A costly punch
November 11, 2005
VAIL – Not many cases of motorist versus cyclist make it to court. But not many end in a woman getting punched in the face.David Matthews of Black Forest pleaded guilty Monday to assault and battery in a July 9 incident that occurred in East Vail during the Triple Bypass bicycle race from Evergreen to Avon. Zaske was coming down Vail Pass into East Vail as it was raining around 6 p.m. on July 9, and was riding on Big Horn Road going about 35 mph when Matthews pulled up next to her in his Lexus SUV.”I was staying very close to the white line, but I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to be crossing in and out of it because it was slick,” Zaske said. “He came up behind me with his vehicle. He honked his horn. He slowed down and stayed right at my side. He made three distinct movements, closer to me and closer to me. I was doing what I could to slow down and stay away from that line and not crash.”Matthews continued after Zaske slowed down, and she saw his car pull a U-turn down the road and park in a dirt lot facing the oncoming cyclists. She rode up to his car and motioned for him to roll down his window. When he did, she began telling him how dangerous his actions were.”I probably got four words out, when he blew up at me and started yelling,” she said.A short screaming match ensued, and when Zaske went to leave, Matthews grabbed her jacket with one hand and punched her in the jaw with the other. Matthews then drove away to a party he was attending in East Vail with his mother and two boys – 12 and 9 – who were also in the car. Zaske called the police, who found his vehicle shortly thereafter and arrested him.Zaske had been riding for 12 hours in what was her third Triple Bypass. A long-time cyclist, she does several charity races and rides. While occasionally having people yell out their car windows and honk, she had never had a problem sharing the road with motorists until her encounter with Matthews.
“I know there are some gonzo cyclists out there who ride three or four-abreast. I’m not one of those,” she said. “It’s too bad there are these people who just perpetuate the conflict and the stereotype.”Sorry for the hitMatthews expressed remorse in the Vail Municipal Court on Monday.”I knew instantaneously,” he said. “My son came and said, ‘Daddy, there are some police outside looking for you.’ I knew I acted poorly. I deeply apologize.”Zaske said that she was told it would be difficult to charge Matthews with reckless driving because it would be difficult to prove, thus, she and Vail city attorney John Clune compiled a plea bargain for Matthews, wherein he agreed to work alongside the Vail Police Department doing traffic control for the Courage Classic cycling event in 2006 as well as donate $250 to the event, which is a fundraiser for Children’s Hospital in Denver. Matthews was also required to write a Letter to the Editor apologizing for his behavior and wrote an apology letter to Zaske as well.Judge Buck Allen asked Zaske, who broke down during Monday’s sentencing as she spoke about how afraid she was for her life when Matthews was driving so close to her, for her input as to whether or not she wanted to see him go to jail. Zaske left the decision up to Allen’s discretion. “When you’re passing a cyclist on the road, every bit of common sense in the world tells you to give them a wide berth,” Allen told Matthews in court Monday. “When the weather is bad, you give them a wider berth. If you run over a bicyclist, you have to clean up a mess. The bicyclist is either maimed or dead.”
Matthews said that he was under a great deal of stress at the time, having just made a decision to take his ailing father off of life support. His attorney Paul Dunkelman pointed out that the entire incident could be, from Matthews’ end of things, assessed as “a breakdown of common sense.””In addition to the plea bargain agreement, Allen sentenced Matthews to 18 sessions of counseling and a fine of $1,305, $120 of which is restitution for Zaske’s medical expenses, which included a visit to the dentist for her swollen jaw and sleeping pills.”Every time I’d lay down to sleep, my pulse would race,” Zaske said. “My mind would replay the incident.”The bigger issueZaske said that being punched was traumatizing, but more traumatizing was what might have resulted from Matthews’ actions in his car while she was riding her bike, which, she said, is the larger issue.Clune said that his report showed that during Matthews’ booking he made a comment to the attending police officer to the effect of “Hasn’t a cyclist ever done anything to make you mad?””There seems to be a growing issue of animosity between a small group of cyclists and a small group of motorists,” Clune said, adding that when the case first presented itself, there was no question that it should call for jail time, but now that the sentencing process has started, the trauma of the event has subsided through time.
Matthews never admitted that he deliberately tried to steer Zaske off the road in his car.”I agree that we all have to share the roads,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that. I had no intentions of running anyone off the road. I’m not that type of person. I was just a little beside myself. I would never want to see you (Zaske) or anyone else hurt.”Matthews also pointed out that before Monday, he had never been to court.”I doubt it was accidental,” Allen said of the driving incident. “A Lexus SUV is a big, heavy truck. Any time you have car vs. bike, the bike never wins.”Allen also said he wasn’t entirely convinced by Matthews’ story that he had stopped down the road so his mother could make a phone call.”That’s one explanation,” Allen said. “There are certainly darker explanations.”At the end of the sentencing Allen told Matthews that he came very close to being sent to jail. Matthews said, “I’ve learned my lesson,” but declined to comment further to the Vail Daily. Zaske said while she was pleased that it was over and she was pleased that the judge understood the gravity of the motorist vs. cyclist aspect of the case, she wondered if a few days in jail, or a sentence wherein Matthews would have to spend several hours on a bicycle sharing the road with motorists, wouldn’t have been an additional learning tool.”He still kind of denies that it was an intentional portion on the bike,” she said. “But it wasn’t my place to say he needs to go to jail. I was happy to see the turn of the focus to the bicycling portion, which is what I’ve been saying the whole time. I’m glad it’s over.”Shauna Farnell’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org