More about the Macfie fatality in the Register-Guard

We have the silly side of this blog. And we have the dark side. Today, we have to go back to the dark side.

The Register-Guard’s Karen McCowan has a report about Patrick Joseph Compton’s manslaughter case. Compton is accused of driving drunk and hitting and killing Craig Macfie, who was riding his bike in the bike lane on 11th Avenue.

It’s an article worth reading. McCowan reports a number of details from court records:

  • Compton’s blood alcohol level was 0.15 percent. The legal limit for DUII is 0.08.
  • Macfie’s blood alcohol content was 0.14.
  • Compton was safely home after an evening of partying, but then decided he needed to go out for a burrito or something. It was during that outing that the collision happened.

It’s come out now that Macfie had no lights or reflectors. McCowan reports that Compton told the cops he didn’t see Macfie until “the moment of impact.”

I wonder if this becomes a point of contention in this case. I hope not.

Back on one of the posts about this case a couple of weeks ago, in which I had linked to some TV news reports, Seager left a comment (a portion excerpted here):

I can’t believe how many of the comments on some of the [TV station] stories focus on the cyclist being lit-up. I know ninja bikers are a serious problem, but it’s irrelevant. No amount of lights will save you from a drunk asshole driving in the bike lane. There are far more posts condemning dark biking than drunk driving. What is wrong with these people?

It’s against the law to be unlit, of course, but I was out on that block of 11th Avenue after midnight a couple of weeks ago. It’s not exactly a pitch black side street or country lane. There are street lights and lots of lights on nearby businesses. You can see clearly a couple of blocks down the street without any additional lights at all. I watched a pedestrian walk across 11th two blocks down. It wasn’t hard to see him. Really, it would be hard not to see a cyclist in the bike lane 50 yards ahead of you.

On the other hand — I almost hate to say this, because I think it might piss some of you off — but I’ll say it anyway: Maybe even a drunk person would notice something that looks like a blinking Christmas tree riding down the street and take evasive action.

Or maybe not.

There is a point often made by some cycling advocates: That we too often and too squarely place the responsibility for safety on the cyclist. Wear a helmet. Wear a reflective safety vest. Etc. They argue that the burden for safety, instead, should be primarily on the motorist — the person who is operating the far more dangerous machine.

I’m not an official cycling advocate (whatever that is). I’m not militant about the cycling “movement.” Frankly, I’m not sure where I come down on this question.

My work schedule right now has me on the road a lot after midnight. I find myself looking over my shoulder a lot when I hear a car coming — because, frankly, I don’t trust them. At that hour, I know there are drunk drivers passing me, probably not infrequently.

Should I have to be the one responsible for my safety when I am simply cruising down the bike lane? No, but on the other hand, the stakes are pretty high to trust it to someone else.

I once wrote a post about the fact that you have to have trust in others to go out on the streets on a bike. It was a sort of hopeful, optimistic post. I do have trust in most people who drive. But I look over my shoulder a lot, too.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on any of this. If you think I’m wrong, don’t be shy.

16 thoughts on “More about the Macfie fatality in the Register-Guard

  1. It’s so hard for me not to compare this collision with Mingo Pelkey and think that it’s ridiculous that it becomes totally about the alcohol. The blood alcohol level makes you more likely to do a bad thing while driving, and it’s a crime in and of itself – but the bad thing should be a crime as well, and merely being sober shouldn’t absolve drivers of the crime… I guess that’s sort of a tangent though.

    I like that question of how much of a difference lights would make… my gut tells me that just enough lighting to be legal wouldn’t have mattered much in a brightly lit area like that, but having an array of super bright blinkies probably would be attention grabbing enough.

    It might be interesting to talk to the bike/car simulator people at OSU:

    it’s probably entirely likely that adding alcohol to the testing mix makes it something is more of a cognitive psychology thing than a transportation engineering thing – but it would be some cool interdisciplinary research.. or maybe it’s been done…

    (I didn’t look very hard, but I did discover that getting injured while cycling drunk correlates with being divorced! )

  2. Hopefully it doesn’t become a point of contention… drunk driving is drunk driving and your reaction time is severely limited (especially at 0.15!), regardless of if you saw the bicyclist or not.

