You've probably never heard of Barry Bastian, so let me tell you a little about him.
Barry was a 60-year-old farmer, over in Canyon County. A family man. A good, God-fearing, taxpaying citizen.
Barry also loved to ride his bicycle.
Early one beautiful morning in June, 2003, Barry was riding on a rural road near his farm. He was an experienced rider; he was on the southbound shoulder, right where he should have been.
He probably never knew what hit him - it was a spraying boom on an agricultural trailer that was overtaking him from behind. It killed him dead.
According to the story in the Idaho Statesman, "Deputies said a latch failed and the boom extended several feet from the trailer's side. Truck driver James Delfino, 56, of Nampa told deputies he didn't know the boom was loose…" Apparently Mr. Delfino wasn't aware of the extended boom until he'd driven a little further down the road, and it started whacking cars parked alongside.
I never met Barry. But since I'm a "cycling brother," the story caught my attention, and I followed it closely.
I doubt Canyon County Prosecutor Dave Young remembers Barry Bastian.
I asked the Prosecutor's office several times what was being done on the case. Young got tired of my inquiries; he eventually emailed me saying that he hadn't gotten an accident report from the Sheriff's office, and "Next time you might want to get your facts straight..."
No charges were ever filed against the driver of the vehicle that killed Mr. Bastian.
While I'm sure the accident was just that - a tragic accident with no ill intent - Mr. Bastian is just as dead as if he'd been deliberately whacked in the head with a baseball bat.
The Idaho Driver's Manual* states, "Under Idaho law, you may not drive any vehicle that is mechanically unsafe. If your vehicle needs repairs, lacks vital equipment, or presents some other danger, you are responsible for correcting the problem." (Chapter 9, Page 9-1, emphasis added) I'd say it's fairly evident that the other vehicle presented a very real danger to Mr. Bastian.
If the driver of a vehicle isn't responsible for its safe operation... then who is?
I'm no legal expert. But it's surprising to me that the Prosecutor's office can't act independently of the Sheriff's office. Also… isn't there a law? I'm not trained in legalese, but "involuntary manslaughter" comes immediately to mind. Can't you "involuntarily manslaughter" someone using an unsafe vehicle?
One of my underlying concerns as a cyclist is that I'll encounter somebody in a much larger, heavier vehicle who is impaired. It could be a drunken driver. Or SUV Soccer Mom, distracted by her cell phone or screaming kids. Or a teenager, distracted by a carload of friends. And apparently, it could also be somebody driving an unsafe vehicle - hitting the guy on the bike whose only mistake was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. No laws to protect me in that last case. Or at least that's apparently the situation in Canyon County.
Again from the Idaho Driver's Manual: "Cycling has become an important means of transportation as well as recreation. Bicyclists are legally allowed to ride on all Idaho roadways [and] have the same rights as motorists. ... To increase the safety margin when passing a bicycle rider, move into the left lane if possible. If you are not able to change lanes, pass with as much clearance as possible." (Page 5-4, from the "Sharing the Road" chapter.) Common sense - but is there no rule of law to back it up?
If there is no law - shame on the State Legislature, for passing increased seat-belt fines when there isn't even a law prohibiting killing somebody with your vehicle! (And for those of you who are contemplating "whacking" somebody… using your vehicle may be the perfect way to do it. Just make it look like an accident, and you're home free.)
(A side-note: In a different case, Mr. Young's office did file charges against Aaron Sogoian, 26. He's the young man who accidentally lit his younger brother on fire while gassing up his car, over in Nampa. He's been charged with aggravated second-degree arson, despite the pleas for leniency from the victim and other members of the family.)
* Click HERE to link to a PDF of the current Idaho Driver's Manual.