Jury convicts tow truck driver who struck and killed bicyclist in 2020 near Mead
March 22, 2023 Updated Wed., March 22, 2023 at 8:32 p.m.
A Spokane jury convicted a man of vehicular homicide on Wednesday after he was accused of hitting and killing a woman who was riding her bicycle in June 2020.
Jurors determined Jonathon Ryser, 48, of Coeur d’Alene, was driving a tow truck along Mt. Spokane Park Drive while high on drugs when he struck Kerry Wiltzius the morning of June 26, 2020.
Wiltzius’ family celebrated the verdict through tearful hugs outside Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tony Hazel’s courtroom Wednesday. Wiltzius was an avid cyclist who was training for a triathlon when she was killed at age 65.
The verdict brings some closure and sense of accountability for the family, said Dawn Wiltzius, daughter of Kerry Wiltzius.
“It just brings us a sense of relief. It’s been almost three years,” she said. “There’s nothing that’s going to bring my mom back or change anything that happened, but he was finally held accountable for his actions.”
Ryser, who testified Tuesday, had meth and cannabis in his system after authorities completed a blood draw through a search warrant. In his testimony, Ryser claimed he had taken a “pick-me-up” pill that he purchased from a fellow driver between 5 and 6 a.m. before starting his shift that day. Ryser told the courtroom he did not know what was in the pill, but suspected it was illegaland that it could have contained meth.
Ryser said he would use the pill if he “didn’t feel it was dangerous and I thought they would help.” He said he trusted the man he purchased it from. He purchased the pill, described as a “clear capsule,” with several others for about $50, he said.
“It just made me alert and focused, really,” Ryser told the courtroom.
Ryser said later he drank two energy drinks.
Ryser initially told police he used marijuana that morning but recanted in court, saying he only told the police he used marijuana because he was tired of being questioned. He said he used the vape pen the previous night to treat hernia pain.
Ryser was towing an inoperable vehicle to a client’s address on Mt. Spokane Park Drive when he came upon Kerry Wiltzius on her bicycle. Ryser said he slowed down as he approached her and was waiting for the right time to pass while “hugging” a double line in the center of the road. Oncoming traffic was approaching, but he couldn’t tell how far away it was, he said. He was worried the wide truck’s mirrors might hit something, he said.
At the last minute, it seemed as if Kerry Wiltizus cut in front of him, he said.
Ryser struck Kerry Wiltzius, who flew through the air and bounced twice before resting in a ditch near the eastbound lane. She suffered a broken pelvis and ribs, a collapsed lung, head injuries, a spinal cord injury and other internal injuries, according to court documents. She was airlifted to Providence Sacred Heart.
“I didn’t know what to do at first,” Ryser said of the collision. “I wanted to call my wife and I wanted to call my pastor.”
Ryser said he felt guilt and shame after the incident.
“I think of her every day,” he said of Kerry Wiltzius.
But Ryser’s testimony didn’t move Dawn Wiltzius. Listening to his testimony was “horrible,” she said.
“Primarily having him put blame on her for the incident was just gut-wrenching and not taking accountability for what he did,” she said.
The process has been especially hard on her father, Mike Wiltzius, also present during the trial.
“He’s shrunken 6 inches. Physically it’s affected him, obviously emotionally it’s affected him,” she said. “They were married for 43 years when this happened. She was his best friend and his life partner. He lost the mother of his children, and he’s lost without her.”
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joseph T. Edwards asked jurors to look at Ryser’s decision-making process on the morning of the collision. Passing Wiltzius was a “rash and heedless decision, regardless of the consequences,” Edwards told jurors in closing arguments.
“What happened to Mrs. Wiltzius is not an accident. It’s something that should be expected,” Edwards said. “It’s what happened when Mr. Ryser drove impaired.”
However, Ryser’s defense attorney, Steve Graham, argued Ryser was not impaired while driving. The pill he took that morning “had such an inconsequential effect that he also sought out two Monster energy drinks,” Graham said.
Likewise, the marijuana detected in his blood “was barely above the cutoff,” he said.
Ryser passed through a “phalanx of state patrolmen” who “concluded there wasn’t any impairment,” he said.
Graham also suggested the meth detected in Ryser’s system might lend itself to preconceived notions among Spokane jurors.
“I know the ugly specter of meth in this town,” he told the courtroom. “A verdict of not guilty doesn’t mean you put a halo over this man’s head. It means you upheld the law.”
Jurors returned a guilty verdict shortly after 1 p.m.
Ryser slowly shook his head as Hazel confirmed the guilty verdict with each juror. Ryser’s family held each other and wept as the jurors made their decision. Ryser hugged his family before he was ultimately detained by corrections officers.
Dawn Wiltzius said she has no empathy or compassion for Ryser.
“He could have taken responsibility after our family was traumatized with her death,” she said. “This trial has been twice as traumatizing. He chose to do that. He could have just taken accountability. I feel like he retraumatized the family.”
Graham said Ryser’s family was disappointed with the verdict, and that he will file an appeal and ask the judge to stay the sentence or put the sentence on hold pending an appeal.
Ryser will be sentenced at a later date.
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