  3. I applaud you for broaching the seemingly untouchable subject of if the bicyclist could have taken measures to make his cycling safer. Certainly the law suggest so.

    “Maybe even a drunk person would notice something that looks like a blinking Christmas tree riding down the street and take evasive action.” is a reasonable thing to ask. I doubt it would have hurt and all of us who bicycle should always be asking ourselves such questions. At least it’s something we can do. When it comes to drunks out driving, I’ve never felt like I have much control over that.

    My heart really goes out to the family of Craig Macfie.

  4. Through the eyes of a motor vehicle driver and cyclist and the recent cyclist accidents I have found myself far more attentive. When biking you can bet I’m lit front and rear at night and ride with additional caution. When I’m behind the wheel I do curse the unlit cyclist and have had some close encounters with them. Many wear dark clothing and blend into the background and often cannot be seen in profile even if they are lit front and rear. I have found one of the trickiest situations are unlit cyclists riding in a bike lane to the right of drivers. If you are making a right turn it’s sometimes a hope and a prayer.

  5. Great post. I think it is important to seperate what each of us can do as cyclists to be more visible from the issue of fault in this collision. I would not have cycled unlit and intoxicated down 11th Street because I want to be ready to respond to threats quickly and hopefully stay safe. That said, there isn’t much a cyclist can do about being hit from behind in the bike lane. These kind of accidents happen all the time, sometimes in broad daylight, sometimes with drivers who are sober, but texting or otherwise distracted. I think that as a society, we need to emphasize that driving is complicated and dangerous and requires your full attention. In order to do that, we need to prosecute distracted and aggressive driving, like we do drunk driving. If you can’t see and focus on what is in front of you, you shouldn’t be driving a car.

  6. If they’d both been drunk biking no-one would have died. The relevant feature here is that one of them decided to get in a car.

    Drunk driving is like shooting a gun into a crowd and seeing what happens. Drunk and dark biking is like running to the front of that crowd to get a better look at the shooter. Stupid, but not as stupid as being the shooter.

  7. I wish a road construction worker could weigh in. I have heard countless stories of drunk drivers driving right into night-time construction zones… they were distracted by the blinking lights. There’s a theory out there that mayhaps, like moths to a flame, an inebriated driver’s eyes are drawn to the distracting lights… and hands follow the eyes… that’s why drunks swerve and hit sh*t.

    I’ve thought about that many a time and not just on busy streets. You see, some drunk drivers think they’ll “avoid the cops” by taking neighborhood routes. In PDX those same neighborhood routes are also, usually, the bikeways. So it’s 2 a.m. and I’m lit up like a Christmas Tree…

    I just hope I’m not “causing” a distraction that causes some idiot to drive right into me.

  8. I use my bike as my car. I never drink or get high. I wear a reflective vest, a helmet, and reflective pant leg cuffs. I wear a flashing headlamp, and a rear red Cateye flasher. I also have 2 sets of ChopSpokes on my bike, suggested to me by the manager at PBWOL on Alder. I also use hand signals at turns/stops. My crate has 3M reflective tape over the solid parts on 3 sides.
    Despite all these things – I get yelled at or nearly run over, weekly, here in Eugene. I get told to “get out of the street” even when there is no lane or shoulder, I get cut off at intersections, and 2 weeks ago an Oregon Taxi nearly ran me over in my bike lane (I was going straight, through a green light at Pearl/18th) even though I wore all the above safety items AND I was ringing my bell. It was 2pm! We collided, but it would have been worse if I hadn’t been watching his turn.

    My point is – these angry drivers don’t know what they are talking about. They are driving a killing machine, I am not. I should be given the utmost courtesy and respect at all times while on the road. Driving is a privilege, and I think it should be more difficult to obtain a license. Or could we just enforce a city-wide speed limit of 20 mph?

