Boston Advocates Show How the Law Lets Drivers Get Away With Killing Cyclists

Dr. Anita Kurmann was run over and killed by a semi-truck driver in Boston in 2015. Photo:  Health Nut News
Dr. Anita Kurmann was run over and killed by a semi-truck driver in Boston in 2015. Photo: Health Nut News

On the morning of August 7, 2015, Matthew Levari drove a semi-truck across the path of Anita Kurmann, who was riding straight ahead on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston’s Back Bay.

Kurmann, a well-known endocrinologist and medical researcher, died at the scene.

Levari did not stop and did not notify the authorities. He was located by police that night.

Despite the evidence that Kurmann was doing nothing wrong, and that Levari caused the collision, police and prosecutors in Boston refused to bring charges.

Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, told the Boston Globe that because the driver wasn’t drinking, speeding, or distracted, and didn’t “disregard” a “known risk,” they could not charge him.

In many cases, the exact circumstances of a fatal crash are difficult to pin down because the victim can’t tell her story. But in this case, there is clear video footage of the collision and the moments that preceded it. The Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition put together the following video to demonstrate that Levari should have known not to turn across Kurmann’s path.

Warning: This video contains upsetting footage of a fatal crash, proceed with caution.

Killing a cyclist due to carelessness is still not considered a prosecutable offense in Boston, nor in most places around the U.S. Kurmann is one of 33 people killed while biking in the Boston area since 2015, according to MassBike. Charges were brought in only five of those cases, and convictions were secured in two.

Since 2015, nine cyclist fatalities in the Boston region have involved heavy trucks, nearly 30 percent of the total. MassBike is pushing legislation at the statehouse that would require trucks like Levari’s to be equipped with mirrors to make cyclists more visible to truck operators, and to reduce the severity of injuries in the event of a collision.

  • Southeasterner

    If Mr. Lavari was working on a city job at the time not having a side guard, which would have saved this cyclists life, is in fact illegal.

    https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-04-2017/trucksideguard_handout_vf2.pdf

    Any heavy vehicle going into Boston should have a side guard requirement. An extremely simple, low cost, and effective solution.

  • A side guard would’ve been useless since it looks like she first got hit by the rear wheels of the tractor itself, not the trailer.

  • 1980Gardener

    Accidents happen, and not every accident needs to result in criminal charges.

    The better solution is to put in safety measures, such as the side guard referenced below or sensors like some new cars have when making a right turn.

  • Michael

    This is norm across modes. There were about 40K vehicular, 6K pedestrian, and 700 bicylcing death last year in the US. The vast majority were preventable if 1 or more drivers had been more attentive, but unless the driver was OWI, seldom are there any criminal charges. Interestingly, in other instances where humans operate large machinery such as fork lifts, construction equipment, buses, trains, and airplanes ANY accidents resulting in a death would typically initiate massive changes from OSHA, FRA, NTSB, etc.

    It’s big reason why US factories & warehouses, plus rail and air travel are amazingly safe, but we allow our streets to be a blood bath.

  • nikromatt

    Accidents are occurrences that can not be avoided or prevented. This was clearly not a accident. It was as nearly all vehicle incidents are: a collision that is caused by one or more individuals failure to operate their vehicle properly.

  • rohmen

    “Interestingly, in other instances where humans operate large machinery
    such as fork lifts, construction equipment, buses, trains, and
    airplanes ANY accidents resulting in a death would typically initiate
    massive changes from OSHA, FRA, NTSB, etc.”

    All of the above is true, but those aren’t criminal charges. The recent Washington derailment is a good example. It will very likely boil down to human error — error which could be labeled as carelessness — but there will very likely not be criminal charges against the operator (unless OWI or drug use is found to be in play).

    Even across other modes, we don’t treat general carelessness as criminal (absent gross/reckless conduct, which is generally just shy of intentional), we just regulate other modes better and make changes to safety protocols.

  • Kelvin Shek

    What is interesting in the video is that the truck starts to veer into the left lane, presumably to give itself more room to make that turn. I wonder if Anita noticed this and assumed that the truck wasn’t actually going to make a right turn. I know I never would have considered that the truck was going to make a right turn after going left

  • Michael

    True. I think a death like this should prompt the construction of a grade separated cycle track. Vehicular deaths should result in traffic calming, etc.

  • No, the bike was still upright after the tractor had passed.

  • “The statewide coalition MassBike says that video evidence shows the trucker acted recklessly when he turned right onto Beacon Street from Massachusetts Avenue into the path of Dr. Anita Kurmann, 38, who was crushed by the trailer’s rear wheels.” https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/01/23/bicycle-group-says-tractor-trailer-driver-was-responsible-fatal-back-bay-bike-crash/uew2Cau2d3hcqvpC5JyqkL/story.html

  • Vooch

    If traffic violence was included in crime stats that PDs report – we’d see change PDQ

  • Vooch

    correct – root cause analysis

  • Vooch

    killing someone is a crash not a accident

  • bikeohio

    Toward the end of the video it states, “More than two years after the fatal crash police investigators put 100 percent of the blame on the Dr. Kurnman [the cyclist].”

    Debating ‘carelessness’ is one issue, but suggesting the bicyclist was at fault here, is quite another. The video clearly shows the bicyclist has zero fault. If in fact this is true, that investigators blamed this cyclist, these individuals should be relieved from their positions before they can do further harm to the public good.

