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Prepared and first posted Wednesday, July 16, 2003,
by Martin Pion, Conservion – Think Bicycling!
6 Manor Lane, Ferguson, Missouri 63135.
tel: 314/524-8029 fax: 314/524-8129

[Given the length of time that has elapsed from the original post in 2003 until the current date, March 17th, 2017, some information is now obsolete, particularly contact information and listed organizations. Some notes have been added where appropriate.]

Susie Stephens

Table of Contents

Anniversary update
Introduction
Donations in Memory of Susie Stephens
Links to Tributes
What Happened, According To The Police Report
Current Status of Police Investigation
Current Status of Charges Against Driver
What Can YOU Do?
Motor Vehicle Injury and Fatality Statistics for St. Louis City

Anniversary update

On February 27, 2003, St. Louis City Counsellor Mr. John Bouhasin* sent a brief response to a fax requesting information on the current status of proceedings in traffic court against Michael W. Wamble, the charter bus driver charged in the death of Susie Stephens. Mr. Bouhasin wrote that Wamble: “pled guilty. paid minimum fine $500.

According to an attorney for the family, Wamble’s guilty plea helped Susie’s family reach a resolution of the civil suit with the other parties involved. With the case behind them, there is a degree of closure, allowing the family to move forward and continue to the extent they can the work that Susie was doing. The attorney added: “She was an amazing person and since (her death) IÕve learned what an incredible person she was and what a terrible, terrible loss this is.”

*Tel: 314/622-4566; fax: 314/613-3183; e-mail: bouhasinj@stlouiscity.com.

Introduction

There has been considerable local interest in the tragic death of Susie Stephens who was known personally to several individuals who are active cycling advocates. I don’t believe I ever met Susie but it is obvious from the various tributes posted on the web that she was a warm, outgoing, energetic person who touched many lives for the better, and her loss is deeply felt.

The purpose of this site is to provide details of what actually happened that day in the hope of helping to ensure justice prevails in what appears to have been an avoidable fatality. I would like to acknowledge help with the initial review of the scene of the crash from Mike Murray, a keen bicycling advocate and road racer, and chair of the state Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee of which I’m currently vice-chair.

My personal view is that this is not being prosecuted forcefully enough. A municipal traffic court, at which a judge deals with traffic tickets and minor traffic offenses, is not the right venue when it involves the death of a pedestrian in a crosswalk returning to a hotel and being run over from behind by a bus. City Attorney Jennifer Joyce should take a leaf out of St. Louis County Circuit Attorney Jim McCullough’s book: several years ago his office charged the driver of a motor vehicle with involuntary manslaughter after running into a cyclist from behind and killing him. There were no witnesses at the crash scene and no alcohol or drugs involved, but this charge was brought based on the material evidence at the scene. There appears to be more than enough factual evidence to bring a similar charge in this case.

Donations/Contributions in Memory of Susie Stephens

Members of the family suggest that donations be made in her name to one of the following organizations: Bicycle Alliance of Washington, Methow Conservancy, and the Thunderhead Alliance (now known as the Alliance for Biking & Walking.)

In addition, Susie Stephens’ father, Bob, has just written advising me of the establishment of The Susie J. Stephens Foundation, P.O. Box 18853, Spokane, WA 18853. Bob can be contacted at secrets@iGlide.net. [Note: This e-mail is no longer correct, as of March 17th, 2017. There is reference to a Susie Stephens Scholarship Fund here though: http://www.apbp.org/?page=Susie_Stephens]

Links to Tributes

Listed below are several organizations of which I’m aware remembering Susie. If you have a link you would like added please e-mail me.

St. Louis Critical Mass, St. Louis, MO
Methow Conservancy, Winthrop, WA
The Thunderhead Alliance, Washington, DC
Bike Belong, Washington, DC
Bicycle Alliance of Washington

[Please note that the above contains some obsolete listings, as of March 17th, 2017.]

