Montgomery Co. teen’s death prompts bike safety law

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Bicycling is now safer in Maryland, in part because of the death of 19-year-old Frank Towers, who was killed in 2015, as he pedaled through the crosswalk at Veirs Mill Road and Turkey Branch Parkway, in Montgomery County.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed two bills that close the loopholes that thwarted the prosecution of the driver who struck Towers.

Towers was riding through the marked pedestrian crosswalk in December 2015 when a driver in the left lane failed to stop, killing the cyclist.

Montgomery County prosecutors had charged the driver under a statute that protects pedestrians, said Kyle O’Grady, who prosecuted the case in county district court.

“Because the statute permitted Mr. Towers and other cyclists to ride their bicycles through the crosswalk, our interpretation was that it essentially treats him as a pedestrian,” O’Grady said. “Unfortunately, the court didn’t agree, and the charges were dismissed.”

A few months after Towers’ death, cyclist Mauricio Osorio was fatally struck at the same intersection.

O’Grady said while it might have been the intent to bestow pedestrians’ rights to cyclists in crosswalks, “Nowhere in the traffic code does it actually exist, that they have those protections.”

During testimony before lawmakers, advocates had presented a hypothetical situation, showing the gaps in the traffic code:

“Imagine a family of five in the crosswalk: father on bicycle, mother pushing a stroller with an infant, son on a skateboard, daughter on a tricycle,” O’Grady posited.

If a driver struck the family in the crosswalk, “The law that we had at the time only protected one person — the mom on foot,” O’Grady said.

The new law protects pedestrians and anyone operating a bicycle, unicycle, or play vehicle.

Under the old law, which described play vehicles as something with two or three wheels, the new law specifies two or more wheels, to include skateboards, four-wheeled stroller and four-wheeled scooter.

“Skateboarders are not required to get off their skateboards and walk, but what they need to do is cross in the crosswalk — that’s the safest place to do it, and that’s what the law requires,” O’Grady said.

“I’m ecstatic that Governor Hogan has signed this legislation,” said Alyx Walker. Towers, who was from Tennessee,  was living locally with Walker’s family,  when he died.

“When the prosecutor in Frank’s case told me the charges were dropped on a technicality in the traffic code, all I could think was that anyone could be killed while riding their bike, and nothing will happen to the driver,” Walker said. “Think of all the lives that will be saved.”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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