Did “Anti-Cyclist Bias” Let a Hit-and-Run Killer Off the Hook in Boston?

A hit-and-run truck driver has escaped prosecution for killing a cyclist in Massachusetts after a grand jury failed to indict on vehicular homicide charges. Alexander Motsenigos, 41, was killed last August while riding his bike along a suburban road in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where he lived with his wife and six-year-old son. The driver never stopped.

Hit-and-run victim Alex Motsenigos. Image: ##http://bostonherald.com//news_opinion/local_coverage/2012/08/bicyclist_killed_wellesley_crash_identified##Boston Herald##

The hit-and-run death outraged the community and sparked a through police investigation. For a moment, it looked like the perpetrator might face criminal charges for his fatal recklessness behind the wheel.

According to the local police department: “Investigators spent over three months and countless hours identifying and interviewing witnesses, reviewing and processing substantial amounts of evidence that was recovered at the scene and on the truck involved in the crash, executed multiple search warrants, completed a systematic accident reconstruction which included consulting with experts in the trucking field to conduct a simulation of the crash.”

Authorities brought vehicular homicide charges against Dana McCoomb, a semi-truck driver with a long list of driving infractions. But earlier this month a grand jury failed to bring those charges against the accused killer.

This weekend the Boston Globe fired off an excellent editorial blaming “anti-cyclist bias” for the miscarriage of justice and even suggested judges should screen jurors for bias against cyclists the same way they do for racial and ethnic prejudices:

Many accidents involving bicycles and motor vehicles can be traced to road design, inclement weather, or attention lapse. But law enforcement traced Motsenigos’s death to truck driver Dana McCoomb, a man with an extensive history of driving infractions who fled the scene after striking the Wellesley cyclist from the side. Witness statements, video footage, and subsequent police analysis of the scene suggested that the deadly collision was more than an unavoidable accident.

Sharing the road with increasing numbers of cyclists can be frustrating for drivers. But disregard for the safety of cyclists has reached pathological levels among some drivers. And this contempt, whether conscious or subconscious, may well have played a role in the minds of grand jurors. There are widespread misconceptions that cyclists should ride on sidewalks — which is dangerous for pedestrians — or that it’s up to cyclists to stay out of motor vehicles’ way.

A host of observers have sought to explain wider societal antipathy toward cyclists. Writing in Slate last fall, Jim Saksa pinned it on a logical fallacy based on perceived “otherness.” The BBC pointed to a mental evolutionary glitch in humans that seeks to punish rule breakers.

The Motsenigos case is an unfortunate reminder that even in cases where law enforcement does a thorough job of investigating a fatal crash, cyclists remain at a disadvantage in our justice system.

  • KillMoto

    This my friends is why I now go to every public meeting on road design issues in a 5mile radius of my commute.

    While we fight for cultural change and basic justice, I will help voice our needs to the planners and road designers.

  • There’s been a lot of remarking on how it was remarkable that a community decided to commit such an effort toward presenting a vehicular manslaughter case to a grand jury. What’s not at all discussed is why that might have been true in this particular case. I think all criminal justice departments are moral enough to attempt to uphold the law, even in favor of cyclist’s rights. But perhaps Wellesley has enough funding for its criminal justice efforts to make sure this gets done? While NYC has an AIS squad of 19 for all of 8,000,000 people, meaning that an accident reconstruction is almost certainly never in the cards here for ANY case, even if you ran over half of the U.N. while they were crossing the street.

  • Considering that hit and run drivers rarely get in trouble in the first place, I’m going with “no.”

  • Anonymous

    Regarding the BBC article, I would hardly call something that is “a hallmark of our species” that helps “build the global society” a “glitch.”  It’s not a bug, Angie, it’s a feature.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t have a lot of patience with the evolutionary biology rationalizations for road rage.  You can explain racist or homophobic violence with evolutionary biology as well – but society has decided that it’s criminally unacceptable. One of the hallmarks of civilization as that there are at least some disincentives against ingroups dominating outgroups and the strong preying on the vulnerable.

  • chazz – you are jumping to “cyclists are rule breakers” because maybe you saw one run a red light. The point of the article is “cycling is not the norm, ergo punish”. Is it a feature to deny same sex marriage?

  • Anonymous

    Not at all.  In fact my comment has only to do with the way Angie mischaracterized what appears, based on the BBC article, to be a trait that confers an evolutionary advantage as a “glitch”.  It doesn’t really have anything to do with cyclists at all. Instead of “glitch” she should have said “The BBC pointed to a mental evolutionary trait in humans…”

    I should point out that evolutionary traits that conferred an advantage to our ancestors don’t necessarily do so for us in the modern world.  Our ancestors gorged themselves when they had food because they could go a long time between meals.  In today’s world, access to food is not a problem for most of us, yet we have the same triggers that our caveman ancestors do, so we keep piling it on.

    Of course, not all evolutionary traits that conferred an advantage continue to do s

  • Brian

    I am a cyclist who lives less that a mile from the site of the incident, where I ride often. Thank you for spreading the word.

  • Lori

    Dana McCoomb has been popping pills and driving tractor trailers for years. He is a manipulator and a desperate actor when he needs to be. Mr. McCoomb learned so he can cover up his numerous accidents. He runs from the scene and hides out until he is found. He has done this previously after crashing tractor trailers while spaced out on pills like the time he crashed a Lopes Construction truck (similar to the one he was driving when he killed the cyclist). McCoomb was so high on pills that he didn’t notice that his trailer was raised in the air as he sped down the highway crashing into the highway overpass. McCoomb was launched airborne in the truck as the truck separated from the trailer. The State Police were looking for McCoomb in the woods along the highway. But McCoomb wasn’t in the woods. He drove off in the tractor without the trailer leaving the scene. McCoomb is a walking zombie. Recently his step grandson Jayden died. His friends autistic granddaughter (Olivia) also wandered off from his mobile home and was discovered floating in a nearby pond. That toddler also died. His son was struck by a train in Wareham. McCoomb is too busy popping pills to be watching his kids or driving a tractor trailer. Why was McCoomb driving for a company in Cambridge when he lives in a trailer park in Wareham? Because McCoomb has used up every trucking company in the are that he lives Wareham, Plymouth, Taunton. Keep McCoomb away from any vehicle and put him in prison.

  • Barbara

    Dana McCoomb is a thief according to Wareham Police –
    SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY
    Location/Address: [WAE 1401] TRACTOR SUPPLY COMPANY – CRANBERRY HWY
    Unit: W9
    Unit: W6
    Unit: W1
    Narrative:
    CALLER STATES AN OLDER MODEL GRAY P/U TRUCK STOLE SOME
    METAL FENCES FROM THE AREA OF TRACTOR SUPPLY. THE FENCE WAS
    RETURNED TO THE WATER WIZZ. THE KEYHOLDER WAS ADVISED.
    SUMMONS ARREST FOR LARCENY OVER $250.00 AND TRESPASSING.
    MCCOOMB,DANA D.O.B. 02/04/1962