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Ask Our Lawyer - January 2012

New York Motorcycle Stops - We Were Done In By A Cop Getting A Government Grant For His Master’s Degree. Is His Ph.D. Next?

I have written a couple of times about the motorcycle-only checkpoints that have been springing-up around the country. Motorcyclists have not taken it lying down. Suit was filed in a New York federal court, asserting that the stops were unconstitutional and demanding that the state stop using them. The first round in a longer struggle has concluded in New York, with the Federal Court there finding that the stops did not violate the rights of motorcyclists. If you read the decision, you will discover something very interesting starting on page three. The judge noted that, “As part of his Master’s course work at the State University of New York at Albany, Defendant Lt. James Halversen, the commanding officer of the New York State Police Motorcycle Unit, wrote a thesis on the increasing rate of motorcycle fatalities for riders over forty-years old. With the help of Defendant Lt. Daniel Larkin, Halversen submitted a grant application to the GTSC in 2007 to fund the checkpoints. The GTSC, which is chaired by Defendant David J. Swarts, approved the application and funded the initiative with federal grant money “provided by NHTSA and [Federal Highway Administration (“FHA”)].” What the Court failed to note was that the primary cause of death in that age group was speed and alcohol usually involving other drivers.

I find it hard to stomach that motorcyclists were done in by a government funded thesis for a Masters Degree. And that, my friends, is why New York is where it is regarding illegal stops of motorcyclists. If only Officer Halversen had applied for a grant to be used for enforcing alcohol and speeding laws regarding the general driving public, wouldn’t that have been a better use of taxpayer funds? Now, instead of enforcing alcohol and speeding laws which really saves lives, we have cops all over New York pulling us over on our time off and looking at our helmet stickers. Thank God Officer Halversen didn’t request money to study the elimination of motorcycles in general. Who knows where that would have gone? With that kind of thinking, can anybody doubt that ABATE and the MRF are needed now more than ever? Let’s hope the officer gets his degree sooner than later as we can’t afford anymore education disguised intrusion on our constitutional rights.

She Fought The Law And She Won - Lawyering Drone Style

ABATE member Benitta Yearton and her daughter Rene (16) are fighters and they know their rights. When Renee was given a bogus ticket by Hebron’s best, every bit of their “fight city hall” exploded all over the face of the arresting police officer. Here is what happened and how we became involved.

Benitta called us knowing that we do not do traffic tickets, but we were her last great hope. And her question was a good one: “should you pay a traffic ticket that was issued without evidence to back it up?” The answer in a perfect world is never, but in today’s economy, there is not a lot of money for traffic ticket lawyers, especially for the type that would just plead her to a lesser offense and a lighter fine. And who has time to fight city hall?

So what to do when you didn’t do it? Here is the plan that Benitta and I hatched. I would advise her along the way and she and her daughter should go to court and do battle. You know “millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.” The Yeartons would actually be their own lawyers for a day. With my cell number and me on stand-by, it was like a remote controlled drone situation.

Here are the facts: Rene, age 16, has a perfect, but short driving record. That is until now when “Officer Misguided” appeared. When the traffic citation was issued, the arresting officer advised that he had “heard” that Rene was speeding two days before. The officer was not a witness to anything, and had only been given a report by a crossing guard. The crossing guard could not identify Rene as the driver of offending vehicle and did not get a plate number. Rene drives a Chevolet Blazer S-10. I wonder how many of those there are in Hebron?

Day of trial. When he heard the Yeartons weren’t going down easy, the prosecutor scurried out into the hall to talk plea bargain with Benitta and Rena. He offered a reduced $50 fine and 100 days of court supervision. Stunned at the rejection of his “deal,” the prosecutor mumbled to himself all the way back into the court room saying he could not believe we were turning down such a good deal.

State’s first witness was the errant officer. That was easy. He did not see or hear anything, wasn’t there and couldn’t prove anything. He just took the word of the crossing guard. Can anyone say “hearsay?” Next witness, the crossing guard, who testified that a Chevrolet Blazer that looked like Renee’s was speeding, but astonishingly, could not testify to anything else. Are you wondering how the case got this far? So were we and so did the Judge. After ruling in favor of Rene and against the State, he complimented Rene’s handling of the court proceeding and her mother’s support - remember, Rene is only 16. Of course, I was proudly stashed in my office and satisfied with the thought that our system works “most” of the time. As we all know, “most” is a lawyer hedge word.

P.S. Rene plans to be a teacher. I bet she will have a great story to tell her future students about the time she tried her own case at age 16-and won. I think maybe our system won too.

