83-year-old driver ticketed in collision with bicyclist

Hopkins student not expected to recover brain function

April 12, 2011|Michael Dresser and Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

The driver of a car that struck and gravely injured a 20-year-old Johns Hopkins student who was bicycling near the university in February has been issued tickets charging her with traffic violations, the Baltimore state's attorney and Police Department said Tuesday.

The decision to charge Jeannette Marie Walke, 83, in the crash with Nathan Krasnopoler on Feb. 26 comes despite an initial announcement by police that charges were not expected. That statement prompted criticism from advocates for Maryland bicyclists, who have long contended that city police are too quick to excuse drivers involved in crashes with bikes.

Walke received two traffic citations — for negligent driving and failure to yield the right-of-way to a bicyclist in a designated bike lane. State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein said an investigation found no evidence of gross negligence that would justify a felony prosecution for vehicular manslaughter, should the victim die.

The crash left Krasnopoler in a coma as a result of catastrophic brain injuries. Last week his family said doctors had told them he is not expected to make a meaningful recovery or regain cognitive function.

Andrew G. Slutkin, an attorney who has sued Walke on behalf of Krasnopoler, said his family is "comfortable" with the charges and did not want to see the driver put in jail.

"The family wanted to make sure that Ms. Walke was determined to be at fault, consistent with the witness statements we have obtained," said Slutkin, of the firm Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White. "They were not looking for her to be charged criminally."

Slutkin said Krasnopoler is expected to be discharged soon from Johns Hopkins Hospital and moved to an "awakening program," which attempts to restore brain function in patients even in cases where doctors have held out little hope of a recovery.

"They will make every effort to bring him out of his coma," Slutkin said.

The state's attorney's office said the charges each carry a potential penalty of $500 and three points on the driver's license. However, in traffic ticket cases, the driver can resolve the charges by paying a lesser fine without appearing in court.

In the case of negligent driving in a case involving a crash, the fine set by the District Court is $280. The same amount is assessed for violating the 2010 law under which Walke was charged for crossing into a bicycle lane without yielding.

Last year, lawmakers established a three-foot buffer zone that motorists must leave around bicyclists. According the Slutkin, it appears Walke was charged under a separate provision of that law.

In a news release, the state's attorney's office and the police stressed that they take cases involving motorists and bicyclists seriously. "We will prosecute drivers who harm cyclists to the fullest extent of the law," he said.

Slutkin said the family is "relieved" that the police did a thorough investigation.

"There's been a lot of criticism of the police involving several serious bicycle injuries and fatalities," he said. "It's now become apparent that they realize they've got to treat bicyclists the same as all drivers on the road."

Carol Silldorff, executive director of Bike Maryland, said she was "thrilled" that traffic charges were brought and hadn't expected criminal charges.

"I certainly don't think this was the case in this situation," she said.

Last month, Slutkin filed a $10 million lawsuit at the direction of the Krasnopoler family of Ellicott City. The suit claims that Walke committed multiple traffic offenses when her car collided with Krasnopoler's bicycle while she was making a right turn into a driveway off University Parkway.

"The lawsuit is there to cover some of the astronomical medical expenses that insurance won't cover," Slutkin said.

Walke could not be reached for comment and does not appear to have retained a lawyer in the civil case, according to court records.

In Internet searches, her names appears as having made contributions to the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Senior Center, Mercy Medical Center, the Smithsonian Institution, Doctors without Borders, Howard University, the Yale-China Association and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A 1981 Washington Post article quoted her as a representative of the Maryland Retail Merchants Association.

michael.dresser@baltsun.coom

justin.fenton@baltsun.com



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