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Cyclist says he’s been “failed” after attorney’s office claims “not enough evidence” to prosecute pick-up truck driver who crashed into Arizona group ride, killing two

New video shows the driver sobbing right after the crash which left two dead and eleven injured in Arizona, amidst allegations that he had been “Snapchatting” while driving

A new video has emerged showing the pick-up truck driver who drove into a group of 20 cyclists in Phoenix, Arizona, leaving two dead and 11 injured, sobbing on the phone with his partner, while call records have also showed that he didn’t dial 911 after the crash. Meanwhile, a cyclist who survived the crash has claimed that the attorney’s office has failed them while also accusing the driver of using Snapchat on his phone.

The crash took place on 25 February 2023 on the Cotton Lane bridge in Goodyear, a large suburb to the west of Phoenix, Arizona’s capital. After the incident, Goodyear Police Department confirmed that a female cyclist was pronounced dead at the scene, while a man, who was also part of the group ride, died shortly after at a local hospital. Eleven other cyclists were also transported to three different hospitals with “various injuries”.

Now, ABC15 has obtained a video of the driver Pedro Quintana-Lujan moments after the collision, in which he can be seen sobbing and saying: “Babe, I’m scared, babe. I hit a lot of people, babe.”

He then turns the camera around to show the scene on the bridge where cyclists are lying with their damaged bikes strewn all across the road. Quintana-Lujan adds: “Babe, I killed somebody, babe.”

> Pick-up truck driver crashes into group of cyclists, leaving two dead and 11 injured

Records from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation showed that he called his father on his cell phone and then his wife over Snapchat right after the crash. There was no record of a call to 911, the emergency telephone number in the USA. Out of the four calls received by 911 at that moment, three were from the victims and one from a bystander.

Arizona pick-up truck driver after crashing into 20 cyclists (image credit: ABC15/YouTube)

Arizona pick-up truck driver after crashing into 20 cyclists (credit: ABC15/YouTube)

One of the cyclists involved in the crash was Clay Wells, an experienced cyclist who was the most severely injured out of everyone and spent more than 80 days at the medical facility. ABC15 asked Wells if he felt the system had failed him, with Quintana-Lujan yet to make his first appearance in court.

He said: “I feel like the County Attorney’s office failed us. If you read the NTSB report, I don’t understand how there is any way possible you could not argue, at least to a presiding judge, to go forward that you couldn’t prove recklessness, especially those video links… of him getting on his phone, Snapchatting.”

> Campervan driver faces $500 fine for ploughing into group of cyclists, injuring seven, in “terrifying” collision

In November, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell told the victims that she would not pursue felony charges, saying there was not enough evidence. Quintana-Lujan had been released from jail days after the crash from lack of evidence.

Mitchell said: “[The evidence] just wasn’t there. It’s heartbreaking and it's unsatisfactory but it is where we are at right now. It’s a collision where we cannot show with the evidence that there was a conscious disregard of a risk that this individual made.”

Arizona pick-up truck crash (image credit: ABC15/YouTube)

Arizona pick-up truck crash (image credit: ABC15/YouTube)

The NTSB report, released in February this year, also revealed that that Quintana-Lujan had drank alcohol and smoked marijuana the night before the incident. Authorities said that he did have a small amount of THC in his system but pointed out that Arizona law doesn’t set a standard for proving impairment by THC only.

After the crash, he told police officers that his steering wheel had locked, however the NTSB report claimed that two two separate investigators checked his truck and found no issues.

The case was sent back to the Goodyear Prosecutor’s Office where 11 misdemeanour charges were filed in March. If found guilty, he could face a minimum fine of $1,000 and a maximum could include up to six months in jail, years of probation and more fines. As of now, he is scheduled to appear in court on 26 June.

> Shocking footage of Florida collision shows moment group ride hit by driver of SUV

Wells said that he still struggles to go over the Cotton Bridge now. “Last Saturday, as I rode by the ghost bike, I just said a little prayer,” his voice breaking. “It’ll get better with time, I know there are still people who can’t ride over the bridge.”

In May last year, Wells, recovering from his injuries at the time, told ABC15: “I was scared to death. I woke up, both feet were three to four times the normal size swollen and I couldn't move, and I didn’t have any recollection of the accident.

He went through five surgeries for 12 different injuries which included a shattered pelvis, punctured bladder, broken collar bone, and fractured ribs all on the left side of his body. He also was in a medically-induced coma for nearly two weeks.

He said: “The other thing I really struggle with is, why me? Why was I picked, chosen to survive, and others weren’t?”

