“While crossing John Nolen Drive against a red light, police said, Heninger collided with a truck and later died.” This false story appeared on the front page of our local paper on 10/29/2022. It fit the narrative that bicyclists are scofflaws and, when they are killed, they get what’s coming to them. [Okay, the story isn’t false. It is what the police said. It’s the narrative that is false, as you’ll see below.]
Nearly six months later, on page three of the same paper, the following headline appeared: “Driver charged in crash“. Evidence now reported indicates: 1) the driver was using a cell phone at the time of the crash; 2) he was traveling at 60 mph in a 35 mph zone; 3) he ran a red light.
The good news is the driver is now being charged with “homicide by negligent driving” [WI Statute Sec. 940.10] and “second-degree recklessly endangering safety” [Sec. 941.30]. The statute states, “Whoever recklessly endangers another’s safety is guilty of a Class G felony.” First degree requires “utter disregard for human life”. I guess killing people does “endanger [their] safety” but apparently doesn’t show “utter disregard” for that life when you run a red light at 60 mph. The negligent driving statute has been invoked (per case law cited in the statute) when someone ran a light at below the posted speed limit.
The bad news is that a person is dead. While it is heartening that the alleged killer is being charged, it seems to this writer that running a red light at nearly double the speed limit creates “an objectively unreasonable and substantial risk” and that adults driving cars should possess a “subjective awareness of that risk” if we allow them to drive. [See below.]
Both charges are Class G felonies, punishable by “a fine not to exceed $25,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 10 years, or both.” He wasn’t charged with “reckless homicide”. “The second-degree reckless homicide statute requires both the creation of an objectively unreasonable and substantial risk of human death or great bodily harm and the actor’s subjective awareness of that risk.” [Sec. 940.06] If you add “utter disregard for human life” it becomes first degree. “Whoever recklessly causes the death of another human being under circumstances which show utter disregard for human life is guilty of a Class B felony.” [Sec 940.02] “For a Class B felony, imprisonment not to exceed 60 years.” [Sec 939.50]
I’m not saying that ten years is nothing. I am saying that the crime here is killing someone, not just “endangering safety” and that the driving wasn’t merely “negligent” but did, according to current evidence, demonstrate “an objectively unreasonable and substantial risk” and that a motor vehicle operator ought to have “a subjective awareness of that risk” when running a red light at 60 mph in a 35 mph zone while manipulating a cell phone. The punishment should fit the crime. At the very least, the charge ought to.
The bad news is that it took six months for this to come to light. The good news is that it indicates the police did not simply disregard the bicyclist (though they did so initially) and did complete an investigation which led to a decision directly contradictory to their initial conclusion.
Meanwhile, the narrative of the careless bicyclist who disregards his own safety and makes a poor driver suffer with the guilt of accidentally killing him is reinforced. That the bicyclist was at fault was front page news. That he was murdered with a 2 ton weapon was not.