ON BIKE CULTURE IN EUGENE | Fine blogging since 2010 (with periodic long breaks)
[This post was updated on Sept. 28 to note that Gleich was found guilty on the red light citation he was given in June.]
I’ve spent some time tracking down witnesses to the three recent accidents that James Robert Gleich was a party to. I wanted to pass along what they told me. I feel like I’m harping on this case a bit, but I find this to be such a strange series of events. This post is a bit long, but there has been a good deal of interest in this case. So here we go:
Let’s start with the last of the three, the collision on Aug. 29 on River Road that killed Mingo Pelkey, who was on her bike when she was hit from behind by car.
I met a woman — we’ll call her E. — who had gone to Don Juan’s Mexican restaurant that night about 7 p.m. Don Juan’s is on River Road, on the west side of the street a couple of hundred feet south of the intersection with Irving. There’s a Shell station on the southwest corner of that intersection, and Don Juan’s is in the next building to the south. The dining room has a window that allows patrons to look out to River Road.
E. had been seated in the restaurant and was waiting for a friend to arrive. She could not see out the window herself, but was facing a party at another table that was in front of the window. A woman at that table suddenly shouted “No!” and then stood up and screamed.
People ran outside. It was chaotic.
E. said she could see Mingo Pelkey lying motionless in the street. Cars were stopped all over the road. The car that had hit Pelkey, a silver VW Passat, did not stop at the site of the accident. It continued north another 100 yards or so, through the light at Irving, before pulling over in front of the DariMart on the northeast corner of River and Irving.
The windshield of the Passat was “gone,” E. said, apparently shattered out by the collision.
E. said she talked to the woman who had been looking out the window as the wreck happened. As it comes to me — so this is second hand, but I have no information that disputes this — Pelkey was stopped in the center turn lane.
She appeared to be waiting for southbound traffic to clear so she could turn left into a driveway adjacent to the south side of Don Juan’s. She was signaling a left turn.
The witness told E. that she saw the Passat coming north, going fast, in the right-hand lane. It made an erratic move, perhaps trying to pass another car and swerved to the left. The woman told E. she thought to herself: that car is going to hit the cyclist. And then it did. Pelkey and her bike were thrown down the street.
E. said she saw Gleich a little bit later, standing around with everyone else as the police and paramedics worked the scene. He was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt, and she said he looked “as white as his shirt.” In a “daze.”
Going back to July 9, seven weeks prior to Pelkey’s death, Gleich was in another accident on MLK Boulevard in Eugene.
I talked with a Eugene attorney — we’ll call him T. — who works downtown and lives in Springfield. He tells this story:
It was about 3 p.m. on a Saturday. He had been at his office and was going home. He crossed the Ferry Street Bridge, exited onto MLK Boulevard and pulled up to a red light at Club Road. Immediately in front of him at the light was a red Nissan Z.
The light turned green and the red car “spins his tires,” T. said. “He burns a little rubber.” Up ahead, a black BMW was pulling out of the driveway of the BMW dealership, crossing the lanes in front of the red Z, in order to turn left onto MLK heading the other direction, toward Coburg Road.
When the driver of the BMW saw Gleich coming, he stopped in the lane in front of Gleich because it looked as if Gleich, still accelerating, was going to swerve to the left and go around the front of the BMW, a passenger in the BMW told me.
T. said the Z then stopped accelerating for a second. Then he re-accelerated and tried to swerve to the right to go around the back of BMW, but he crunched the back end of the driver’s side.
It’s about 80 paces of so from where Gleich would have been stopped at the red light to the point of the collision. Even if the car pulling out of the driveway was in the way, T. says the Z car had “plenty of time to come to a safe, complete stop, a controlled stop.”
If T.’s recollection is correct, the account of this wreck in the police report is inaccurate. The officer (B. Mainard) writes that Gleich told him he had merged onto MLK from Club Road. To do that, you don’t have to pull up to regular intersection and make a regular right turn. The right lane on Club makes a sweeping curve into MLK, allowing a car to keep some of its speed as it merges onto MLK — like a freeway interchange sort of thing.
Gleich told police he rounded the curve, merged into the left lane traveling about 35 mph (the speed limit on MLK). He told the officer he saw the BMW and was unable to avoid it.
But T. says he is certain the Z was on MLK the whole time and was stopped right in front of him at the light.
If T. is correct, why would Gleich tell the officer he came from Club Road? Well, it seems to me it would be harder to have that collision 200 feet after being at a dead stop than it would be if you were already traveling 35 mph coming around a bend.
The passenger in the BMW, the driver’s wife, said the Z seemed to be accelerating right into the collision.
“He slammed into us so hard if had been any other car we were in we probably would’ve been very seriously injured — or if he had hit just slightly in front of where he did, my husband (who was driving) would have been toast,” she told me.
There are other discrepancies between the witness accounts and what the police report says. When the BMW driver’s wife saw the report and felt it was not accurate, she called Officer Mainard and his sergeant several times to try to get things corrected and explain what was wrong, but she says she was never able to speak to anyone about it.
She called the police investigation of the accident “pathetic” and “incompetent.” Sure, she has a vested interest, but she is clearly frustrated — and now that another Gleich wreck has had fatal consequences, she is very upset and angry.
T. says he has been contacted by neither the police, nor the district attorney (as of Friday), although he said he had been contacted by Gleich’s attorney. T. said he told that attorney the same thing he told me.
In an odd twist to this story, T. said that he was acquainted with Mingo Pelkey, who would be killed a few weeks after the MLK collision. T. went to a dermatologist in Springfield where Pelkey worked. “She wouldn’t have known who I was,” he said, “but I knew who she was.”
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Going back about 3-1/2 more weeks to June 13: Gleich, driving the red Z, collided with a pickup truck at Pioneer Parkway and Q Street.
I did talk to the driver of the pickup, a contractor who had no kind words for Gleich. I also talked to a third party who was in another vehicle and saw the collision.
Gleich was cited for running a red light in that accident and colliding with the truck as it went through the intersection. Gleich is contesting the ticket and is supposed to be in Springfield Municipal Court on Tuesday (Sept. 27).
[ UPDATE: A call to Springfield Municipal Court reveals Gleich’s Sept. 27 hearing resulted in a guilty finding. He was ordered to pay $243 in fines and fees. ]
The third party, a retired Springfield police officer, said he had been subpoenaed to appear in court to testify. Because of that, he said he didn’t want to speak with me about what he saw until after he testifies.
The contractor said he spoke with the retired officer right after the accident and asked him, “Did I go through a red light?” He said the retired officer said no.
The contractor had recalled seeing news reports about Pelkey’s death. But until I explained to him why I was calling, he said he had no idea that it was the same motorist who was involved in his accident.
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I have asked the police and the D.A. whether Gleich is still licensed to drive. They won’t say. I called the DMV only to learn that whether someone is legally licensed to drive is not a matter of public record. So they wouldn’t tell me either.
From what I’m able to gather, since Gleich has not been charged or convicted of anything at this time, there is probably no way he could be suspended. So it would seem he probably is still licensed. We can hope he has been advised to stay off the road or is doing so voluntarily. We can hope.
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For a list of all posts about the Mingo Pelkey case, go here.