Friday evening, around 6:30pm, a car driven by Patricia Harvey, 48, struck a bicyclist from behind causing a tragic crash on Piney Mountain Drive off of Chungs Cove Road in east Asheville. Police have indicated that the cyclist, Tami Rene Leaven, 35, died at the scene from massive head injuries.
Police say that Leaven did not have any lights on her bike, although the law does not require a bicyclist to have a light on the rear of a bicycle – only a reflector that can be seen from 200 feet behind. Most bicycles are sold with a reflector that satisfies state law in this regard. Police have not said whether the bike ridden by Leaven had the required reflector. A police spokesperson said that the area where the collision happened on Piney Mountain Drive was a dark section of road and not well lit.
In North Carolina, the law requires motorists to see what can be seen and to keep a proper lookout. It is unclear at this time whether Leaven was visible to motorists approaching from behind or not. If the bicycle she was riding did not have the required reflector, then Harvey may not have seen her in time to avoid the collision. If the bike did have a reflector visible from the rear, then the question will be ‘why did Harvey fail to see it?’ These are questions the District Attorney’s Office must grapple with, and the DA will have to decide whether the facts justify bringing criminal charges against Harvey.
Officials have also stated that Leaven was not wearing a bicycle helmet at the time of the crash. Most of the media who have reported on this collision have made this a central point of their report. But whether Leaven had on a helmet or not seems immaterial at this point. State law does not require cyclists over the age of 16 to wear a helmet.
The helmet issue would only be relevant if Leaven’s estate brought a civil suit for wrongful death. If that happened, then Harvey’s insurance carrier would certainly raise the issue and allege that Leaven was guilty of contributory negligence herself in failing to wear a helmet. This would not pertinent to the cause of the crash, but rather to whether Leaven failed to reasonably mitigate her damages by not wearing a helmet. In other words, whether a helmet would have more likely than not saved her life.
Leaven’s family and friends have noted that she was an exceptionally kind and caring soul. May she rest in peace and may Ms. Harvey find peace as well. This is certainly a tragedy for two families.