James L. Dahl, as he walked across First Street in Cheney on June 27.

Knight is to blame, she says, because he should not have been driving in the first place.

“The fact that he hit somebody else with no insurance, and was stopped (after) that with no insurance – that’s a problem,” she said. “I feel that this guy should be in jail.”

But it seems very possible that this guy will not wind up in jail – at least not for these collisions. (The criminal charges he faces for allegedly stealing his sister’s wedding ring and pawning it might be a different story.) Jeffries and Ted Chauvin – the bicyclist hit on April 15 – say they’ve been told by investigators that Knight probably will not be charged with a crime.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington State Patrol say they have not arrived at final decisions. Chauvin’s case has been bounced around the sheriff’s department, after the deputy who initially investigated it left the agency. The case has landed on the desk of Detective Dave Thornburg. I couldn’t reach Thornburg, but in a phone message he said the case had simply fallen behind some higher priorities – including a couple of fatal accidents.

“I haven’t forgotten about it, I just haven’t had the time to get back to it,” he said.

WSP spokesman Trooper Troy Briggs didn’t dispute Jeffries’ characterization of the investigation’s status, but couldn’t be more specific on short notice Thursday. A significant detail is the fact that Dahl was not in a crosswalk when he was struck. Briggs said he understands the frustrations of people who lose loved ones, but that a driver with a record still might not be to blame in a given case.

I tried to reach Knight, but he didn’t return my calls.

Chauvin, a research assistant professor in the new medical school program at Washington State University in Spokane, is a longtime bicyclist who was out for a training ride on Cheney-Plaza Road when Knight clipped him from behind.

“Next thing I know, I’m flying through the air, and I see my bike flying one way and his car decelerating,” he said. “It was a really surreal experience.”

Chauvin suffered broken bones in his ankles and wrists. His elbows were “ripped open.” Fortunately, he said, he didn’t suffer any head injuries.

Knight stayed with him, expressed remorse and helped him complete a 911 call, Chauvin said. He told Chauvin he’d been reaching for his cigarettes and hadn’t seen him. But he later appears to have told the sheriff’s deputy that Chauvin was riding on the opposite side of the road – a version of events that went out in the initial news release and was reported in the local media.

That chafed Chauvin, who is passionate about the importance of bicyclists following the rules. He also fears it may have muddied the waters in the investigation of his case.

Chauvin was hospitalized for four days. He had surgeries on his ankle and wrists, with plates and pins now holding things together. He missed five weeks of work. Shortly after he returned, he was reading the newspaper one day when he saw a story about Dahl’s accident.

The driver’s name leapt out at him: William W. Knight Jr.

He called the sheriff’s department, reaching a sergeant who told him the initial investigator had left the department and that no charges were likely, he said.

“Then I dropped the bomb on him,” Chauvin said. “I said, ‘Did you realize this is the same guy who hit and killed a guy in Cheney?’ ”

The sergeant did not. And Thornburg – in his message to me some two months later – says he still needs to sit down with the WSP and consider the cases together.

Jeffries said that, although Dahl was not in a crosswalk, she has a hard time believing there wasn’t some responsibility on Knight’s part. It was a well-lighted area, with no other traffic around, and Dahl was not someone to walk out in front of cars, she said.

She wonders why Knight’s license was not suspended – he has ignored his April citations and they’ve been turned over to a collection agency. It might not have kept him off the road, but it would have given officers a reason to arrest him at the accident, she said.

Jeffries’ aggravation is understandable. But Briggs, the WSP spokesman, and Christine Anthony of the Department of Licensing noted that a driver’s license isn’t suspended immediately for receiving a no-insurance ticket. Drivers have a right to argue their case in court, for one thing. And if they fail to appear, a deadline must pass before the state can act.

As unsatisfying as it is, it takes time.

As unsatisfying as it is, Knight’s license is now, finally, suspended.

Jeffries says she plans to press her case with the police and prosecutors. She and Chauvin want to work toward what they see as a just end: a legal consequence for the man who brought them together.

“We have this horrible bond now,” Chauvin said. “Thanks to Mr. Knight.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com.


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