A West Liberty man was charged with vehicular homicide by reckless driving this week, stemming from a crash last summer that killed an eastern Iowa cyclist.
Muscatine County prosecutors say Ryan Scott McKillip, 29, was passing too close and speeding when he struck Lisa Anne Kuhn, 40, of Muscatine from behind.
Kuhn, a mother of two, was taking part in the Pedaling for Pancreatic Cancer fundraiser when the crash happened.
Reckless driving is a rare charge in Iowa for an automobile versus bicycle collision. A Des Moines Register investigation of 22 fatal collisions found the most common punishment for a driver was a $250 fine.
If convicted, McKillip could face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
According to the criminal complaint, McKillip was driving 10 mph over the 55 mph speed limit on the morning of June 25 when he encountered Kuhn on a rural two-lane county highway near West Liberty.
"McKillip made statements to investigators that he had seen Kuhn operating her bicycle but made no effort to slow down or move over before striking her," an Iowa State Patrol report states.
Investigators determined McKillip steered unreasonably close to Kuhn, making an unsafe pass as the two entered a no-passing zone, according to the report.
After the collision, police said McKillip drove his Pontiac Bonneville away from the scene without stopping, but he returned a short time later.
In addition to reckless driving, McKillip is charged with leaving the scene of an accident, which carries a five year maximum sentence and a $7,500 fine.
If found guilty of both charges, he would serve a minimum seven year sentence on the vehicular homicide charge before being eligible for parole, according to Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren.
Reckless driving is one of the toughest things to prove under Iowa law, said Pete Grady, a former attorney at the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. But it’s one of the few ways prosecutors can secure a vehicular homicide indictment that might result in more serious punishment.
"There’s no set formula as to what conduct rises to the level of reckless driving," Ostergren said. "There are appellate court cases which hold that merely committing violation of rules of the road is not enough."
Ostergren said a combination of factors led to him pursue a reckless driving charge in this case: McKillip was speeding and he saw the bicyclist before the collision, but he didn't slow down or move over, he said.
McKillip was booked into the Muscatine County Jail on Tuesday, but released on his own recognizance the same day. A call to his attorney was not returned Friday.
Bicycling advocates say a lack of harsher punishments for drivers involved in crashes with cyclists makes them feel like targets on the state’s streets and roads.
But legislators have been reluctant to make changes. A bill requiring motorists to switch lanes when passing a bicyclist failed in the Legislature last year and appears to have little chance of advancing again this session.
The bill, which also requires cyclists to use a rear light from sunset to sunrise, advanced to the Iowa House for floor debate, but it stalled after state Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, filed an amendment that would require riders to wear neon colors over 50 percent of their torso while on roads with a speed limit of 45 mph or higher.
Mark Wyatt, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, likened the amendment to requiring all cars on the road be a specific color. The move would be unprecedented by any other state, he said.
'With crashes like Grace Harken and Lisa Kuhn and Wade Franck (three Iowa cyclists killed in crashes with vehicles), yellow clothing or a different colored clothing wasn’t going to stop that person from text messaging or from reckless driving or from drunk driving," Wyatt said. "But it could create a situation where it gives the driver a defense."
House File 513 was placed on the unfinished business calendar, which means it is still alive, but less likely to move forward, said state Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, who introduced the bill.
"Maybe the best thing to do is scrap it and start over with a clean slate," Wills said. "Let's take our time and gather more information."