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Maryland

Lawsuit, but no criminal charges, filed in Bethesda bicyclist’s death

A State Department diplomat who was struck by a flatbed truck while riding her bicycle in Bethesda would still be alive had the driver made a safer turn and received better training by the company that employed him, the woman’s family asserted in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

The driver, who local authorities say will not be criminally charged, was cited for three traffic violations, including negligent driving and failure to yield the right of way to a bike rider, according to court records.

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“The investigation into this incredibly tragic incident is complete,” said Lauren DeMarco, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office. “After careful review of the video and additional evidence compiled in the police investigation, it was clear there are no applicable criminal charges in this case.”

Maryland has vehicular manslaughter laws, but they are intended for drivers who are “grossly negligent” or “criminally negligent.”

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The Aug. 25 death of Sarah Langenkamp, 42, attracted widespread attention: She had returned to the D.C. area from a seemingly more dangerous life being stationed in Ukraine. On the day of the crash, she attended a back-to-school event at her sons’ new school in Bethesda. Langenkamp was riding home in a marked bike lane along River Road when the large truck — to her left — turned right into the parking lot of a building-products company and struck her, according to police. She died at the scene.

“We are still devastated by this. Our lives have been shattered,” Dan Langenkamp said Wednesday.

A memorial “Ghost Bike” for Sarah Langenkamp marks the area where she was fatally struck while riding her bicycle along River Road in Bethesda.

Her husband and parents retained prominent D.C. attorney Patrick Regan, whose clients include victims and family members of the 2009 Metro Red Line crash that killed nine people. The lawsuit names as defendants the driver and two corporate entities that, according to the filings, employed him and owned the truck he was driving: Beacon Roofing Supply and Beacon Building Products.

David Wooten, an attorney for the driver, said his client cooperated with police.

“He feels horrible that this happened, and prays for the woman’s family,” Wooten said.

The citations are non-jailable offenses, but together they carry fines and possible implications for his client’s commercial driver’s license, according to Wooten. He declined to discuss specifics of the collision or his client’s possible civil liability.

Jennifer Lewis, a spokeswoman for Beacon, declined to comment.

The lawsuit asserts that the driver made several mistakes, faulting him for, among other actions, “not yielding the right-of-way to Ms. Langenkamp” and “encroaching into the marked bike lane without first ensuring that it was safe to do so.”

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In an interview, Regan said the driver’s turn was inherently dangerous because he did so across his blind spot. The driver instead should have come to a stop on River Road, turned on his hazards and had someone act as a spotter to alert others, Regan said. Such a procedure would have allowed the driver to more deliberately back the flatbed truck into the parking lot “without endangering pedestrians or cyclists,” according to Regan.

“They’re supposed to back in with a spotter,” Regan said. “That’s the only safe way you do it to eliminate the blind spots. … He was not following the safety procedures he should have been following.”

The driver also should have used a different vehicle entrance into the parking lot, according to Regan, which would have afforded him more room to use a spotter and back into the parking lot.

Instead, by turning right across his blind spot, the cab of the flatbed struck Langenkamp and knocked her off her bike, Regan said, and she was then run over by the cab.

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Regan said that in the coming months, he will aim to find out what kind of training the building-products company had for its drivers.

“We’re going to find out what safety training they provided,” he said. “We’ll know a lot more in 90 days.”

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According to court records, the driver was cited for three traffic offenses: failure to yield the right of way in a bike lane to the rider of a bike; negligent driving in a “careless or imprudent manner”; and causing serious physical injury or death to a vulnerable person — in this case, a bicyclist.

The traffic citation that addresses a “vulnerable” person is a relatively new law in Maryland, written to help protect pedestrians, road workers, and those riding bicycles, motor scooters and other devices, according to state law and to Peter Gray, a longtime bicycle safety advocate and co-chair of Montgomery County Families for Safe Streets.

Offenders must appear before a judge, Gray said, and face penalties that include a fine up to $2,000 and an imposition of up 150 hours of community service.

“It’s a start, but it’s not enough,” said Gray, who says a gap remains in Maryland laws between criminal vehicular manslaughter charges, which can carry prison time, and the traffic citations imposed in the Sarah Langenkamp case.

“There has to be some loss of liberty consequences — the possibility of jail time,” Gray said, adding that this is particularly true for truck drivers. “They need to be held to a standard that relates directly to the risk their trucks pose.”


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