Last Friday Police arrested Pa Kou Xiong, 19, and charged her in Outagamie County Court with homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle. Xiong admitted to texting moments before she hit James C. Weiss, 46, while he rode his bicycle on Kimberly Avenue and South Wilbur Street in the Village of Kimberly last July 28th. Tragically, Weiss later died of injuries he sustained in the crash.
Pa faces up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine if convicted.
According to information in the criminal complaint, Pa Kou Xiong got off work at Taco Bell at midnight and admitted to police she made several text messages while she was driving east on Kimberly Ave. Police reviewed Pa’s phone records, which confirmed she was texting moments before the crash. Pa, who had only had her driver’s license for 4 months, claimed she was looking down at her phone and did not see Weiss riding his bicycle, which had lights and reflectors.
A witness driving behind Pa told police he saw Pa’s car suddenly veer to the right and sparks fly from the passenger side of her car. The witness initially thought the sparks were from her car hitting the curb, but when he stopped, he noticed a severely damaged bicycle in the road and Weiss unconscious at the side of the road. The crash investigation determined Pa was traveling at a speed of 28 mph to 32 mph in a 25 mph zone and didn’t brake before she hit Weiss’ bicycle. Pa stopped immediately and called 911 at 12:15 a.m.
Police arrived at the crash scene and found Weiss unconscious in the road. He was taken to Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah with life-threatening injuries. Weiss, who was not wearing a helmet, suffered severe head trauma and brain injury when his head hit the windshield and the road. He remained in critical condition after emergency surgery, but died nine days later.
Weiss worked at Liberty Hall Banquet & Conference, 800 Eisenhower Drive, and routinely commuted by bicycle. Jim’s mother Mary commented about her son on the League of American Bicyclists’ Every Bicyclist Counts Memorial Website:
“I am Jim’s Mom. It is very distressing that the state accident reconstruction and the DA are taking so long. If you want to know what kind of a person was “killed by a 19 year old driver” please go to caringbridge.com site and type in jimweiss (no spaces) and you will find over 2,000 comments that will tell you he never hated anyone. He always had a smile and has the legacy of “WWJD”
This stands for anyone “What Would Jim Do.” If anyone has a concern, they just remember “WWJD,” and it will take them on the right path.”
While the charges against Pa are certainly deserved for the life she took, they are just another sad chapter in this tragic saga. It is always a terrible thing when a child dies before his parents, particularly when the death was caused by careless behavior of another. To compound the misery, a 19-year-old’s life is now changed forever because of her reckless and dangerous behavior behind the wheel.
Unfortunately texting while driving remains all to common a behavior, even though it is illegal. In the last week alone, I have seen people texting, eating, combing their hair, putting on make-up while driving next to me. I even saw one person reading the newspaper while driving.
Even though we all have very busy lives, when we get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, it is our responsibility to give the task of driving our full attention, particularly when we are sharing the road with more vulnerable road users like people walking and riding bicycles. I would hope that people who ride bicycles would all pledge to drive carefully because we end up paying the consequences of distracted driving by others. That means we pay full attention while driving, drive the speed limit or slower, and yield to people trying to cross the street at crosswalks.
The fact that Mr. Weiss was not wearing a helmet when he was hit also deserves some discussion. Statistically, bicycling with or without a helmet remains an incredibly healthy and safe thing to do. By many actuarial accounts, it is safer to ride a bike than drive a car. While we can’t say if Mr. Weiss would have survived being hit, the statistics are unambiguous in that helmets dramatically reduce the chance head injuries. That is a fact that we all need to consider before we put a leg over a bicycle.
The speed differential between cars and bikes on urban streets is low, so the vast majority of crashes do not result in a fatality. For instance typically, there are no fatal crashes involving a person on a bicycle in the City of Milwaukee even though adults and children make hundreds of thousands of bike trips in a year. Unfortunately, even though Mr. Weiss was hit in just such an urban area and the speed differential between his bicycle and the car that hit him was relatively low, he still sustained fatal head injuries.
One other thing to consider for those readers who consider themselves to be generally good drivers and “only speed a little,” is that even driving 5 mph over the posted limit can have serious consequences if you hit a person walking or on a bike. It is estimated that only 5 percent of pedestrians would die when struck by a vehicle traveling at 20 miles per hour or less. This compares with fatality rates of 40% for cars traveling 30 mph, The risk of death jumps to 80% at 40 mph and nearly 100 percent for striking speeds of 50 miles per hour or more respectively. This is why we have school zone speed limits of 15 mph and some cities are moving to 20mph speed limits on residential streets.
As regular readers here know, like many people, I have not always worn a helmet when I ride in the city. I don’t, even though about 17 years ago I was hit while biking home from work in Muskego, and my helmet (which ended up in three pieces) probably saved my life. Despite that serious crash, I understand the relative risks and general safety of riding in urban areas, I have often left my helmet at home for short trips around Milwaukee.
Do I still think it worth it to take that extra risk when simply putting on a helmet reduces my chances of a head injury in a crash or a fall? I always wear a helmet mountain biking, on group rides or any time I ride in suburban or rural areas, but I can’t promise that I will never ride without a helmet in the City. I will admit that I will think about Jim Weiss for a long time to come, and I will probably wear a helmet more often because of what happened to him.
If thinking about tragic crash that killed Jim Weiss encourages other people to wear helmets and pay full attention to the task of driving, that sounds like a positive legacy that no one can argue with.