Joe Maloney and Max Ackerman, two elite-level cyclists, wound up in the ditch along S. Fitchburg Road with concussions and other injuries after a confrontation with a motorist Aug. 26.
Fitchburg police are working to determine how they got there.
Did the men on bikes initiate the contact with a black Jaguar on the narrow, two-lane road, or were they victims of an angry driver?
The man driving the Jaguar, John Dohm, of Madison, says Maloney and Ackerman swerved into his car as he attempted to pass them on a straight stretch of road about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The cyclists were riding side-by-side and shouted obscenities twice during their confrontation near Adams Road, south of Madison, Dohm told police at the scene.
He also said he stopped his car after initially passing them, got out and tried to talk with the cyclists, then collided with them. Dohm’s account is part of a report prepared by the two Fitchburg police officers who investigated the crash.
Maloney and Ackerman told police the 61-year-old driver honked at them, buzzed them and attempted to confront them on foot, before he revved his engine and forced them off the road. Scuff marks on the side of the Jaguar confirmed the car and the bikes collided.
After taking statements from all Dohm and the two injured cyclists, the police officers issued no citations.
The initial police determination sparked outrage among people who ride bikes and read Maloney’s blog detailing the confrontation and crash.
Anyone with more than a few miles in the saddle seems to have a similar story about being buzzed or hit by an angry driver, and a complaint about a lack of police response.
In this case, police picked up the investigation.
Supervisors directed the officers to gather additional statements from Dohm, Maloney, Ackerman and two witnesses who accused Dohm of driving aggressively before colliding with the cyclists. Neither witness saw the crash that sent Maloney and Ackerman into the ditch.
But one witness said Dohm had been driving “recklessly,” at a high speed earlier that afternoon on Seminole Highway.
Another witness, a woman on a bike behind Maloney and Ackerman, told police Dohm honked at her several times as he passed her going south. She arrived at the crash site after the collision occurred.
Dohm’s explanation to police: he honked three times at the cyclists to alert them and to signal they should yield to him.
Here’s a view of Fitchburg Road, near the crash site.
Dohm’s record on Wisconsin roads includes two convictions for drunken driving and two for driving without a valid license (revoked twice). Those cases span from 2005 through 2008.
Fitchburg Police Lt. Chad Brecklin said he expected to complete the investigation by the end of this week and determine the next action: refer the case to the district attorney for prosecution, issue citations or follow the initial determination and issue no citations.
Maloney, 25, and a mountain bike racer from Washington, said he wants to be compensated for his medical bills and his $7,000 road bike.
He also wants “justice for the cycling community. This happens way too often. It’s insane,” he said.
Ackerman, 20, a Whitefish Bay High School grad and economics student at the University of Wisconsin -Madison, has hired cycling attorney Daniel Goldberg to review potential civil action against Dohm.
“We are pleased that the City of Fitchburg Police Department recognizes the seriousness of the allegations and has decided to conduct a more thorough investigation,” said Goldberg, who serves on the Wisconsin Bike Fed Board of Directors. “Motorists need to know that there are both civil and criminal consequences to irresponsible and dangerous behavior.”
Regardless of the outcome, the incident highlights the need for people driving cars and people riding bikes to follow the rules of the road and act appropriately.
Wisconsin law allows people on bikes to ride side-by-side if they don’t impede traffic. Maloney and Ackerman told police they moved into a single-file line after Dohm honked his horn at them. He also told police that Dohm had a clear lane to pass, with no oncoming traffic on the narrow road.
State law requires people driving cars to give a person on a bicycle at least three feet of clearance and to maintain that distance to pass safely. The scuff marks on the Jaguar provide strong evidence the law was violated.
More rules of the road can be found in the Wisconsin Bike Fed Share & Be Aware information.
Similar case: A man who allegedly drove over a $2,000 Surly fat bike and a child carrier attachment in La Crosse is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 16, on charges of criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct.
Daniel Lexvold, 36, of La Crosse, told police the man riding the bike threw it in front of his truck during a confrontation on Bliss Road. The bicyclist said he left the bike in the road to escape to the safety of the sidewalk with his son when Lexvold edged his truck forward and hit them. A witness confirmed the man on the bike’s version of the confrontation.