On Wednesday, Nov. 11th, my friend Zachary James Harris was struck by a car while riding his bicycle along Hwy 167 in Jackson Parish. He passed from this world the next day at 8:56 pm. In the following days it was widely reported in the area that he, for reasons that were under investigation, had left the relative safety of the highway’s shoulder and swerved into the active lane where the accident occurred. On Thursday, Nov. 19, the police formally concluded their investigation, stating that Zach was at fault for the accident that took his life. For this to be correct, we have to assume at least three things to be true: 1) An experienced cyclist entered the flow of traffic without checking his surroundings, or, rather, chose to swerve into traffic instead of away from it; 2) The evidence at the scene and the nature of his injuries clearly demonstrate that he put himself at risk; and 3) A disinterested party was the source of this story.
I see no reason to address point no. 1 above, as it is illogical. I suppose it is possible, but unlikely. Additionally, we know that Zach purposely avoided riding on the shoulder as he knew the rumble strip could potentially damage his bicycle and negatively affect his balance. He rode in the lane, and it was within his rights to do so. By Louisiana law, cyclists are to be given no less than three feet of space. Often people change lanes entirely for parked vehicles, emergency or otherwise. Cyclists should be given this courtesy, if possible.
Regarding the evidence at the scene and the injuries sustained, it is doubtful that they can be used to say he was definitively at fault. There appears to be no evidence that the driver attempted to slow down or swerve away prior to the collision. There were no traumatic lower limb injuries that would point to him being hit in any way other than directly from behind. The bicycle, its rear light still flashing after the accident, sustained minimal damage from the impact aside from the rear wheel and that portion of the frame being crushed. The skid mark his rear wheel made from the impact was straight.
The story of Zach unexpectedly swerving into the active lane from the shoulder was told by the person who hit him. I can’t think of any circumstance in which a person in that position would be considered credible. I do not mean to allege that this person lied to police; I point this out only because it seems unusual given the circumstances. There is another claim that someone saw him move into the lane in their rearview mirror prior to being hit. However, given Zach’s low estimated speed in relation to the person who had already passed and then glanced back, this statement warrants additional scrutiny as increasing distance and distraction by the road ahead would need to be addressed.
As a friend who should have been a groomsman for the deceased on Saturday. Nov. 21st instead of a pallbearer on Wednesday, Nov. 18th, I understand that I can hardly be considered a neutral party in relation to this event. Those of us in mourning naturally want justice. But what constitutes justice in the wake of such devastating tragedy? No monetary compensation nor any outcome of criminal prosecution will replace what we’ve lost. My hope is that, in raising awareness of this event, people will make an effort to be both more courteous and alert drivers and more loving friends and family members. It’s up to us to make our fleeting physical existence into what we want it to be. Tell your friends and family that you love them. Don’t wait to be a good friend and person, do it now.
Thaddeus J. Light