What Happened, According To The Police Report

The police report contains the following detailed drawing of the crash site (204K), showing the probable track of the right front tire of the bus as it approached the front of the Adams Mark Hotel “consistent with tire print and roadway scrape” marks. It also identifies with a solid line “scrape mark on roadway made by victim’s metal buckle.” Where Susie came to rest is also indicated as under the rear right wheels of the bus. Finally, witness “Ortiz,” waiting in her car at the red light while the bus was turning in front of her, is also noted. susie_police_dwgPolice report drawing

Views of the crosswalk are shown below looking east down Fourth Street towards the hotel on the left. This would have been Susie’s view as she was waiting to cross back to the hotel on her return from Kinko’s where she had gone to make copies for the conference she was helping organize, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.

In the first photo both the traffic signal and pedestrian crossing signal are red. The second view shows the signals after they’ve changed to green and white respectively, indicating that both vehicles and pedestrians may cross. These lights change from stop to go simultaneously. (The south leg of The Gateway Arch is just visible on the right in this photo.) A yellow topped fire hydrant is just to the left of the ramp leading to the crosswalk.

4th_stop_xwalk_E1ai

Left turn signal and ped. signal both red at 4th St. xwalk

4th_go_xwalkcar_E1a

Left-turn signal green and ped. xg. signal simultaneously white

The first view below is looking west from the corner of the hotel along Fourth Street. Note the taxi rank occupying the lane nearest the right hand curb on the north side of the street, which causes vehicles turning left onto Chestnut to go in a wide arc. The second view is from the corner adjoining the fire hydrant towards the front entrance of the Adams Mark Hotel which was the final destination of both the bus driver and Susie.

4th_go_xwalkcar2a_W

Looking west from corner of Adams Mark Hotel

viewtohotel0489

View from corner fire hydrant towards the front entrance of the Adams Mark Hotel

The final view below is from the front of the hotel looking southwest towards the intersection of Fourth Street and Chestnut Street and the corner from which Susie would have stepped off on her return to the hotel. In the foreground are faintly visible in the photo red marks painted on the pavement showing the location of the front wheels and axle of the bus after it had stopped.

viewfromhotel0488

Looking S-W towards the xn of Fourth St. and Chestnut St.

susieroute

Police Officer Carl Fortner of the St. Louis Police Department, assisted by P.O. Kevin Mueller, apparently prepared the Incident Report. The following summary precedes the details of the investigation into what the report describes as a case of suspected involuntary manslaughter.

SUMMARY: Victim Stephens was crossing North 4th St at Chestnut when she was struck by a charter bus, owned by the Vandalia Bus Company, that was making a left turn onto North 4th Street from Chestnut. The victim apparently was knocked to the pavement and was subsequently run over by the rear wheels of the bus.

The report contains the following account of an interview by P.O. Fortner of Michael W. Wamble, the driver of the chartered bus:

I then proceeded to interview the bus driver, Michael W., about the accident. Michael W. advised me that he is employed by the Vandalia bus line Company as a bus driver and that he has been so employed for about a year and a half. Driver, Michael W. stated that his job was to pick up and convey guests to and from the Adam’s Mark Hotel to the America’s Convention Center where a convention was being held.

Michael W. stated he was returning to the Adam’s Mark Hotel to pick up guests who were on their way to the Convention Center. As he approached 4th St. on Chestnut, the traffic signal turned red and he stopped at the light. His bus was in the second lane from the left at the crosswalk. Upon the traffic signal cycling to green he indicated that he looked to see if any pedestrians were crossing the street. Not seeing anyone he looked to see if the northbound 4th St. traffic had stopped at the traffic light at Chestnut.

