The man who killed a 33-year-old father of two bicycling near Madison in August faces a 40-year prison term, after pleading guilty to a homicide charge in Dane County Circuit Court Tuesday.
Kevin D. Meister, 36, pleaded guilty to the charges of homicide while driving under the influence of a controlled substance and possession of narcotics, in an agreement that resulted in the dismissal of multiple other charges stemming from the crash on Lincoln Road in the Town of Oregon.
A criminal complaint states that Meister was driving to his job at a landscaping firm when he struck and killed Shelton Berel after Meister’s truck veered across the center line all the way to the opposite side of the road. Witnesses described the truck and reported that he had been driving erratically in the moments before the collision.
After a description of Meister’s truck was broadcast by local media, Meister’s sister called 911 to report that it sounded like her brother’s truck.Police found drug paraphernalia and narcotics in Meister’s car, and he tested positive for cocaine after police found him at the landscaping company where he worked.
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.
Berel was one of 11 people killed while bicycling on Wisconsin roads in 2016. Although law enforcement assigned fault to motorists in five of those fatal crashes, Meister was the only driver to be charged with a crime. The Wisconsin Bike Fed supports holding people accountable for their actions behind the wheel when inattention and poor judgement can have fatal consequences for innocent fellow road users. Two lawmakers recently reintroduced legislation in that would impose stiffer penalties and ignition interlock requirements for drunken drivers. Wisconsin remains the only state that treats a first offense for driving under the influence as a civil violation rather than a crime.
Despite tragic crashes like this one, it is important to remember that cycling in Wisconsin has become much 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. The overall number of non-fatal crashes has seen a similar decline in the last two decades, so bicycling remains a relatively safe form of transportation and recreation. When the health benefits are factored against the risks, many people consider bicycling statistically safer than driving a car or motorcycle.
For more details on the rules of the road and best safety practices, review the Share & Be Aware guidelines here.