On June 26, 2020, Ryan Paul Miettinen Jr., 22, hit and killed Coleen Huling, 29, and Melissa Williamson, 25, with his Mercury Mountaineer SUV in London Township, Michigan. He fled the scene and never turned the vehicle over to authorities, according to Monroe News. Miettinen was charged with two cases of failing to stop at the scene of the accident when he was at fault, resulting in death. He signed a plea contract last week. A district judge sentenced him to 9 to 40 years in prison for each count. Miettinen must serve at least 18 of those years before he is eligible for parole, and could spend every 80 years behind bars. The judge also ordered Miettinen to pay a total of $ 250,200 in restitution.
Outside Online reported on the deaths of Huling and Williamson in December as part of our # 2020CyclingDeaths Project in which we tracked every cyclist who was killed by a rider over 12 months. At the end of the year, we wrote obituaries for nine of these drivers, including those of Huling and Williamson, a young couple who had met through mutual friends who loved to explore the rivers and trails near their home in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and had just signed a lease move in together. On Friday afternoon when they were killed, the two of them rode their bicycles from Huling’s childhood home, where they had sat pets, into town to get something to eat.
(Photo: Courtesy Kelly Last)
“No time will bring our daughters back,” says Matthew Williamson, Melissa’s father, who is also a cyclist and trained with his daughter for the 328-mile Pan Ohio Hope Ride in the weeks before her death. The conviction of Miettinen, however, puts an end to the ten-month pending trial and litigation for the two families. “It allows us all to begin the healing process,” he says.
A maximum rate like this is rare. In a recent study, data was collected from cycling attorney David Cranor for the Greater Greater nonprofit Washington. Between 1971 and 2019, 132 cyclists were killed by drivers in the Washington, DC area, and 87 percent of drivers were not charged with a crime. Only 8 percent served time. Of the 697 deaths we tracked in 2020, we found only a few reports of criminal charges. More common are cases like John Giumarra III, who was charged with a crime that later became a misdemeanor following the death of Angela Holder in Bakersfield, California in 2017. Giumarra had a blood alcohol level of 0.18, a record that showed multiple DUI loads, and he left the scene. Nevertheless, the judge ordered Giumarra to serve only 90 days in prison by release from work, 100 hours of community service and five years probation. More recently, the news covered the high profile case of former NBA star Shawn Bradley, who was riding his bike when he was hit from behind and paralyzed by a rider. Although she also walked off the scene, the driver was never charged or cited with a crime.
“In general, riders who kill cyclists, even in obscenely negligent circumstances, rarely face criminal consequences equivalent to the cruelty of their actions,” says Peter Flax, former editor-in-chief at Bicycling and a lifelong bicycle lawyer who has written extensively on traffic Safety for cyclists. “In order to receive a punishment commensurate with a fatally negligent act, the driver must usually meet at least one of the few special criteria – to be massively impaired by drugs or alcohol, to drive at insane speed or to be one non white driver killing a white victim. “
Miettinen reportedly drove recklessly when he hit Huling and Williamson – he turned, hit them, and then sped away, avoiding the police for hours. His speed was more than sixty miles an hour; The speed limit on this road is 45 miles per hour. The investigation found that Miettinen had smoked marijuana earlier in the day, although there was no evidence of poisoning. Miettinen has an arrest record that includes 13 previous offenses, including grievous bodily harm with a lethal weapon, grievous bodily harm, reckless driving, and disobedience to a police officer.
“As a cyclist, I am all too aware that many people face criminal prosecution in these circumstances,” said Matthew Williamson, who was hoping for maximum punishment. “Sometimes it’s because of the lack of jurisdiction. In other cases it is due to the underlying perception that bicycles have no place on the road. ”
“In general, the criminal justice system regards cycling cases – that is, a rider who hits a cyclist – as” just an accident, “said Megan Hottman, a Golden, Colorado attorney who has handled cycling cases for 11 years. (Outside published a profile of Hottman in 2015. It was written by cyclist and longtime outside contributor Andrew Tilin, who was later hit and killed by a driver in Austin, Texas while changing a flat tire on the side of the road.) An avid cyclist himself, Hottman made her life advocating for a cyclist dedicated and brought drivers to justice for their crimes. But in her entire career, she has seen few drivers adequately convicted, she says. These cases automatically have a lower priority because prosecutors want to focus their time and attention on the “really bad criminals”, even though the damage caused by accidents involving riders and cyclists can be costly, life-changing, and death or spine damage can cord and brain injuries. Cases where a driver hits a cyclist are often classified as traffic violations rather than a misdemeanor or criminal offense, and overwhelmed courts get those violations through the system as quickly as possible, she says.
In a successful case where a driver like Miettinen receives the maximum sentence, it is due to the perfect combination of law enforcement agencies doing an exceptional job, a prosecutor who asks about the maximum sentence and is ready to bring it to justice, according to Hottman A judge who really pays attention to the case and allows family and loved ones to speak in court. “It’s so important for a judge to give a case like this the attention it deserves,” she says.
In an impact statement in court, Kerri Williamson, Melissa’s mother, wrote that the average life expectancy for a woman today is 76 years. “In my opinion, Ryan stole 51 years from Melissa’s life and 47 years from Coleen. Even if he had been sentenced to 98 years in prison, it would not have been an eye for an eye. He will continue to be in contact with those he loves. I can’t say that I’m ‘happy’ because I feel like this is doing my daughter and Coleen in the wrong, but it’s what I was hoping for. “Kerri is saying that now She, her family, and Huling’s family must give themselves permission to move on and “live as Melissa and Coleen would have wanted us to.”
Main photo: caitlin_w / iStock