  9. “I get yelled at or nearly run over, weekly, here in Eugene”

    Not to say there aren’t bad motorists out there, but I seem to be similar to you in how often I ride (I’ve probably logged 3500 miles commuting this year) and I take many of the safety precautions that you do and even a few others. I frequently cross the intersection where you had your accident.

    While I have a few close calls every YEAR, I get almost no honking or yelling and certainly not every week. I’ve actually found the vast majority of drivers are polite, courteous and genuinely concerned about the safety of us bicyclists.

  10. Yeah, I too run into the occasional jerks. But I also think most people are courteous and attentive. I haven’t been yelled at in a long time — or maybe I’ve stopped hearing it.

    I will say I’m not crazy about Pearl & 18th … or Pearl & 19th … come to think of it, Pearl in general. I think Charnelton is a slightly better north-south route, though maybe a little out of the way if you are heading to the Amazon area or someplace.

    Sorry to hear about the collision, Lolita. It’s frightening. How did the driver react afterward? Did the cops come?

  11. Really, Eugene Bicyclist? Charnelton a viable alternative?

    I like to ride south on Charnelton, but that hill is not for your casual cyclist.

    In my experience (no car for 18+ years) most motorists are asshats. They are consumed by their sense of privilege and would run you off the road to get 5 cents off on their next BigGulp, or they stop when they have the righ-of-way and the cyclist has a stop sign and think they are being considerate.

    One problem in having a society organized around the internal combustion engine is that people look on it as a matter of simple survival to operate one, and therefore we let ANY idiot who can somehow pass a test once in their lives (1977 for me!) drive.

    And meanwhile the city of Eugene continues to spend big wodges of cash on questionable bike “infrastructure.” I would find the bike corrals at such major parking hotspots as Morning Glory Cafe a bit more whimsical if traveling west/east on 15th Ave across Oak Street were not like rattling through noman’s land at the Battle of the Somme on a bad day of shelling.

    1. Oh, I wasn’t thinking about the hill — mostly talking about through downtown.

      Anyway, Skinner, I don’t disagree with you on any number of your points.

      But I think we can also agree that we have a slightly different opinion on the portion of humanity that is irredeemable.

      I cross at 15th and Pearl regularly. You just have to wait. Of course, if you’re impatient, yeah, it’s like Frogger.

  12. I take Charnelton or High street when I’m downtown, depending which way. I live on the Amazon side, however, which means I’m usually caught in Pearl traffic on my way to the bike path near SEHS. I also sometimes go east, then south from UO campus, but it’s sometimes worse with student pedestrians and younger drivers (Alder at 18th in particular).
    (Oh, and I agree wholeheartedly with Skinner City, above – maybe we could make it more difficult to pass – and maintain – a license to drive?)
    I am also not one of those crazy badass cyclists who stops at nothing and cuts off cars. I know my rights and responsibilities. Maybe I just don’t bike fast enough? Maybe my hippie-sticker-covered milk crate makes people want to yell? I’m usually honked at or angrily swerved around if I’m anywhere in West Eugene, or anywhere near heavy traffic. I’m usually nearly run over crossing 18th (anywhere?), or crossing the awful Villard/Franklin mess as people are rushing to get into Wendy’s as quickly and stupidly as possible (seriously, go watch that intersection for a minute and you’ll see what I mean!). I also wonder if it’s age-ism – I appear like a young college student (I was ten years ago!), so I get stereotyped as inexperienced/immature/stupid/rebellious/etc. This is my current theory anyway.

