Texting 19-year-old charged for killing James Weiss

Pa Kou Xiong, 19

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.

 

Weiss worked at Liberty Hall Banquet & Conference, point B in the map. Pa hit him at point A. The route in blue is the Google Maps suggested bike route.

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.”

 

A photo of Jim Weiss from Caringbridge.com

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.

 

 

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

9 thoughts on “Texting 19-year-old charged for killing James Weiss

  1. Dave, thoughtful post, thank you. I, too, have been rethinking my use of a helmet and am wearing one most of the time now. Surprisingly, this started over the summer as the Oak Leaf Trail along the lake and east side got much busier on my ride home in the evening and I kept getting surprised by people on foot, bikes, blades, etc. whose path wasn’t easy to predict. I don’t ride on busy streets much, and still always wore my helmet on those days anyway. The crash statistics had given me the courage to ride without it, and it still is fun and the best feeling. But statistics are all built on aggregates of individual occurrences and I think I’ve moved back to embracing the extra protection even though the odds are against my ever needing it.

    • d’Andre,

      Sound reasoning on a personal safety issue. I still don’t want to become a helmet harpy. I believe everyone has a right to judge their own risks, but as a staff person for the Bike Fed, it is my responsibility to make those risks better understood. Heck, the vast majority of people at the casino will never win, but they bet on the slim chance they will. The opposite certainly holds true for crashes on bikes. You can reasonably bet on the very good odds that you won’t get badly hurt riding a bike without a helmet in the city, but the worst can still happen.

      • Every time you get on a bike, or ride in a car, take a walk , or hike in the mountains, you are playing the odds. However: I know of two people who were saved from serious head injuries in bike accidents because they had on helmets.
        That kind of odds is good enough for me to always wear a helmet.

  2. Disappointed that the communications director for Bike Fed doesn’t always wear a helmet all the time. If you fall and hit your head on the pavement or some other solid object, even at 5 mph, there is a good chance that you will experience a head injury, possibly severe. What would your insurance company think, if you jeopardized you future by this careless behavior? Think of all the reports of concussions in sports these days. That’s you. Your “don’t wear a helmet in the city, because the vehicle speed differential is low,” reminds of that people used to say they didn’t wear seat belts in the city, because the speeds were low. Then someone discovered that most auto fatalities occurred within a few miles of home. You are jeopardizing yourself, your loved ones, and maybe even your job by not wearing a helmet every time you ride. Other kinds of injuries heal. Head injuries may not.

    • Lee,

      I am sorry to disappoint you on the helmet issue. As a League Cycling Instructor and the former Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the City of Milwaukee, I have been studying bicycle crash statistics, responding crashes, recommending counter measures, teaching bicycle safety and designing bicycle facilities for more than 15 years. As I mentioned, a helmet probably saved my life in a crash. Please don’t take offense, but I doubt you can tell me anything I don’t already know about bicycle safety, head injury statistics and cycling, or present the helmet issue in a way I have not thought of. Despite the fact that I don’t wear a helmet religiously, I don’t consider myself reckless.

      Life is full of risks, and we all have different levels of risk aversion in different areas. For instance, knowing what I know about motorcycle crash statistics, I would never ride one. I do know other safety experts who do ride them. Different people, same knowledge, different risk aversion.

      I also understand that because I bike 10,000 miles a year, but only drive about 5,000 miles a year, I am at much lower risk of dying in a fatal crash than someone who drives 10,000 miles and bikes 5,000 – with a helmet or without. Furthermore, the health benefits of riding so outweigh the risks, I am way ahead of someone who drives a car with a seatbelt and airbags but never rides a bike. That said, I certainly respect your opinion and your choice to wear a helmet every time you get on a bike, no matter the circumstances.

      But let’s remember that this blog post is primarily about a tragic crash and the charges filed against the person who killed him. I mentioned the helmet issue because I felt it important to remind people of the risks they face if they don’t wear one, even when crashes are unlikely.

      While I don’t want to turn the comment section into a forum for the helmet debate, I have written extensively about helmet safety. Those posts are all archived under the “helmet” category, and you can click on in the navigation column to the right to find them. If you comment on any of those helmet blog posts, as site administrator, I will see the comment and be happy to discuss this issue in more depth. To save you a bit of trouble, below I have pasted some links to three of the more comprehensive posts about helmet safety. With respect, thanks for reading writing and riding!

      http://bfw.org/2010/06/23/scardey-cats-and-supermodels-should-ride-bikes/

      http://bfw.org/2011/08/03/fear-mongers-be-gone-riding-a-bike-is-safe/

      http://bfw.org/2010/07/08/wheres-your-helmet/

    • Dave’s comments are most appropriate. Given Lee’s criticism of him I hope he/she always wears a helmet while the occupant of a motor vehicle.

  3. It’s too bad your piece isn’t in the local papers for more to read. Appleton is on a quest to be a gold or platinum Bicycle Friendly Community. It makes sense to have this sort of writing about bike car crashes available to many more than the BFW community.

  4. “Wearing a helmet while riding a bike is not in style”
    Yes, people should not be on the phone when they are on the bikes or in motorized vehicles safety should be
    the first concern. In this article is a great example of a person that might have survived if the helmet was on.
    The driver also was not “doing the right thing by being on the phone and not paying 100% attention to the road”.
    What is more important staying alive and not hurt or being on the phone “or putting make -up on or fixing tie”?
    If you are doing anything besides watching the road when you are driving or riding a bike then you are not really
    concerned about safety. “Just a short bike ride without a helmet might be the last ride that you make before the
    cemetary”. Same is true about seat belts “only a short trip might be your last”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>