Yellowstone, U.S. 14, And The Big Horn Mountains

The Road To Paradise - Ride It Before You Die

While out in Sturgis, I had the chance to ride Yellowstone and took U.S. 14 to get there. That road was built in 1926 to get the hordes of Ford Model A’s there in good style. It goes from Chicago and follows I-90. I call it the road to paradise. If it ever had an Indian name, that has to be it.

I used to suffer under the illusion that all U.S. highways could have no more than an 8% grade. Not so! If you want a riding experience that will test your skills, ride U.S. 14 into Yellowstone. Coming from the East, cut through Sheridan, Wyoming and head to Burgess Junction. A few miles out of the Junction, you will be treated to some of the best riding and scenery God ever made as you are smack dab in the center of the Big Horn Mountains. Once you get to the top and start the down-hill slide, stop at the only rest area on the way down and take a moment to collect your skills - you will need it as old U.S. 14 gets narrower and the switchbacks get scarier. Some folks say that the Big Horn Basin was possibly the site of the greatest mammal explosion the world has ever seen. This is riding with knowledge, folks.

As you shoot into Cody on the way to Yellowstone, there are beaucoup campsites that are reasonable and fit the bill for bikers. If you like guns, take in Buffalo Bill’s Museum. And if you don’t take in the Cody rodeo. People from all over the world flock to see this All-American experience. Sitting behind us were Germans, to our left - French, and to our right were a bunch of Scandinavians. The world comes to see us there as this event underscores our American image. But if anyone would have yelled “fire” few would have understood.

As you come out of the rodeo, hang a right. It takes you straight to the Yellowstone gate. What will strike you is the size of the park. It is at least 60x70 miles so calling it a “park” is misleading as it is bigger than some states. Call ahead for campsites (I was not so smart) and live in paradise. You can be just like Jim Bridger, Kit Carson and Jeremiah Johnson for at least one night.

You can’t get enough of “Old Faithful.” It is more impressive than I imagined. Some say that it is part of a super volcano that it will erupt like no other volcano has in the last few million years. When it does, they claim that ash from the volcano will go all the way to Delaware Street in Indianapolis. But don’t fret, as that is not supposed to happen for a few more million. As you leave paradise, you are joining the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and just about anybody that was somebody in the world. And they and you will say that there is no other place like it. Do it and do it again, before you die.

Slipping Away

Q: I’m very frustrated and don’t know where to turn. Illinois Central College in Peoria recently repainted some of the road markings, including direction arrows and stop bars. As part of the painting process, the painter spread glass reflective beads in the wet paint. Apparently, the beads make the paint reflective. As I entered one of the parking lots, my back tire slipped on the painted surface and I went down and was pinned under my Sportster. I broke my right ankle and a had a class three sprain in my right knee and had a possible rotor cuff tear in my left shoulder. Have you have heard of similar accidents like this and is there is anything that can be done to stop this procedure of putting glass beads in the painted surfaces of roadways? It is slippery to walk on and motorcycle tires lose traction on this type of surface. Jim Miller, Tazwell County Illinois, ABATE MEMBER.

A: There isn’t much literature out there on the effect of these types of painting methods on motorcycle traction. Tales told among motorcyclists have long cautioned that riding across painted areas is dangerous, and the advent of thermoplastic road decals have proven the collective wisdom of motorcyclists over and over. I suspect that the same applies to the use of reflective glass beads in paint. Since the use of such paint procedures is approved by national transportation officials, if not encouraged, it will be difficult to get their use stopped. Which means ABATE LEGAL needs to get involved on this one. Once again, the legitimate concerns of motorcycles gets short shrift from the powers that be. Probably our best course of action would be to increase our education and outreach efforts so that riders understand the risks of these painting techniques. In the meantime, keep sending those RoadHazard reports in and we will continue to notify the appropriate officials about our concerns. We will ask Wolf Technical if they will provide some needed expertise on the coefficient of friction regarding the glass beads and will supplement this report.

ABATE, though many know it not, is one of the greatest rights organizations ever;
but what it reaches for by far exceeds what it has achieved,
and what it has achieved is magnificent.

Remember, injured ABATE members pay only 28 ½% of total recovery and expenses as approved by client, consistent with and conforming to applicable state law. Elsewhere, you may pay 33 ⅓%, 40% or even 50% of your recovery. And, ABATE members are not charged for recovery of damage to your motorcycle, and have access to a 24-hour toll-free telephone number.

Call us at (800) 25-RIDER