“There’s more of an understanding that bicyclists aren’t just some fringe element out on the roads,” Watson said. “They are people trying to get from one place to another, just like everybody else.”
The problem, bike advocates say, is that most people, and most jurors, just don’t like bikes.
Jurors are much more likely to empathize with motorists than with bicyclists, said Andrew Fischer, a Boston-based bicycle attorney, especially as the percentage of Massachusetts residents who regularly ride bikes still flutters in the single digits.
“This [Wellesley case] just reveals the prejudice there is in the general population against bicyclists,” Fischer said. “I’ve seen it in jury pools. It’s very difficult for a bicyclist who’s been in an accident with a motorist to get a fair jury.”
According to Chief Terrence Cunningham of the Wellesley Police Department, Fischer is probably right.
Cunningham said that he initially felt confident the charges against the truck driver would stick, but that he grew concerned when he heard that a member of the grand jury had asked a question of a Wellesley detective that suggested the juror did not understand the truck’s obligation to yield to the bicycle.
“Personally, I don’t feel they followed the law,” Cunningham said. “But that’s the process.”
Cunningham said he often sees negative attitudes toward bicyclists among jurors, as well as in the general public — and every time a cyclist runs a red light, fails to signal in front of traffic, or rides four- or five-abreast, preventing a car from passing, the act confirms motorists’ belief that bicyclists should not be in the road, he said.
Cunningham said he was disappointed by the outcome of the Wellesley case, especially because he had worked so hard to convince Motsenigos’s family, along with the cycling community, that he was passionate about bringing the driver to justice. His officers spent months investigating, interviewing witnesses, and conducting forensic testing.
He said he had received a slew of e-mails from bicyclists — including “some e-mails that were less than affectionate,” he recalled — that conveyed fears the police would brush aside the case.
“I think a lot of them are just frustrated, and they believe that too many of these instances don’t get thoroughly investigated,” Cunningham said. “I’ve gone over the case over and over again, and I can’t think of anything we could have done different or better.”
Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey said his office was aware that he faced “two competing principles” in the grand jury investigation: Which would jurors dislike more, trucks or bicycles?
He warned against speculating on the grand jury’s decision. Still, he said, he cannot help but share in the cyclists’ frustrations.
“I think this is an interesting problem insofar as I think there is a little bit of a bias against bicycle riders,” said Morrissey, an occasional cyclist himself. “Whether their own bias took over here, we’ll never know.”
Pete Stidman, director of the Boston Cyclists Union, said he hoped that the Wellesley case would bring more attention to bike safety and the need for drivers to be careful around bikes, even if no criminal charges came out of the grand jury investigation.
“I’m hopeful that our elected officials, our transportation officials, our courts and police, and the whole system are going to start paying attention to these kinds of crashes,” said Stidman. “As we get more people riding on the road . . . it’s going to get harder and harder to ignore these crashes as our constituency grows.”
The case, Watson said, demonstrates the importance of community-wide campaigns to raise awareness of bike safety and show cyclists can safely share roads with other vehicles.
“It’s part of a larger culture change that needs to happen,” Watson said. “Until then, we’re still going to see a reluctance in the minds of many average citizens to hold people criminally accountable in incidents like this.”
Fischer, the bike lawyer, said he was encouraged that the police went so far in attempting to prosecute the driver. Perhaps that is the sign of a turning point, he said.
“Now there’s a prosecutor who’s willing to make the effort, and I’m pleased to see that,” Fischer said. “Maybe it’s not enough of a step, but it’s a step forward when a prosecutor doesn’t have to be convinced or persuaded or pressured by the bicycle community to do something.”
“For what it’s worth,” he continued, “that’s progress.”