A Madison-area property manager who drove away from a collision with two people riding bicycles in August walked into a Dane County courtroom Thursday charged with two felony counts of recklessly endangering safety.
Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
The Dane County District Attorney’s office decided to issue the charges against John Dohm Jr., 61, of the Town of Oregon, after reviewing differing accounts of the confrontation on Fitchburg Road, a popular route for cyclists heading south of Madison.
Dohm told police that the men on bikes, Joseph Maloney and Maxwell Ackermann, swerved into his black Jaguar as he passed them heading south on the two-lane road. The collision sent Ackerman and Maloney into the ditch. Both sustained bruises and head injuries.
Ackermann and Maloney told police that Dohm first approached them aggressively from behind, honked his horn repeatedly, stopped his car and attempted to confront them on the road. After they passed, he returned to his car and crashed them off the pavement.
Police found scuff marks on the passenger side of Dohm’s vehicle, indicating that his car and the bikes collided.
Dohm initially drove away from the incident without any citations or action by police.
Fitchburg officers pursued the investigation, and in follow up interviews, both Ackermann and Maloney repeated their version: that they were riding closely together near the far right edge of the road, when Dohm forced them into the ditch.
Both are elite-level cyclists, with years of training and racing experience.
A witness who had encountered Dohm earlier, reported that he had honked his horn aggressively before passing her and feared he would be a problem for the two riding up the road. The witness did not see the collision between the Jaguar and Maloney and Ackermann.
Dohm told police that he honked his horn repeatedly to direct the bicyclists to yield to him.
In court Thursday morning, Dohm stood silent as the charges were read and the court entered a not guilty plea. He was released on a signature bond, and a status conference on the case is scheduled for January 4.
The criminal prosecution is a relatively rare action for prosecutors in Wisconsin and helps serve as a reminder of the laws in place.
“We are pleased that the district attorney has filed charges against Mr. Dohm,” said Daniel Goldberg, an attorney who represents cyclists and member of the Wisconsin Bike Fed Board of Directors. “He should be punished for his reckless and irresponsible behavior.
“But this prosecution will also reinforce the important rule that cyclists are legal users of the roadways. They have the right to expect to ride safely and in harmony with motor vehicles. This case will remind drivers of their duty to share the road and hopefully, prevent this type of incident from occurring again.”
State law provides people the right to ride on routes like Fitchburg Road, and cyclists can ride two abreast so long as they are not impeding traffic. The witness, Ackermann and Maloney all said that no oncoming traffic prevented Dohm from using the northbound lane to pass them. State law also allows motorists to cross double-yellow lines when passing slow-moving vehicles.
Click here for more rules of the road governing safe driving and bicycling in the state.