City Drops Claim Against Cyclist Hit by Police Car 

Unable to pedal fast enough to keep ahead of negative publicity, the city's collections agency has dropped its claim against a Richmond bicyclist whose head damaged a Richmond Police Department patrol car in a July collision.

The city had wanted cyclist Kristin Stokes to pay nearly $3,000 for the damage her body inflicted on its squad car.

"They reversed their charges," says Stokes, who spent three days in intensive care with head trauma and two broken vertebrae after the July 13 accident. "I got the call from Sedgwick CMS [the city's private collections agency] … last Thursday. Since then, I've also gotten a letter confirming that in the mail."

Stokes says the call came from a senior claims administrator, who told Stokes she'd been passed the file after Style Weekly contacted the company about its attempts to collect from Stokes for a story published Dec. 12.

"I think her exact words were the city wanted to do the right thing," Stokes says. "She was very apologetic, unlike anybody else I'd spoken to before with the city."

The city wasn't the only one to contact Stokes after her story became public. Word of her plight made the rounds on the Internet, eliciting offers of help and advice from as far as Arizona.

David Baugh, a well-known local defense attorney, offered his services pro bono, saying Stokes had ample grounds for a counterclaim against the city. Stokes says she has no plans to seek compensation from the city.

Bud Vye is a cycling advocate with the 600-member Richmond Area Bicycling Association, whose organization volunteered legal assistance to Stokes before hearing the claim had been dropped.

Still, Vye doesn't think the issues surrounding the accident should be dismissed -- for the sake of the 10 or so bicyclists who die on Virginia roads every year.

"When you've got a green light, you're not the king of that intersection," Vye says, acknowledging Stokes' own shared blame in that she technically struck the car. "It's kind of muddy, but at the worst, everybody ought to call it square and walk away."

Though fatal cycling accidents are fairly uncommon, Vye says, driver awareness of cyclists in traffic — and of traffic laws relating to bicycles — is equally uncommon.

Neither driver nor cyclist was found at fault in Stokes' accident, but Richmond Police says Stokes may have been at fault because she wasn't in the left lane to turn left onto Forest Hill Avenue when struck by the police car.

But Vye says even this is not entirely cut and dried. Cyclists are obliged to ride as far to the right of traffic as possible. Stokes says she was crossing to the right of traffic on or near a crosswalk across Forest Hill Avenue.

"It's always a gray area — and in a state like this, the motor vehicle guy is always right and the cyclist is cluttering up the road," says Vye, who sees Virginia as a fairly unfriendly state for cycling. "Most every … road, you have a right to be on it, the same rights as an automobile." S

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