'Enthusiastic' Md. prosecutor lobbies Annapolis to plug loophole in pedestrian safety law
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (ABC7 NEWS) — A young Montgomery County prosecutor lost an important criminal case on a technicality, but amid the troubling defeat, that prosecutor worked diligently to patch an unintended loophole in Maryland's criminal case law.
The story dates back to a cold and dark night in December, 2015. It was three days after Christmas. A 19-year-old by the name of Frank Towers was bicycling home from his coaching job at the Dynamite Gymnastics Center in Rockville. As Towers used a well-marked crosswalk to traverse busy Veirs Mill Road, he was hit and killed by the driver of a silver Toyota 4Runner who failed to stop.
Following an extensive investigation by the Montgomery County Collision Reconstruction Unit, prosecutors filed criminal and traffic charges against the male driver. According to detectives, despite numerous roadway markings and warning signs, plus a driver stopped in the right lane for Towers, the 4Runner continued to move into the crosswalk, in turn, striking Towers.
At criminal trial in July 2016, Montgomery County District Court Judge John Moffett tossed out the case, claiming Maryland case law's definition of "pedestrian" did not cover individuals on bicycles, skateboards, scooters, rollerblades, strollers, and the like. It turned out, the judge's interpretation was accurate.
“There was certainly a gap in the law," said Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office spokesman Ramon Korionoff. "The hypothetical being... if a mother pushing a stroller with twins, plus two other kids in tow on bicycles all get hit, under the law we had, only the mother would be covered."
Prosecutor Kyle O'Grady, who handled Towers' case, joined forces with local law enforcement, bicycle advocacy groups and legislators to craft a new piece of legislation to broaden the scope of the term "pedestrian." The wheels of justice have a funny way of moving slowly, but on Thursday morning, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed O'Grady's brainchild into law. Moving forward, anyone on foot — or utilizing a non-motorized transportation device — within a marked crosswalk are now protected under Maryland's amended criminal code. Electric wheelchairs are also covered.
“As a young prosecutor, an energetic and enthusiastic prosecutor, Kyle took it upon himself to try and close the gap in that law... he took the initiative, and thank goodness for it," Korionoff added.
At the Dynamite Gymnastics Center, Towers' former co-workers took great comfort Thursday in knowing the beloved teens' death left a lasting legacy on a state with six-million residents and a budding bicycle scene.
"The kids here at Dynamite absolutely loved him, the parents loved him, he bent over backwards for everyone," said Alyx Walker, Towers' dear friend and former roommate. “I think Frank is proud of all of us for making a difference.”
A color photo of Towers is posted to a wall in the entryway to the gymnasium. Above the picture is a laminated piece of paper reading, "In Memoriam." Tower's compassionate and funny personality unmistakably still fresh in mind for children, parents and staff alike.
“If there are more legal repercussions, than it may make people think twice when they’re driving... I am just so thankful Frank didn't die in vain," Walker concluded.