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Claude Wyle
Claude Wyle
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Novato Girl Killed in Bicycle Crash Will Be Remembered and Instigate Change in Roadway Safety

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Participants in the Hailey Ratliff Memorial Walk make their way down Novato Blvd. during a three-mile walk in Novato, Calif. on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012. Hailey was a 12-year-old seventh-grade student at Sinaloa Middle School who died after she was struck by an SUV while riding her bicycle in Novato in September. (IJ photo/Alan Dep)The investigation into this bicycle fatality has been completed and I again offer our condolences to Hailey Ratliff's family. I reported on this incident involving a 12-year-old girl killed in Novato bicycle crash on September 27, 2012 because it affected so many and I feel that it could have been prevented. I wish to promote safer bicycling conditions for all citizens, especially the youth.

My sympathy remains for Hailey's family. Her death will be remembered by people in Marin county, and new enacted following this tragedy may help prevent similar bicycle deaths.

Although I had commended the authorities in this case for performing what I thought to be a thorough and fair investigation into Hailey's death, the Ratcliff's attorney has uncovered some new information which conflicts with police findings. The Ratcliff's have, in fact, decided to sue the city of Novato due to the dangerous condition of the roadway which may have contributed to their daughter's tragic death.

The City of Novato's investigation included witness interviews, skid analyses, toxicology tests and accident reconstruction, and it concluded that the accident occurred because Hailey entered a roadway without yielding the right of way to an approaching vehicle while riding on Novato Blvd near San Marin Dr.

The Ratcliff's attorney maintains to the contrary:

  • the city abdicated its responsibility to trim overgrowth of vegetation along that stretch of Novato Boulevard, obscuring speed limit signage and pedestrian crossings. There is no crosswalk in the 45 mph area where Hailey was struck.
  • neighborhood residents and the Ratliffs raised concerns about the speeds achieved by motorists as they come into Novato from a rural area into the city limits near where the accident took place.
  • the driver, Texas resident Samuel Lee Boulware Jr., was speeding and inattentive behind the wheel. Boulware's negligence and the dangerous road conditions were "substantial factors in causing this collision." By the police department's own calculations, the driver was in excess of the speed limit and in excess of the 85th percentile of motorists traveling on that stretch of the roadway
  • the police report, which was not released to the media as per California vehicle code, had additional information that favors the family's stance.
  • There has really been a concerted effort to present limited information, borne out of fear of what might happen to them down the line.

The City's investigation has been forwarded to District Attorney Ed Berberian for review. It is my hope that all of the factual information, including any truths found by the family's attorney, are incorporated into the D.A.'s review.

People of Novato, especially its children, deserve better than what happened to Hailey. They deserve the truth and deserve a safer roadway for cars, bicycles and pedestrians. It is my hope that this bicycle crash will instigate change in roadway safety for not only this particular section of roadway, but throughout Marin county.

I have represented the family of a young boy who was killed on his bicycle by a bus driver making a right turn, when six police officers all testified that the accident was the little boy’s fault. Only after careful reconstruction of the accident were we able to learn that truly it was the bus driver’s fault. In my case, it seemed like no one would step up for this family. Sometimes it takes a good lawyer to sort it out, and I wish Hailey’s family and their attorney the best of luck.

I know that some may fault the family of this bicyclist for suing the City of Novato. Please remember that many factors can contribute to causing a tragedy, including bicyclist mistake but also a dangerous intersection with bad sight lines and perhaps a driver who was not paying as close attention as he should have. This tragic event will continue to be reminder to all how important bicycle and automobile safety is, and that roadway safety is a common responsibility among all who share our roads.

Hello, I'm Claude Wyle and I have spent three decades representing bicyclists harmed by motorvehicles. Have an idea for a topic you'd like to see covered here? Feel free to contact me: cwyle@ccwlawyers.com or visit www.ccwlawyers.com,

About the author: Claude Wyle is an aggressive advocate for San Francisco Bay Area bicyclists and a specialist in claims involving dangerous roadways. Claude has decades of experience representing those harmed by the wrongful conduct of others, and, as a San Francisco personal injury attorney, has fought to protect the rights of injured adults and children throughout his legal career. This blog is not an attempt to solicit.