He then proceeded in making his left turn, when the top of a persons head suddenly appeared just to the left of the front center portion of the bus, just below the bottom of the windshield. Michael W. stated that he never saw (that) the person until then and didn’t know where the pedestrian came from. Further stating the person must have been crossing the street and was so close that he was unable to stop the bus before striking the person. Michael W. couldn’t say which way the person was walking, if the person was in the crosswalk or if the person was a male or a female. [my emphasis added]

The report goes on to describe an interview with motorist Sara Ortiz who was stopped on Chestnut Street at the signal when the bus turned in front of her. The report states in part:

….she wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on around her, as she was just sitting at the light as she often does when going to work. Further that after she stopped her car she caught a glimpse of a bus coming off of Chestnut and that it appeared to be making a wide left turn onto 4th St. Ms. Ortiz further states she thought she saw a woman on the right side of the bus 10′ to 15′ from the curb by the hotel. At first she thought the lady was walking west across the street but then realized she was on the ground. Ms. ortiz states she didn’t see the bus knock the lady to the ground, but she is certain that she saw both sets of back wheels run over the lady. However, she was not certain if the pedestrian was in or near the crosswalk or which way the lady was going since she didn’t see her walking. [my emphasis added]

When asked if she saw the woman in front of the bus at anytime, she indicated that she believes the first time she saw her she was on the right side of the bus. Again indicating she wasn’t paying that close of attention to what other people were doing around her.

When asked if she heard anyone say anything immediately after the accident, she informed me she heard a middle aged white male say “I can’t believe that, I was walking right by her when it happened.” She wasn’t certain if the man meant he was walking in front or behind her or if he had just passed her. [my emphasis added]

He was described as a white male, middle aged, slightly overweight, having sandy or blonde hair and a mustache. She wasn’t sure of the clothing the man was wearing but didn’t believe he was wearing a suit or uniform.

The man mentioned by Ms. Ortiz, who was apparently walking near Susie when she was struck, has not been identified. The report mentions that the driver submitted a blood and urine sample for a substance abuse check. No signs of alcohol use by the driver were detected during his interview by police, and “his actions, speech and breath appeared normal.”

Current Status of Police Investigation

The police report was completed prior to April 1. While the police report runs to no less than 23 pages and appears to be very thorough it has a significant omission: there is no reference to a witness at the scene who was unloading a delivery vehicle in front of the Adams Mark Hotel at the time of the accident . He was not interviewed by police before the report was released but has been interviewed by the family’s attorney and could be an important witness to events surrounding the accident. It is possible that this witness’s statement will be added later. When City Conselor, Mr. John Bouhasin, was asked if the investigation was complete he responded that he could not comment, which is apparently the routine answer.

Lt. Michael Siemers (tel: 314/444-5700, e-mail: mjsiemers@slmpd.org), in the crash reconstruction department, advised me he had tried to contact the missing witness and had even provided a 24-hour beeper number, but has never received a call back. He added that his department uses the terminology “crash” rather than “accident” to describe this kind of event, even though as in this case there was no apparent damage to the bus. However, both the public and media still tend to use the latter term, which is sometimes construed to mean it was an unavoidable event.

Current Status of Charges Against Driver

St. Louis City Assistant Circuit Attorney, Mr. Robert Craddick (tel: 314/[622-4941) was good enough to provide the following information. He said he was asked by the police department to review the evidence within 24 hours of the accident, a charge of involuntary manslaughter being possible if alcohol or illegal drugs were found to be involved. The suspect agreed to a blood and urine test on the day of the accident, March 21. The police report doesn’t mention the results of those tests but it is understood they were negative and no further action was taken by Mr. Craddick.

City Counselor Mr. John Bouhasin (tel: 314/622-4566; fax: 314/613-3183; e-mail: bouhasinj@stlouiscity.com) kindly provided the following information concerning the disposition of charges against the driver:

The suspect, Michael W.Wamble, 46 years old, has been charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian and is due to appear in municipal court before a judge on May 28 at 3:00 pm. The location is courtroom 4, 2nd floor, 1430 Olive.

Mr. Wamble will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty. If he pleads not guilty there will be a trial. If he pleads guilty then the possible punishment at the judge’s discretion is $0-$500, or 0-90 days in jail, or both. Other charges could be brought but it is not clear at this time if any will be brought.