  13. Oh and no, no cops were called. I’ve done that before and the outcome wasn’t helpful, just time-consuming. The taxi driver was just really mad at me I guess (yelling), and, honestly I was too busy getting off my teetering bike and crying my way across the intersection to care to alert anyone else…

  14. [I am an Oregon grad that rarely drove my car while living in Eugene. I walked or biked nearly everywhere I went…sober or drunk]

    I speak from personal experience: There are two clear realities among Oregon students that can relate to this tragedy, at least when I was in school a few years back. No, I don’t have facts to present, but this is my firm understanding of how life is as a college kid trying to live it up in Eugene to the best of one’s ability. As students, it’s no secret how dangerous it is driving drunk in Eugene–not the idea of running over a person/biker–but to be subject of a Eugene Police shark on the hunt to hit their quota, revenue largely collected via college kids. We know they are out there drooling over the trust-fund babies especially, and it baffles me how students continue to roll the dice on this. That’s what kids are worried about behind the wheel when tipsy, not taking the life of another or even their own (we are too confident as drivers for this reality to register). We all know people who have been dinged with a DUI while attending school here, yet kids continue to take this stupid risk. The other reality–not fairly represented in this case–there are a TON of Oregon students that use biking as their drunken alternative to get around knowing EPD is lurking around every corner for cars to make the slightest swerve. Fact. I know many many many friends that are 100-times more likely to drive drunk in Portland over Eugene due to the likelihood of getting caught changing drastically from city-to-city.

    Something I’m not necessarily proud of: I drove my bike (at least slightly) drunk nearly every other weekend when a party happened to be across campus. I never owned lights for my bike during the time. This occurred with impunity, and I never learned my lesson, because nothing bad ever resulted. The concept of getting a BUI was far different in my head than a DUI. This was ESPECIALLY true during specific weekdays (Monday-Wednesday) where Eugene Police cruisers (aka “party patrol”) virtually disappear. We used to throw quadruple keggers on Tuesdays for this very reason–not once did a party get busted up. Same goes–I would imagine–for DUIs and other various alcohol-related crimes. EPD, you think you aren’t predictable, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I believe the deeper problem is the cultural cloth of Eugene’s party scene: those partaking in it, those policing it, and those educating it (or lack thereof).

    Another thing to note: Before I enrolled at UO, I hadn’t ridden by bike in nearly 7 years. When I moved to Eugene, I didn’t “need a car” but “needed a bike.” This is a universal idea for a lot of young kids going off to college. A lot of us just aren’t ready, aware of the dangers of biking on campus were drunk driving is a serious issue. I’ll be the first to raise my hand–I felt as youthful as ever with my brand new cruiser, able to slam on the brakes pedaling backwards.

    Two kids’ lives were drastically changed for the worse by this unfortunate situation. I am not jumping on anyone’s side, or trying to put blame on anyone, period. But to say that a biker does not drive a “killer” is complete and utter BS in my book, and that mentality NEEDS to stop. Bikers need to be just as (if not even more so) responsible when operating on the roads. One wrong move by a biker can either take his/her own life (or perhaps worse) trigger a car to swerve out of control, thus creating a killer. At that point it doesn’t necessarily make a difference whether the driver is drunk or not. He may have the better reactionary motor skills to better the situation, but to claim a biker is not capable of creating harm is just ignorant and makes the biking culture worse off in a community. Besides, there are other pressing issues when it comes to responsible driving (texting, sleep-deprivation, etc).

    I don’t believe this whole case was handled correctly by the media, due to the sensitivity of the outcome, only one kid was blame and put in the wrong…it’s very unfortunate. What if the errant biker had forced the drunk driver to swerve and in effect, the driver of the car was the only one hurt? It’s definitely a scenario we must consider if a biking community is going to be safe in our NW towns. As much as I have read about the two kids, there is little said about the recklessness of–not just biking at night without a helmet and lights–but biking drunk at night without them. I did it ALL–THE–TIME as a young, immature, you-only-live-once Duck. On my birthday, I nearly killed myself just riding along completely isolated on campus with zero cars around. I thought it was funny in retrospect the following day. Put me on a busy road that night, and it might’ve been me in the poor kid’s shoes, with only one drunk to blame. That drunk wouldn’t have been me.

    Just my thoughts. I wish both families the best in this terrible situation. My apologies if this offended anyone. I just feel there are certain truths to this that can’t be denied.

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