TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
May 4, 1997
By Lynne Tolman
Any bicyclist whose heartbeat has been quickened by a hostile or ignorant motorist getting too close for comfort -- and that's just about every rider on the road -- owes a debt of gratitude to Rick Porter of Shrewsbury.
Last spring, Porter was biking on Route 20 in Northboro when a driver tried to run him off the road, he said. The Northboro police initially brushed off the cyclist's complaint, but he persisted and had the driver charged with assault. Eventually, the motorist, Joseph Zarcaro, 46, of 129 Maple St., Northboro, admitted in court sufficient facts for a guilty finding and agreed to donate $200 to the Bicycle Coalition of Massachusetts.
It took Porter 10 months of phone calls, networking by e-mail, meetings and court appearances to get results. Another person might have given up in frustration. But Porter, a 26-year-old electrical engineer who likes to ride his Colnago during breaks from his flexible hours at Lincom in Northboro, wasn't going to let it slide.
Porter said he had turned from Church Street onto Route 20 before the driver, heading west, got a green light. With no shoulder to ride on, the cyclist was in the right-hand travel lane, ahead of the car. The driver got on his wheel and honked, then pulled alongside, threatening, Porter said. Then the driver pulled ahead and swerved dangerously close. "I had to brake to let him in so he wouldn't run me off the road," Porter said.
"The part I found most scary, in retrospect, was that this guy, who was about 45 years old, had his teen-age daughter in the car with him," Porter said. "I mean, a hothead kid is one thing, but an adult ..."
Less than a mile up the road, the cyclist caught up with the driver, who had stopped and was talking to a police officer. Two other motorists had stopped, too, and backed the cyclist's story.
Porter said the policeman was dismissive. "He was like, 'You should feel lucky he didn't hit you ... It just sounds to me like a couple of people who are angry with each other,' " Porter said. "That really influenced my decision to pursue it."
Porter got advice from other cyclists through the Internet forum of the Bicycle Coalition of Massachusetts. Cycling attorney Andrew Fischer of Boston, former BCOM president, was especially helpful, Porter said; he charged no fee but requested that Porter join BCOM.
Porter said he badgered the police department for a week to get the names of the driver and witnesses, then requested a hearing in Westboro District Court to show cause for a charge of assault. The driver didn't show up for the hearing, and the clerk-magistrate issued the charge.
The Worcester district attorney's office ran with the ball, deflecting defense maneuvers to have the case thrown out, and negotiated a settlement that fulfilled Porter's wish that any fines or fees assessed be given to the Bicycle Coalition of Massachusetts. On Feb. 12, the charge was continued for six months without a finding, to be dismissed if the defendant keeps his nose clean. Zarcaro wrote a $200 check to BCOM that day.
"I hope he learned a lesson," Porter said. "I figure the next time he's in a situation like that, he's going to do one of two things: Back off and let the cyclist have the right of way, or make sure he kills him."
"I think it's important that people defend their rights to the road, and sometimes justice is slow, but if you're patient and persistent, you can see justice done," said lawyer Fischer, who once reached a similar settlement with a driver who rear-ended him on his bike.
"I guess that's how people learn, one at a time. Motorists have to realize cyclists have rights too," Porter said.
Zarcaro, contacted yesterday, declined to comment.
Porter deserves credit for insisting on consequences for a serious offense that too often gets overlooked, and for sending the money to an organization that promotes ways and means for bicyclists and motorists to share the road without fear and loathing. Maybe the police learned something, too, about traffic rules for cyclists and what constitutes assault.
Porter's persistence should encourage other cyclists wronged by motorists "to see it through," said Conrad L. Willeman, executive director of BCOM. "It's bad enough that the wrong occurs," he said, but if the cyclist shrugs it off, it just allows bad attitudes to fester and motorists to continue behaving badly.
"I felt I needed to pursue it, for myself as well as for other people on bikes," Porter said. "I enjoy riding, and I don't want to ride in fear of motorists. Sometimes they just don't see you, and there's always going to be some of that, but ignorance or belligerence is what gets me."
For more information about BCOM, call 617-491-RIDE, send e-mail to BCOM@massbike.org, or check the Web site, www.massbike.org. Membership costs $30 a year, and a Central Massachusetts chapter is forming.
The Worcester Kiwanis Club has its annual kids' bike rodeo from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at Fallon Medical Center, 191 May St., Worcester, for children under 12. There will be free bike maintenance checks, safety information, an obstacle course and helmets for sale for $5. Contact Dick McNamara, firstname.lastname@example.org, 508-752-7521.
The Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force of the MetroWest Growth Management Committee meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Natick Town Hall, 13 East Central St., Natick. Bill McDonough of the Natick engineering firm McDonough and Scully Inc. will discuss road engineering and bike path design. For more information, call 508-651-7350.
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