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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.

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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.

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