Charges issued Thursday allege that a man driving a pickup truck to work Aug. 5 crossed the center line of a rural road and crashed head on into a 33-year-old man out for a training ride on his bike in the Town of Oregon.
The cyclist, Shelton Berel, a father of two, died at the scene.
The driver, Kevin D. Meister, 35, of Brooklyn, drove on to work. Dane County Sheriff’s deputies found him at a job site later in the morning.
Based on the crash analysis, authorities charged Meister with second-degree reckless homicide and hit-and-run involving death. The felony charges each carry a maximum sentence of 25 years in the state prison system.
Meister also was charged with a misdemeanor count of possession of drug paraphernalia. Sheriff’s deputies found supplies to cook, inject and smoke drugs in a pocket of Meister’s truck, according to a report in the Wisconsin State Journal.
The results of a drug test on Meister are pending, but the complaint said investigators believe he was impaired when they found him at a landscaping site, where he worked. He has a lengthy history of driving offenses and drug use, according to court records.
The criminal complaint also quotes two witnesses who told authorities Meister had been driving erratically just prior to crashing into Berel, who was riding on Lincoln Road, near the Lerner Conservation Park south of Madison.
The felony charges are rare in Wisconsin in cases in which motorists hit and kill people riding bicycles. Most cases result in traffic citations and fines ranging from $125 to several hundred dollars.
The witness accounts, the details uncovered in the crash analysis and the discovery of drug paraphernalia provided ample evidence for the Dane County District Attorney’s office to prosecute the case against Meister aggressively.
The Wisconsin Bike Fed supports that approach, as part of an effort to hold people accountable for their actions behind the wheel and to make Wisconsin roads safer for all users, including those that choose to walk or bike.
Cycling in Wisconsin has become safer in recent decades, according to crash statistics. Annual death tolls averaged in the 30s in the 1970s and have dropped to 11 in recent years.
But the number of fatalities increased to 15 in 2015, and Berel was the 10th person on a bicycle to die after being hit by a car in 2016.
People who ride bikes across the state rallied to support Berel’s family and their fellow cyclists after the crash. A campaign to raise money for his child and pregnant wife has generated a significant response, but remains well below the goal of $100,000.
Berel’s death, coming within a month of another fatal crash in Dane County, has heightened the importance of efforts to push Wisconsin law enforcement and legislators to pursue significant penalties against drivers whose actions cause deaths on state roads. Motorists need to be reminded that Wisconsin law makes the roads open to bicyclists, with some exceptions, and that it is their responsibility to share the road and drive with caution.
For more details on the rules of the road and best safety practices, review the Share & Be Aware guidelines here.