Thursday, September 06, 2018

COLUMN: Court Pt. 1

I was trying to think of a good intro to this week's column, but I really think the only fitting intro is to imagine that you're hearing the "CHUNG! CHUNG!" noise from the beginning of every episode of "Law and Order." So, are you ready? CHUNG! CHUNG!

For the past six months, I've been harboring a deep secret from you people. As it turns out, your friendly neighborhood humor columnist -- is a felonious felon on the lam from Johnny Law.

Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. I suppose I've been less "on the lam" and more "sitting around waiting patiently for my court date." And I'm not a felonious felon. But I WAS accused of being a misdemeanorous misdemeanorer. Rebel, thy name is Shane.

I'm trying to figure out a way to frame this in a way that you WON'T immediately cast judgement upon me after hearing what happened -- but that might be a tall order. I swear I'm not a bad guy, but this wasn't my best moment.

Alright, fine. I'll just say it. Last October, I was involved in a minor traffic... kerfluffle, wherein it is alleged that my car may have been slightly over-eager to make the acquaintance of a passing bicyclist whilst I was behind the wheel. SEE? You've already made up your mind, right? I can hear you screaming "GUILTY!" from the rafters. I'm a horrible person who needs his license taken away and should be banished to the Island of Misfit Drivers for the rest of my natural life.

Now that you're convinced of my guilt, let me tell you what really happened. I was leaving for work one October morning and was attempting to turn right from my alley onto a major Rock Island artery. I came to a complete stop, looked both ways for oncoming traffic, let off the brake, and eased out.

Next thing I knew, KER-WUMP. Unbeknownst to me, a young guy was zipping down the sidewalk westbound on his bike while I was turning east. I didn't see him, he didn't see me, and we met only when my bumper clipped his tire and my heart leapt out of my chest.

The good news -- the only news that matters, really -- is that everyone's fine. I had just started to roll out of a dead stop, so the impact was minimal. Unless you count the year or two it took off my life, no one was hurt. It didn't even knock the guy off his bike. But it DID do a pretty good number on the poor bike and bent his wheel up, so after verifying that he was fine, I called 911 and reported the incident. To Rock Island's credit, an officer was there in moments.

If you're going to be involved in a traffic accident, I hope it's as optimal as mine was. The guy on the bike couldn't have been nicer, the officer couldn't have been nicer. The only bummer was that I ended up with a "failure to yield" ticket that I didn't think I deserved. Don't get me wrong, I felt (and still feel) terrible about the collision -- but I didn't feel especially liable. Here's why.

For one, the stretch of road I was turning onto provides a clearly marked bike lane in both directions. Had the cyclist been utilizing the proper marked lane, he would have been on the other side of the street safely away from any pre-caffeinated columnists trying to get to work.

But even more importantly, the end of my alley features an unkempt overgrown hedge row that, for half the year, obstructs ANY view of the sidewalk. It's a completely blind intersection, which is why I always pull out slow enough to stop for any pedestrians. In my admittedly amateur opinion, the cyclist was travelling too fast on the sidewalk against traffic into a blind intersection and the accident couldn't have been avoided. It was just lousy timing and little else.

These are all excellent points that my brain was making at the time. My MOUTH, on the other hand, was acting as its own attorney and not doing a great job. Fueled on a diet of shock, adrenaline, and pure thankfulness that no one was hurt, "OMIGOSH" was about the most sensible thing I could muster.

When I finally mentioned the bike lane to the officer, her response was, "I'm no expert on bike laws" (?) before looking up a general Illinois statute that say bicyclists on sidewalks should be afforded the same rights as pedestrians. When I pointed out the overgrown hedge row obscuring the sidewalk, the officer agreed and told me I should contact public works to remove them because they were a hazard. These were, in her words, "things you might want to bring up with the judge."

Gulp. As a general rule, I prefer to shy away from any scenarios wherein I have bring any things up with any judges. But I did it. I decided to fight my ticket.

There's been much debate lately about Rock Island's historic yet crumbling and asbestos-riddled courthouse. All this talk has made me want to have a peek inside the place, though there's probably better ways to do it than broadsiding a bicycle.

My court date was last week. How'd it go? Meet me here next Monday and I'll tell you. CHUNG! CHUNG!

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