  • crazyvag

    Drinking 2 bottles of wine at home and texting your ex is careless.
    But carelessly operating a heavy vehicle is reckless all the time.

  • As long as Boston recruits both its law enforcement and criminal justice leaders from the same social-economic groups, nothing will change. DA Conley lives in Car-centric West Roxbury, and “there for the grace of g-d go I” [any motorist] when it comes to vehicular murder cases. Remember what Marty Walsh says, “You’ve got to understand — cars are going to hit you”

  • RGD

    If you kill someone accidentally when you are not operating a vehicle, you go to jail. Maybe it would make drivers think twice if the same were true when they drove, however well-intended they were.

  • KJ

    It is shocking that giant trucks like that are allowed on city streets.

  • SDGreg

    If she’d been in the middle lane, the one with the sharrows, she would have been impeding traffic including the truck, but she’d probably still be alive. But having to choose between getting rear-ended or right-hooked is a really poor set of options. And the onus needs to be on drivers avoiding collisions, both legally and otherwise.

  • SDGreg

    The truck driver passed and should clearly have been able to see the bicycle before right-hooking it.

  • SDGreg

    The lane in which she was riding when she was killed is now a bike lane with at least some small measure of protection. But there’s nothing to indicate that where she was riding was in any way illegal at the time of the collision or that she was riding in any way that was less than fully legal. The truck driver passed and should clearly have been able to see her, yet right-hooked her killing her, and left the scene of the collision. It would appear that it’s the truck driver that’s 100 percent responsible for the collision, and negligent as well. Are there civil options that could be pursued under Massachusetts law?

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/83f69ccb236e49ac87284d0eb62e79cab61cb0b6404688bcf26373115591871b.png

  • gneiss

    They have been pursued. The family settled a wrongful death suit with the truck company and trucker already.

    The problem MassBike sees here, is that by allowing the driver to escape criminal liability, the city is giving permission for vehicle operators to continue to drive recklessly and kill cyclists and other vulnerable users on the streets and face no consequences. They also are pressing the DA and police because facts presented by the police at the conclusion of their investigation are wrong and they wish to see investigations become more rigorous so both organizations stop blaming cyclists for their own deaths after these collisions.

  • But he did fail to yield the right of way and did flee the scene of an accident..I don’t get how him being drunk or not changes what he did…So it’s NOT ok to kill someone if you are drunk but it is ok if you aren’t drunk? I mean, I get that they could ALSO charge him with a DUI but fleeing the scene and failing to yield the right of way are both breaking the law.

  • gneiss

    The Washington derailment is still early days in the investigation. A better example is the derailment in Pennsylvania. Here the train operator has been charged with involuntary manslaughter. http://www.wmal.com/2017/05/12/judge-finds-cause-to-charge-train-operator-in-fatal-philly-derailment/

  • I doubt that would have even helped since this guy turned right, into her path.

  • MatthewEH

    Bleagh. 🙁 I can imagine a truck driver making this extremely dangerous driving error in this situation somewhere around 10-20% of the time.

    Very defensive cycling might have prevented the crash. I know it gives me the heebie-jeebies to ride alongside a truck of this size for any distance, especially on the leadup to an intersection. But it wasn’t incumbent on Dr. Kurmann to exercise that level of paranoid vigilance. Duty of due care lands squarely on the driver here.

    But with that kind of guesstimated error rate in play, I think the real blame goes to bad infrastructure here. And the fact that trucks of this size with those turning characteristics are at all a presence on Boston-area streets. 🙁

  • Richard Fries

    The family settled prior to the police report.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    How often are bicyclists rear ended in urban traffic, proceeding straight? A right hook is a common occurrence. The “fear from the rear” is overblown, especially in an urban setting.

  • fjl229

    She wouldn’t be impeding if she’d used the sharrow painted lane. Intersections are about choosing directions not about speed. There’s an adjacent lane next to the sharrowed lane for passing too. If she had been in that lane fairly early the truck driver would have seen her and waited for her to enter the intersection before starting his turn. However the city striped a bicycle symbol towards the end of the intersection too and you wonder how many bicyclists see that and think it’s worth starting to the right.

  • fjl229

    That doesn’t make things any better. Placing a bike lane to the right of a lane that allows right turning traffic will cause the same exact type of collision.

  • neroden

    Prosecutor corruption. The prosecutors are engaged in a criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

    The way to solve this is to bring back *private prosecutions*, which still exist in the UK and in a few US states. If the public prosecutor is corrupt, in the UK, you can just prosecute the case yourself. Costs money of course.

    The situation in the US is made worse by a pernicious court-invented doctrine with no basis in law called “absolute immunity”, under which prosecutors can let their friends get away with murder, or fabricate evidence to railroad innocent people into prison, because they have “absolute immunity” for anything they do or don’t do in their jobs as prosecutors. This is a bullshit, unconstitutional doctrine.

  • neroden

    Basically the DA’s office are conspirators after the fact in the crime. If we had private prosecutions, the DAs could be criminally prosecuted for their role in the conspiracy.

  • SDGreg

    True. Does anyone know the timeline for that bike lane? Was it already planned before the collision, or was it installed in response to the collision?

  • ktmcgovern

    http://www.plattecountycitizen.com/theplattecountycitizen/charges-filed-in-accident-that-killed-west-platte-teacher-coach-danneman732018

    Distracted by his dog, a semi truck driver killed my friend and widowed my best friend, possibly permanently injuring their child he was taking to tumbling class. Who can help? What can be done?

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