On our ongoing response to the death of Amanda Phillips

June 27, 2016

Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan
15 Commonwealth Avenue
Woburn, MA 01801

Ms. Ryan,

I write to you today on behalf of thousands of bicycle riders in Massachusetts. At MassBike we work tirelessly to make our streetscapes safer and healthier for all users. Without enforcement of the existing laws, however, we can never succeed.

For this reason we are asking that your office bring charges of vehicular manslaughter or negligent homicide against both drivers, whose actions led to the tragic and unnecessary death last week of Amanda Phillips in Cambridge, only the most recent death of a cyclist by a reckless motorist in Middlesex County. We seek more information regarding the June 16 collision that killed Eugene Thornberg in Lincoln.

In both instances no charges were filed.

Opening a car door into a cyclist without first looking is negligent and a violation of law. [See MGL c. 90 sec. 14, near the end of the very long first paragraph] When a driver does so and the victim dies, that is negligent homicide or manslaughter. Likewise, when a driver runs into a cyclist and hits her from behind, if the cyclist dies, that is negligent homicide or manslaughter. These are the facts that lead to the death of Amanda Phillips.

In our work to improve safety we often refer to the “Five E’s”. The first four are  education, engineering, encouragement, and evaluation. But the critical fifth “E” is enforcement. For too long there has been little or no enforcement in such circumstances involving bicycles. This failure to enforce such laws leads to institutionally blaming the victim.

Without enforcement, motorists will continue to operate with the same negligent and reckless disregard for the safety of bicyclists that has led most recently to the death of Amanda Phillips, a 27-year-old graduate student. We believe to use the term “accident” in this circumstance is both harmful and wrong. With enforcement, these crashes can be prevented. But we need enforcement to do so.   

We can think of nowhere else than Massachusetts - which serves as the world’s college town - where such enforcement is appropriate and overdue.

I await your comments.

Thank you for giving the consideration it deserves.
Richard Fries, Executive Director  

Today, we want to provide you with two updates from our ongoing response to last week's tragic death and provide some ways that you can help.

1. Cambridge Fast-Tracks Safety Planning for Inman Square

Last night the Cambridge City Council voted to adopt a policy order to fast-track plans to completely redesign and reconstruct Inman Square's dangerous 5-street intersection, prioritizing the safety of people who walk and bike. Every crash involving a cyclist or pedestrian deserves this sort of response from our cities.

We are thrilled with the response from the City of Cambridge and are grateful to the efforts of the local advocates and community members who spoke up to fix this problematic and busy intersection.

2. Response from District Attorney Marian Ryan

District Attorney Ryan's office has responded to our letter yesterday urging that charges be filed against the drivers. We have provided an excerpt below. You can read the entire message here.

Tragically, in the past month we have had two fatal collisions involving motor vehicles and bicyclists in Middlesex County. While we understand the concerning nature of these incidents as it pertains to the safety of both bicyclists and motor vehicle operators who share our roadways, we must conduct a complete and thorough investigation before making charging decisions in these cases.  As with all fatal motor vehicle collisions, this investigation could take several months to conclude.

We want to reinforce that MassBike was not placing blame or declaring guilty parties in our letter to District Attorney Ryan and that we must wait for all the facts in this tragedy to be presented.

However we recognize that the bicycling community is increasingly frustrated with the response to bicycling crashes and fatalities.

We want to ensure that Amanda's case is investigated fully. We want to keep pressure on the DA's office to ensure that if either driver is found to be at all responsible, that appropriate charges are filed, as they would be in any other motor vehicle crash. 

Our goal is to make sure every bicyclist and all vulnerable road users feel safe, that they belong, and feel that they matter. To do that, MassBike will continue to seek enforcement of existing laws that protect bicyclists on our roadways and we will continue to push for stronger laws on Beacon Hill.

Here's how you can help us today:

  • Contact the Cambridge City Council and express your support and gratitude of their quick decision to fast-track re-design plans for Inman Square. 
  • Attend the Vigil for Amanda Philips tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7pm.
  • Tell your story. The more voices we have, the stronger we become. Visit our website and share your story. We have seen an overwhelming response from our members and want to capture your experiences to share these stories with elected officials, engineers and city planners, and more. Let your story impact change in your community.

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