Bill Howells, vice-chair, St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation and I attended the above hearing. Also present were lawyers for the family which is considering a civil suit: Mr. Jason M. Whalen, attorney with Eisenhower & Carlson, PLLC, 1201 Pacific Avenue, Suite 1200, Tacoma, WA 98402. (tel: 253/572-4500; fax: 253/272-5732; e-mail: jwhalen@eisenhowerlaw.com), assisted by local attorney Mr. James Dowd of Dowd & Dowd PC, Bank of America Tower, 100 N Broadway, St Louis, MO 63102 (tel: 314/621-2500; fax: ; e-mail: jdowd@dowdlaw.net).

Covering the hearing from the media were reporter Mr. Tim Bryant from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (tel: , and reporter Mr. Mike O’Connell from CBS-KMOV Channel 4 News (tel: 314/444-6353; fax: 314/621-4775; e-mail: moconnell@kmov.com).

Surprisingly, the defendant was not present, and his attorney admitted he had not read the police report yet. Despite that the defendant’s attorney said his client would plead not guilty since there were no witnesses, a statement disputed by both the family’s civil attorney and the facts in the police report. The upshot was that a “continuance” was obtained, i.e. the hearing was postponed until Thursday, July 18 at the same time and venue.

What Can YOU Do?

If you feel the driver deserved a more serious citation, e.g. for assault or involuntary manslaughter, call, write or fax Ms. Jennifer Joyce, St. Louis City Circuit Attorney, tel: 314/622-4941; fax: 314/622-3369; 1320 Market St Room 330, St. Louis, MO 63103. Send a copy of your correspondence to the St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation

(Note: I have found Ms. Joyce elusive, having left repeated messages with her office which have gone unanswered, so you may find a written communication more effective.) [After I wrote this a contingent of us from the then St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation met with Ms. Joyce, who stepped down St. Louis Circuit Attorney at the end of 2016.]

On May 15, 2002, The Riverfront Times published a good article by William Stage which can be viewed on the web titled “One False Move.” Write a Letter to the Editor expressing your concern for the levity of the charge against the bus driver and/or other issues you feel need to be addressed. Send it to this e-mail link for feedback on this story.

If you live in the City of St. Louis contact your city alderman. Russ Willis advised me you could find e-mail addresses etc. for them on the web at [updated: http://tinyurl.com/k83ksp7 ]

Motor Vehicle Injury and Fatality Statistics for St. Louis City

The following motor vehicle accident injury and death data for the City of St. Louis were downloaded from the Missouri Department of Health’s web site at http://www.health.state.mo.us/MICA/nojava.html (MICA=Missouri Information for Community Assessment).

Motor Vehicle Traffic Injury Statistics – Motor vehicle accidents for 2000

Total number for year 2000 = 5,755; Rate per 100,000 population = 1,623.4

Pedestrian = 386 (Male = 242; Female = 144); Rate = 110.0
Bicyclist = 77 (Male = 70; Female = 7); Rate = 21.4
Motorcyclist = 67 (Male = 63; Female = 4); Rate = 19.0
Car/Truck /etc. Occupant = 4,801 (Male = 2,193; Female = 2,608); Rate = 1,352.6

Death Statistics – Motor vehicle accidents for 1998

Total number = 53; Rate per 100,000 population = 15.6

235. Motor vehicle traffic accident involving collision with train = 0
236. Motor vehicle hitting other motor vehicle or object = 25
237. Motor vehicle traffic accident involving collision with pedestrian = 13
238. Motor vehicle traffic accident involving collision with other vehicle or object = 12
239. Motor vehicle traffic accident not involving collision on highway = 2
240. Motor vehicle traffic accident of unspecified nature = 1
241. Motor vehicle nontraffic accidents = 0

N.B. #238 may include deaths resulting from motor vehicle collision with a bicycle but this is not specifically noted.

***********************************
Copyright © Martin Pion <mpion “at” sign swbell.net, Conservion, 2002
The above material may be used freely for non-commercial purposes with attribution to Martin Pion, Conservion.

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