Driver in crash that killed bicyclist could face felony charge due to Lisa Torry Smith Act

ByPatrina Adger KTRK logo
Saturday, February 12, 2022
Drivers can now face felony charges for fatal auto-pedestrian crashes
A 73-year-old man's death is bringing to light a newly signed bill into law in September which now holds the driver involved responsible for the injury or death.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A 73-year-old man was hit and killed while riding his bike in southwest Houston.

His death is shining a light on a bill, signed into law in September 2021, that holds a driver responsible for a crash that leads to injury or death of someone in a crosswalk.

Ko was riding his bike through a cross walk near Bellaire Boulevard and Osage Street on Monday morning when he was hit by a car.

Police say the driver stopped to render aid and didn't appear to be drunk, nor using his phone at the time.

Because of the new Lisa Torry Smith Act, signed by Governor Greg Abbott, the driver could face a felony charge.

The new law is named after Lisa Torry Smith, a Fort Bend mother who was walking her son to school in 2017 when she was hit and killed by a vehicle. The boy survived the crash.

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The driver, in Smith's case, was not indicted. Although, Ko's death could be the first case where the driver is charged with a felony.

"The Act is a necessity, especially in a city like Houston, where people want to be able to walk and bike safely. But, a lot of our streets aren't designed for it," says Joe Cutrufo with BikeHouston.

According to 2019 statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation, compared to cities Houston had 256 total fatalities with 81 of them involving pedestrians.

Mayor Sylvester Turner addressed his Vision Zero initiative during a Zoom meeting Friday afternoon. He says Vision Zero strives to have zero fatal pedestrian crashes by 2030.

"I know some people will say, oh Mayor, that's impossible," says Turner. "But, it has happened. You have to design the roads with that in mind. You have to encourage people to share the roads. It's not just for cars and trucks, but multiple uses: pedestrians, people on their bikes. But we are changing the way we design so the Vision Zero plan is critically important."

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Cutrufo say the goal can't happen if drivers don't take pedestrians and cyclists seriously. "We don't treat crosswalks as a serious part of the transportation system. If drivers are allowed to speed, if drivers continue to drive around distracted, we're going to have serious problems on our streets," said Catrufo.

He says keeping pedestrians safe is up to the person behind the wheel. "There are a lot of different causes for traffic fatalities, but when you're piloting a 5,000 lb. vehicle, the burden of responsibility is on you to slow down and pay attention."