In December 2023, Illinois Supreme Court declared that cyclists were "only permitted users of the road, not intended", sending many cyclists in America into a state of shock and disbelief, who blasted the decision as “asinine” and “backwards”.

A year ago, near Flagstaff, Arizona, a campervan driver ploughed into a group of cyclists in a shockingly violent collision, injuring seven and hospitalising four, He received a $500 fine for “failing to give cyclists enough room while passing”, as one victim questioned whether the crash was, in fact, an “accident” and called on “pissed-off motorists” to see the “human element” of cyclists on the road.

> “Cyclists only permitted users of the road, not intended”: US Court says city not liable for cyclists hitting potholes… after cyclist suffers life-changing injuries from a five-inch deep pothole

Earlier this year, a shocking footage obtained by road.cc showed a 77-year-old driver of an SUV on the wrong side of the road in Florida “well-above the speed limit” and disoriented for “unknown reasons” going head-on into a group of eight cyclists.

Seven of the riders were rushed to two hospitals, with two of them in critical condition. The injured also included a husband and a wife, with the husband falling into a coma.

Following the crash, cyclists from Florida made an emotional plea for urgent measures to improve road safety. One of the riders involved, Cameron Oster, said: “There's no bike lane. There's no shoulder. There's not even unpaved run-off. So if you ride your bike within six inches of the white line on the shoulder of the road, your arm will actually hit branches that are hanging over that white shoulder line.”

Another member of the FSRC, Richard Gertler, said he had been hit before and called on the campaign to “humanise” cyclists because “all too often a driver will start yelling" as “we're not people to them [...] just an obstacle”.

“Come pedal in our shoes for a day and see what we experience,” he said. “We're people. We're somebody's mother, father, son, daughter.”

Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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14 comments

Avatar
OldRidgeback | 4 weeks ago
2 likes

It's an appalling case. I cannot understand why this driver has managed to avoid a jail sentence.

Avatar
azbikelaw replied to OldRidgeback | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

well that remains to be seen. It's pretty unlikely, becasue the only remaining charge is a misdemenaor; but it hasn't gone to trial yet.

The gist of the article is no FELONY charge will be brought.

Avatar
HoarseMann | 4 weeks ago
4 likes

From the ABC report (warning, you might have to watch an inappropriately placed advert for Ford pickup trucks):

Blue dots are the path of the truck, but what amazed me, is that massive median area. Why on earth is there not a wide protected cycle lane across this bridge?

Avatar
wycombewheeler replied to HoarseMann | 4 weeks ago
5 likes

HoarseMann wrote:

Blue dots are the path of the truck, but what amazed me, is that massive median area. Why on earth is there not a wide protected cycle lane across this bridge?

drivers are protected from hitting other drivers head on by a wide median, but cyclists only need a single line of paint to be safe.

Avatar
brooksby replied to wycombewheeler | 4 weeks ago
5 likes

wycombewheeler wrote:

HoarseMann wrote:

Blue dots are the path of the truck, but what amazed me, is that massive median area. Why on earth is there not a wide protected cycle lane across this bridge?

drivers are protected from hitting other drivers head on by a wide median, but cyclists only need a single line of paint to be safe.

Yeah, but it's thick white paint 

Avatar
dh700 | 4 weeks ago
10 likes

As with most prosecutors, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell's difficulty here is not a lack of evidence, it is her indolence. Prosecuting this case is far too similar to actual work, so she will decline and make nonsensical excuses. The established fact that Quintana-Lujan continued to drive, without touching the brakes, for a quarter-mile while dragging one of his victims is quite obviously sufficient to bring a felony charge, on its own. Nevermind that he also did not touch the brakes after plowing through an entire peloton of riders. That unquestionably meets the standard of Arizona 13-1102(a); "A. A person commits negligent homicide if with criminal negligence the person causes the death of another person, including an unborn child." But as with many other current problems around the world, there is no mechanism by which "civil servants" can be forced to do their jobs, when the alternative of reclining at their desks is so much more attractive.

Avatar
bikes replied to dh700 | 4 weeks ago
2 likes

Why isn't the dragging mentioned in this article?

Avatar
dh700 replied to bikes | 4 weeks ago
4 likes

bikes wrote:

Why isn't the dragging mentioned in this article?

Declining standards of modern journalism?  The fact that even the Goodyear Police Dept cannot get Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell to do her job, so it's unlikely that readers of road.cc can do so?

The article also could also have mentioned that if Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell was at all motivated to get off her lazy derriere she could have charged Quintana-Lujan with felony perjury for lying about his truck's steering condition, if nothing else.

