The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is urging the city’s District Attorney Larry Krasner to appeal a local judge’s dismissal of charges against a trash truck driver who struck and killed bicyclist Emily Fredricks nearly two years ago.
Randy LoBasso, policy manager for the coalition, said the judge’s ruling reflects a troubling pattern. About half of the people killed in Philadelphia traffic between 2017 and 2018 were bicyclists and pedestrians, but only 16% of drivers were charged with a felony, according to the coalition’s analysis of city crash data.
“There’s a lot of bias when it comes to people driving cars and getting away with a lot of things,” LoBasso said. “It’s just really built into our society that we’re going to let people get away with killing other people as long as they do it by motor vehicle.”
The driver, Jorge Fretts, was charged with vehicular homicide in February. The DA’s office charged the 28-year-old driver after an investigation found he was wearing earbuds and looking at paperwork when the Gold Medal Environmental truck hit the 24-year-old pastry chef, who was riding to work in the Spruce Street bike lane. It is illegal to wear earbuds while driving in Pennsylvania.
Judge Lillian Ransom responded to a motion by Frett’s attorney on Wednesday by dismissing all charges, including vehicular homicide, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless endangerment of another person.
The attorney, David Bahuriak, argued that the DA failed to prove that a crime had been committed.
Krasner’s office has 30 days to appeal the decision. Cameron Kline, a spokesperson for the office, said the DA’s team is “reviewing its options.”
“Right now, we’re looking at the proceedings that happened in court, and at the evidence, and the fact pattern of the case and we’ll make that decision in 30 days,” he said.
Vision Zero meets the courtroom
Fredricks’ death fueled calls from advocates for more street safety infrastructure. The demands were further validated when cyclist Becca Refford was ran over by a box truck while also riding in the bike lane near 13th and Pine streets — blocks away from the 11th Street intersection where Fredricks was killed.
Refford survived, but the incidents were eerily similar: Both cyclists were struck while riding in a bike lane by vehicles making right turns.
And in the years prior to the 2017 crashes, between 2012 and 2016, Spruce and Pine Streets saw 185 crashes, 21 involved cyclists and a vehicle. Nearly 200 people were injured in crashes during that time.
Progress has moved relatively slowly on protected bike lanes and other improvements connected to the city’s Vision Zero traffic safety initiative. But this summer, the city nearly completed a project designed to prevent another crash like the one that took Fredrick’s life.
Cyclists can now ride down Pine and parts of Spruce Streets in Center City on fresh pavement with new line striping and flexible delineator posts installed at intersections to keep drivers out of the bike lane.
The city also moved the bicycle lane from the right to left side of the street to give drivers better visibility of cyclists. The improvements on Pine are complete, while the Spruce makeover is expected to wrap up within the coming weeks.
Fredricks was one of three cyclists to die out of the 99 Philly traffic fatalities in 2017, according to data compiled by the Bicycle Coalition. Four more died in 2018. No Philadelphia cyclists have been killed in traffic so far this year, according to the coalition.
Gold Medal Environmental settled with the Fredricks family in 2018 for $6 million and a promise to donate $125,000 over five years to organizations working to improve safety on Philadelphia streets. The Bicycle Coalition received the first $25,000 donation.
The Fredricks family has advocated for safer streets since Emily’s death, working with the bike coalition and others to lobby for changes to risky road conditions in Philadelphia and elsewhere.
The Fredericks family is “shocked” by the judge’s decision, Emily’s mother, Laura Fredricks, told KYW.
“She was in a biking lane and she still got hit,” her father, Richard, told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2017. “Hopefully this won’t be in vain.”