Dr. Mitchell Hollon, an avid cyclist and anesthesiologist, was killed on July 5th while cycling in Charleston, South Carolina. The police traffic report, citing statements from two witnesses, indicates that an AT&T van moved out of the westbound right lane, drifted several feet onto the shoulder, and struck Dr. Hollon from behind. The impact crumpled the van and catapulted Dr. Hollon over the guardrail of the James Island Connector, where he plunged forty feet and landed in the Charleston Harbor marshland. Police say the driver of the AT&T van, Gregory Rupley of Charleston, is at fault for the crash.
Gregory Rupley’s version of events differs considerably from witness accounts and the police report. Rupley dialed 911 after hitting Dr. Hollon and said, “I just hit a man on a bicycle and he flipped off the bridge.” The 911 dispatcher asked, “You said he flipped off the bridge?” Rupley continued, “He swerved out in front of me and I hit him and he went off the bridge.”
I find Rupley’s story extremely difficult to believe, given the witness reports, and the history of the two men involved in the crash. The Post and Courier of Charleston reports that Rupley has a history of reckless and aggressive driving, according to records from the South Carolina DMV, including convictions for speeding in 2004 and 2005, a conviction for careless driving in 2005, and a conviction for contributing to a motor vehicle accident in 2006. Dr. Hollon was an experienced cyclist who observed traffic laws and averaged 3000 miles per year. It doesn’t add up that a savvy urban cyclist would “swerve out” into a 55 mile-per-hour lane “in front” of a speeding motor vehicle. It seems much more likely that Rupley is lying because he fears the consequences of what he has done.
The same report from The Post and Courier also contains a glaring factual error, which perpetuates the myth that cyclists must move aside for motorists and expose themselves to greater risk: “The police incident report indicates Rupley allegedly drifted several feet off the traveling lane and into the far right westbound shoulder where the helmet-clad Hollon was obligated to be.”
The traffic laws of South Carolina specify that a bicyclist has no obligation to ride on the shoulder, which is not considered to be part of the roadway. The right lane appears to be 11 feet wide in the area where Rupley struck Dr. Hollon. (That’s an admittedly imprecise estimate based on photos of the crash site, which I’ve included at the end of this article.) If we assume a lane width of 11 or even 12 feet, the lane is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to share safely, so it still would have been illegal for Rupley to overtake Dr. Hollon in the same lane. It’s arguable from a legal standpoint that Dr. Hollon would’ve been within his rights to travel in the right lane, or even ride down the center of it. The point is that Dr. Hollon’s location on the roadway is irrelevant. Rupley would still be at fault for hitting him from behind, whether the collision took place in the right lane or on the shoulder.
Even without witnesses, who stated that Rupley’s van swerved several feet onto the shoulder, there is physical evidence to refute Rupley’s claim that the impact occurred in the right lane after Dr. Hollon swerved out in front of his van. The video footage of Hollon’s bicycle at 03:25 to 03:30 shows the front wheel is straight and the back wheel is bent into the shape of a heart, which is an indicator that the van struck the bicycle from behind. Dr. Hollon’s trajectory over the side of the bridge is also an indicator of the van’s direction. Rupley is suggesting the collision happened in the travel lane. That would mean Dr. Hollon went flying off his bicycle, executed a right turn in mid-air, and passed completely over the shoulder and a four-foot concrete wall. It’s much more likely that Dr. Hollon flew in the same direction that Rupley’s van was going at the time of impact; diagonally, angling toward Charleston Harbor, as it left the right lane, and entered the shoulder.
The circumstances of the crash, the statements of two eyewitnesses, a history of reckless driving, the condition of the bicycle, and the final location of Michell Hollon’s body should make for a slam-dunk case against Gregory Rupley. One thing concerns me, though. The law enforcement establishment of South Carolina has a mixed track record in convicting (or even charging) motorists with reckless driving or reckless homicide when it comes to killing cyclists. I have read a few articles stating that the police plan to file charges against Rupley, yet, it’s been six days since the crash, and no charges have been filed yet, according to any media report that I can find as of this writing. I hope that means the wheels of justice are just slow to turn, rather than broken altogether.
Charleston has been given an opportunity, at the tragic and staggering cost of Dr. Hollon’s life, to show the nation that irresponsible motoring is an extremely serious matter. The consequences Gregory Rupley faces should reflect the consequences of his actions for Dr. Mitchell Hollon. Let’s hope South Carolina justice handles this one right.
South Carolina Code of Laws, Chapter 5, Article 1, SECTION 56-5-2920. Reckless driving; penalties; suspension of driver’s license for second or subsequent offense.
Any person who drives any vehicle in such a manner as to indicate either a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving. The Department of Motor Vehicles, upon receiving satisfactory evidence of the conviction, of the entry of a plea of guilty or the forfeiture of bail of any person charged with a second and subsequent offense for the violation of this section shall forthwith suspend the driver’s license of any such person for a period of three months. Only those offenses which occurred within a period of five years including and immediately preceding the date of the last offense shall constitute prior offenses within the meaning of this section. Any person violating the provisions of this section shall, upon conviction, entry of a plea of guilty or forfeiture of bail, be punished by a fine of not less than twenty-five dollars nor more than two hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than thirty days.
South Carolina Code of Laws, Chapter 5, Article 1, SECTION 56-5-2910. Reckless homicide; penalties; revocation of driver’s license; reinstatement of license; conditions; consequences for subsequent violations.
(A) When the death of a person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury received by the driving of a vehicle in reckless disregard of the safety of others, the person operating the vehicle is guilty of reckless homicide. A person who is convicted of, pleads guilty to, or pleads nolo contendere to reckless homicide is guilty of a felony and must be fined not less than one thousand dollars nor more than five thousand dollars or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. The department must revoke for five years the driver’s license of a person convicted of reckless homicide.
South Carolina Code of Laws, SECTION 56-5-3430. Riding on roadways and bicycle paths.
(A) Except as provided in subsection (B), every bicyclist operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable. A bicyclist may, but is not required to, ride on the shoulder of the roadway in order to comply with the requirements of this subsection.
Slideshow of Crash Site