The family of a cyclist killed during the 2019 Bikes, Blues & Bayous ride has filed a lawsuit against the company of the driver with whom he collided as well as a handful of organizations involved in the annual event.
The lawsuit, filed Oct. 12 in Leflore County Circuit Court, asks for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages against Southern Tire Mart, the Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce, the city of Greenwood, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include cyclist Jim O’Daniel’s parents, Michael O’Daniel and Fran Griffis, and his four sisters, Nancy Zimmer, Cathy O’Daniel, Sharon O’Daniel and Megan O’Daniel. All are from Vermont except for Zimmer, who lives in Massachusetts.
They accuse the defendants of various acts of negligence that contributed either directly or indirectly to Jim O’Daniel’s death, the only one in the 13-year history of Bikes, Blues & Bayous.
O’Daniel, 50, was one of about 1,000 cyclists participating in the 2019 ride, the largest of its kind in Mississippi. The civil engineer and avid cyclist from Clinton was biking with the lead group on the ride’s 62-mile route when he approached the intersection of U.S. 82 and Mississippi 7 in Itta Bena.
He proceeded into the intersection, where he was fatally struck by a Southern Tire pickup truck, driven by Edward Hibbler, according to the lawsuit.
The 16-page complaint, which is one side of a legal argument, accuses Hibbler of driving the vehicle in a reckless or negligent manner.
“The Southern Tire Mart truck did not slow down or move lanes in an attempt to avoid (O’Daniel), thereby colliding with (him) and proximately causing the wrongful death,” the complaint said.
It also alleges that the Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event, and the government agencies that help with traffic control failed to ensure the safety of the course on which O’Daniel was riding. It claims that there was insufficient signage at the intersection, inadequate warnings to the cyclists of the potential dangers posed there, and a lack of control of traffic “so as to prevent this accident from occurring.”
In particular, the complaint alleges that an unnamed police officer, who was driving the lead vehicle, did not properly handle the responsibility. “The police officer routinely drove at an unreasonably lengthy distance in front of the cyclists, including during the moments immediately prior to the collision, when the cyclists were approaching and crossing the intersection of U.S. Highway 82 and Highway 7. Additionally, the officer drove in a reckless manner that includes, but is not limited to, slowing down and/or pressing the breaks (sic) at inappropriate times so as to nearly cause multiple collisions between the cyclists and the police car.”
Lindsey Warren, a spokeswoman for Southern Tire Mart in Columbia, said in an email Wednesday, “This was a tragic and unfortunate accident and Southern Tire Mart offers its sincere condolences to the O’Daniel family. Regarding the allegations in the lawsuit, Southern Tire Mart will be filing an appropriate response in due course.”
Beth Stevens, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said as of Tuesday she had not been served with the lawsuit and did not wish to comment until she “knew the scope of the situation.”
Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams said she was aware of the lawsuit but did not offer further comment, saying that it was “still under review.”
Colby Jordan, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who was named as the contact for the two state agencies listed as defendants, said by email that the office “does not comment on active cases.”
Among the damages claimed by the plaintiffs are past medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, physical pain and suffering, property damages and lost wages.
They are represented by Roderick D. Ward III, a Jackson attorney.
A response to the lawsuit from any of the defendants had not been filed as of Tuesday morning with the Leflore County Circuit Clerk’s Office. The courthouse was closed Wednesday due to the Veterans Day holiday.
• Contact Adam Bakst at 581-7233 or email@example.com. Twitter: @AdamBakst_GWCW