Driver in fatal bicycle crash in Pittsfield Township was changing the radio, attorney says
The driver of a van that struck and killed a bicyclist in Pittsfield Township in July told police he took his eyes off the road for a moment to change a pre-set radio station, a police officer testified in court today.
Defense attorney Joseph Simon argued the move didn't qualify as negligence, but District Judge J. Cedric Simpson disagreed and ordered 20-year-old Nicholas Wahl to stand trial for negligent homicide.
Wahl, a Grand Valley State University student from Clinton in Lenawee County, is charged in the July death of 45-year-old Tim Pincikowski of Saline.Â Testimony on Oct. 15Â and today at the 14A District Court centered on whether there is probable cause to order a trial.Â
If convicted on the high-court misdemeanor charge, Wahl - who has no criminal record - faces up to two years in prison.
Simon questioned Pittsfield Township Police Officer Patrick Gray about the road conditions, which were dry; police procedures; and Wahl's original statement to officers. Gray testified that Wahl said he looked down for a moment to change the radio and looked up as the van was hittingÂ Pincikowski's bicycle.
Other witnesses included two drivers who saw the July 28 accident on northbound Maple Road. During questioning, Simon honed in on Pincikowski's position on the road in the moments before his bicycle was struck.
Witness Erik Allen was traveling southbound on Maple Road to visit a friend in Saline when he saw the collision. The bicyclist was on the fog line or in the travel portion of the roadway close to the line, Allen said.Â
After the crash, in which the front passenger side of Wahl's 2002 Dodge Caravan struck the rear end of Pincikowski's bicycle, Wahl's demeanor indicated disbelief and shock, Allen said.
Jay Russell, 33, was coming home from work and was southbound on Maple Road at the time of the collision, he testified.
"Both the van and the bicyclist were very close to the fog line," said Russell, who also stopped to help. Russell said Wahl was in shock after the accident.
Witnesses from last week's hearing placed Wahl's vehicle over the fog line for four to five seconds. The fog line is the white line on the shoulder of the road.
"He felt subjectively, he had enough time to look away for one second to change a preset radio station," Simon told the judge.
The prosecutor disagreed.
"He made the conscious decision to take his eyes off the road, resulting in the collision and loss of life of Tim Pincikowski," said Assistant Prosecutor Anthony Kendrick. "Your honor, that's negligence."
More than 30 supporters from Wahl's church, St. John Lutheran Church in Bridgewater, filled the courtroom benches, along with Wahl's family members. Afterward, they stood in the hallway with Wahl, crying, hugging and discussing the hearing.
Wahl's immediate family members declined to comment.
Donna Marion, a member of the congregation that came to support Wahl, didn't want to comment on the case, but said: "I think our presence here says it all."
Six friends attended the hearing to support Lisa Pincikowski, Timothy's wife. She sat behind the prosecutor's bench during the two-hour hearing.
Their group lingered in the courtroom for a few minutes while Wahl's supporters were in the hallway outside.
"I'm just happy this wasn't dismissed," Lisa Pincikowski said.
"We're here to support Lisa and happy that the outcome is positive, and that this will go to trial," said John Debling, a friend of Tim Pincikowski's for the last 20 years.
"The right decision was made here today," said Tim Klots, who worked with Tim Pincikowski.
Pincikowski was an avid bicyclist and a project manager/chemist at BASF in Wyandotte. He lived in Saline's Wildwood subdivision with his wife, 18-year-old son, Michael, and 4-year-old daughter, Lauren.
A pre-trial hearing was set for Dec. 7.