Aaron Fine and Rosie Shatz

Crash scene

UPDATE June 27, 2008: Aaron Fine was sentenced to two years, but only two months in prison, followed by a suspended sentence for six years with supervised probation, including these special conditions: mental health counseling, abstaining from driving for four months, 600 hours of community service, and no contact with the Shatz family.

UPDATE: David Traub, Press Officer for the Norfolk District Attorney’s office, has explained that the basic facts initially reported were incorrect. The bicyclist was not riding against traffic.  She was turning into her driveway. Her bicycle hit the truck between a 45 and 90 degree angle.  There were no surviving witnesses to the collision other than the truck driver, who did not testify. The judge convicted Fine of Negligent Operation because he was operating without the proper license; the truck had safety defects; and the truck was overloaded. He wrote, “The statute is violated whether or not the negligent operation actually causes harm.” The judge also added, in a footnote, “The Court might subject vehicle speed and manner of approaching and passing a child on a bicycle to criticism, but only in hindsight and hence these are not part of the litany of faults.” The judge acquitted on the charge of negligent homicide, saying that he found it “more probable than not that the negligent conduct described above was the legal cause of the egregious harm suffered in the accident” — but not “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The investigation apparently did not look into violations of traffic law committed by the bicyclist, nor did the judge comment on any possible violations. We are interested not in who is to blame for this crash, but how such events can be prevented. The case was not one of “fast motorist runs into slow bicyclists from behind” — the scenario that generally comes to mind when the average person reads about a car hitting a bike. The bicyclist was making a left turn. Any person operating a motor vehicle or bicycle is required to give a signal before “making any turning movement which would affect the operation of any other vehicle” (MGL Ch. 90 Sec. 14B). We don’t know if the bicyclist made such a signal, or looked behind to see if faster traffic was approaching. We do know, however, that the truck driver acted as if the bicyclist was not intending to turn. To be safe all bicyclists must look behind before changing positions on the road, and then must either wait until it is safe to move.

This is the original post:

The trial of Aaron Fine starts tomorrow. Fine is a 34 year old police officer who drove a landscaping truck into a 10-year-old girl riding a bicycle in Foxboro, Mass, USA. He faces charges of motor vehicle homicide, operating a motor vehicle without a license, failure to safely pass a bicyclist and operating at an unsafe speed, and could be sent to prison for 2 and 1/2 years. He has been on unpaid leave from the Mansfield Police Department, pending the outcome of the trial, probably since the crash occurred on December 2, 2006.

That day 10-year-old Rosie Shatz rode her bike from her house to a nearby barn to get hay for her class’s pet guinea pig. A follow-up story after the initial press reports mentioned that the Foxboro Chief of Police “indicated that Rose was riding her bike against the flow of traffic.” Update: this statement turns out to be incorrect.

If these facts are correct, wrong-way riding was the direct cause of this crash. Fine did not have the proper license for the truck he was driving. But I don’t see how this is relevant, given that he did what a reasonable person might well do when confronted with a wrong-way cyclist on a narrow road: move left to let her pass. So why was he charged with “failure to safely pass a bicyclist”? Why was he charged with speeding, given that the Foxboro Police Chief told the press that “He was going less than the speed limit”?

If convicted, Fine could be sent to prison, and probably would never be able to work as a police officer again. This seems to me a gross miscarriage of justice (again, unless there are other relevant facts that have not been reported in the press).

Yes, Rosie Shatz’s death was tragic, and yes, she is a victim. But it was tragic because it was avoidable–by simply sticking to the right side of the road. And she is a victim, because in all likelihood she had ridden on the wrong side before, and probably no police officer (or anyone else) told her to do otherwise. I would not be surprised if there are parents and teachers who even today tell children to ride on the wrong (left) side of the road. The best way we can honor this tragic loss of someone so young is to prevent future tragedies, and the way we can do that is to get police officers to enforce the rules of the road, even for bicyclists, and, yes, even for children.

10 Responses to “Aaron Fine and Rosie Shatz

  • As the crash was described in the media and as photos suggest, Rosie Shatz’s swerving out into the road caused the crash. If she had stayed at the side of the road, even though she was riding on the left side, Fine would have passed her safely.

    That is, to be sure, assuming that the description of the crash is accurate. The lateral position of the point of impact on the roadway is the crucial issue. Perhaps the police report casts further light on this issue.
    Unfortunately, we can never hear Shatz’s description of what she did, or why.

  • SiteAdmin
    9 years ago

    Presumably she moved right because she thought it was the best way to avoid the crash. Neither would have moved at all if she had been on the right side (it was a narrow road, but with plenty of room for a truck and bicycle to pass in opposite directions on opposite sides of the road). No matter what you call the “cause” of the crash, it does not seem to be Officer Fine’s negligence.

  • patsy
    9 years ago

    a ten year old child in a panic situation. could the driver possibly also have slowed down to a near stop, or stopped to let the child pass.

  • SiteAdmin
    9 years ago

    In reply to Patsy:
    It is very unlikely the driver could have stopped in time. Let’s assume he was going 30 mph and the bicyclist was going 10 mph. So they were closing at 40 mph. That’s one of the problems with wrong-way riding: the closing speed is the sum of the two speeds, rather than the difference.
    In addition, it looks from the photo that there may have a been a bend in the road at that spot that may have limited the truck driver’s visibility.

  • I am the press officer for the Norfolk District Attorney’s Office, the agency that prosecuted this case.
    Your analysis here is based on incorrect initial press statements. The State Police collision reconstruction specialist showed conclusively that the truck and the bicycle were traveling in the same direction. Additionally, the truck was overloaded by several thousand pounds, decreasing the effectiveness of the brakes. And the driver was driving the truck, which required a commercial driver’s license, despite having failed the test for that license. Mr. Fine opted for a bench trial (before a judge without a jury) and was found guilty of negligent operation of a motor vehicle and driving without a license. He is due back in Norfolk Superior Court for sentencing June 25.
    Best regards,
    David Traub

  • I’m not sure how folks may speculate such about the young girl being in the wrong when you read the following, “He faces charges of motor vehicle homicide, operating a motor vehicle without a license, failure to safely pass a bicyclist and operating at an unsafe speed”.

  • Beth Martinez
    8 years ago

    She was TEN. It’s up to drivers to be cautious and not fly around corners on populated streets in gigantic trucks. Especially without the proper license. And drivers are expected to slow down around children. She was TEN.

    The guy was a POLICE OFFICER and should have known better.

    Let me restate. She was TEN. He was speeding. Who cares what side of the road she was on. Her father held her while she died.

  • He WAS NOT speeding. Please do not post false information.

  • karyn
    8 years ago

    First of all the little girl was only ten and did not know any better i knew he personally! she was a sweetheart! secondly i know many people who know the man who hit her and regaurdless of what happened tha day he suffers enough and everyone needs to sto judging him. how you feel if you were in either of the positions… it could happen to anyone. leave your opinions to yourself because you dont know who is reading this.. people love rossie and people love Aaron and neither one of their families should have to read your crude comments!!

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