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S.C. Driver Convicted of Felony for Killing Cyclist
On October 1, 2010, 15 cyclists left Outspokin’ bike shop in Augusta, Ga. on their weekly ride across the state border into Aiken, S.C. A truck, driven by Daniel Johnson, collided with the group and injured four cyclists and tragically left one other, Dr. Matthew Burke, critically injured with severe head trauma. After 128 days in a coma on life support, Dr. Burke passed away on February 6, 2011. The Palmetto Cycling Coalition and South Carolina cycling attorney Peter Wilborn worked on the case, and Johnson was charged with reckless homicide on February 8, 2011. After eight months of investigation and legal wrangling, Johnson admitted to his crime yesterday, October 17 and pled guilty to felony manslaughter. Johnson was taken immediately into custody and will be sentenced today, Tuesday, October 18th.
“Matt Burke’s legacy is that drivers can and should be treated as criminals for killing cyclists. Throughout the country, cycling deaths are regularly dismissed by law enforcement as mere traffic ‘accidents.’ But often they are not accidental, the needless fatalities are tragic consequences of reckless driving and lawless drivers," Wilborn writes on his BikeLaw.com blog. "The driver’s felony conviction here proves to police, policymakers and drivers to take cycling safety seriously. This case from South Carolina is an example of how to do it right.”
Johnson claimed to have been distracted while reaching for something. Dr. Burke, a U.S. Army major and orthopedic surgeon, had been home from Iraq for about a year. “The police originally said it was just an accident,” says Wilborn. “We asked the police to just consider the data, and you know what? They listened. They did their job ... and charged the driver with reckless homicide — the most serious thing that a driver could be charged with.” The South Carolina Highway Patrol and the Aiken County Solicitor’s office performed the investigation.
Dr. Burke is survived by his wife Bonnie and 1-year-old daughter, Anna. Dr. Burke was only 38. Paul Burke, the cyclist’s brother, stated on Wilborn's blog: “Today’s felony conviction establishes the criminal responsibility of Daniel Johnson for the senseless death of Matthew P. Burke. Dr. Burke was riding legally in a group of fifteen cyclists when he and four other riders were struck from behind by Mr. Johnson on a long, flat straight road in broad daylight.”
To learn more about improving cycling safety and police enforcement, read "Enforcement: The Final Frontier" in the July/August issue of American Bicyclist magazine.