But neither of those things happened either. 

You know it's bad when even the police "are disappointed" in the indolence of the prosecutor.

 

Avatar
azbikelaw replied to dh700 | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

I was intrigued by the perjury comment. That's really the least likely scenario; to prove perjury you must be able to prove the the accused KNEW it was a lie, and on top of that it has to be made as an official statement (when they're under arrest, i imagine? and not just off-hand remarks made during an interview w/police).
in any event the real problem, as you're pointing out, is a proscecutor who is unwilling to bring (even) a negligent homicide charge, a minor felony, as it would require proving that the accused "fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk...". 

We'll see what the misdemeanor brings; it's unlikely to yield any jail time -- but in my opinion a significant license suspension. A conviction would require a 180 day suspension, and can be up to a year. It's an interesting charge because nothing has to be proven, other than seemingly factual stuff, which seems to not be in dispute; i.e. that the driver left the lane he was in and caused the crash. (no state of mind need be shown).

https://www.azleg.gov/ars/13/02702.htm

references to AZ law here:
https://azbikelaw.org/carlaw/homicide.html

The misdemenaor charge is discussed here in general terms:
https://azbikelaw.org/28-672-in-the-news/

Avatar
brooksby | 4 weeks ago
2 likes

Even if the driver didn't intend to hit all those people, he did.  And one died.  Does the US not have something equivalent to our 'careless driving', then?  

Avatar
dh700 replied to brooksby | 4 weeks ago
7 likes

brooksby wrote:

Does the US not have something equivalent to our 'careless driving', then? 

In the US, such laws are written at the state level, not national, but to answer your question, yes, the 50 different states have plenty of laws under which this perpetrator could be charged.  Lack of laws is almost never a problem in the US -- even small municipalities have thousands of pages of laws, and there are almost always three or more hierarchical jurisdictions layered on top.  Our Congress routinely passes bills thousands of pages long.

In this case, for example, there are a selection of felonies available to the prosecutor, if she had any desire to perform the duties for which she is paid.  Among them:

13-1103. Manslaughter; classification

A. A person commits manslaughter by doing any of the following:

1. Recklessly causing the death of another person.

...

D. Manslaughter is a class 2 felony.

13-1104. Second degree murder; classification

A. A person commits second degree murder if without premeditation:

...

3. Under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life, the person recklessly engages in conduct that creates a grave risk of death and thereby causes the death of another person, including an unborn child or, as a result of recklessly causing the death of another person, causes the death of an unborn child.

...

C. Second degree murder is a class 1 felony and is punishable as provided by section 13-705 if the victim is under fifteen years of age or is an unborn child, section 13-706, subsection A or section 13-710.

13-1204. Aggravated assault; classification; definitions

A. A person commits aggravated assault if the person commits assault as prescribed by section 13-1203 under any of the following circumstances:

1. If the person causes serious physical injury to another.

2. If the person uses a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.

3. If the person commits the assault by any means of force that causes temporary but substantial disfigurement, temporary but substantial loss or impairment of any body organ or part or a fracture of any body part.

All of these crimes have one important problem, however -- they each require a prosecutor who is not terminally lazy, and Maricopa County lacks such.

The problem is almost always that law enforcement and judicial system employees refuse to do their jobs, and citizens have few tools with which to hold them accountable.  That's the situation in this case, where County Attorney Mitchell is much more comfortable with her feet propped up on her desk than doing her job.  If the perpetrator or victim is famous, those "civil servants" might be arsed to do their job, but otherwise it is unlikely.

 

Avatar
Mad Franky replied to dh700 | 4 weeks ago
1 like

Is this an elected post? if so, she's a politician first and civil servant second!

Avatar
dh700 replied to Mad Franky | 3 weeks ago
1 like

Mad Franky wrote:

if so, she's a politician first and civil servant second!

Those are not supposed to be two different things.

 

 

Avatar
azbikelaw replied to dh700 | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

dh700 wrote:

All of these crimes have one important problem, however -- they each require a prosecutor who is not terminally lazy, and Maricopa County lacks such.

All the felonies all also have one, even more, important problem; they all involve proving a mental state, e.g. assault is something done "Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly". If we rule out the first two, that leaves having to prove recklessness. And there's no obvious standard for that outside of the realm of alcohol impairment.
You call it laziness, perhaps it would be more fair to call it risk-aversion -- prosecutors are unwilling to risk not getting a conviction.

That's why it makes sense to go down to the misdemeanor (no mental state requiement). https://azbikelaw.org/28-672-in-the-news/

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