By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Nearly six months after hitting a Starkville woman who was riding her bicycle, Robbie Norton of Cedar Bluff was found guilty of simple assault with a deadly weapon by the Clay County Justice Court yesterday.
Norton hit Jan Morgan, who was out on a training ride with Kim Richardson, on the morning of May 22 on Highway 50 near Pheba.
Norton entered not guilty to the charges of simple assault with a deadly weapon so the case proceeded with a trial.
Morgan could not testify to the events of that day because the head injury she suffered due to the accident caused her to forget.
Monica Jones testified that she was driving behind Norton going approximately 70 miles per hour and had seen Morgan and Richardson before the accident. When Morgan was hit, she said she “thought it was a piece of furniture or something,” but realized it was the bike flying up into the air and breaking in two.
When she and her husband realized what had happened, they pulled over and called 911. Jones said she witnessed Norton getting out of the car on the phone “saying ‘they came out of nowhere, they came out of nowhere.’” Morgan’s body landed on the hood of the car, but slid to the ground, landing near the passenger-side tire.
She said Norton was panicking when she got back into her car and in an attempt to move the car out of the way, ran Morgan over and stopped with the wheel still on Morgan’s head. Jones said they were all screaming at Norton to “get off her head,” but Norton became confused, got out of the car to look before getting back in and backing the car off Morgan’s body.
Jones said Norton got back in the car again, but they were afraid she was going to try to move the car again, so they forced her to get out of the car and give them her keys.
She said she never saw Norton’s break lights until after the impact.
Richardson also took the stand to testify. She and Jan were about 30 miles into their ride when the accident happened. She said she was riding just a few feet in front of Morgan when Norton hit her. The impact made a sound “like a gunshot,” and the car sped past Richardson while Morgan’s body flew approximately 6 feet in the air. Richardson said she saw Morgan’s body bounce twice on the hood before falling to the pavement. She, too, witnessed Norton on the phone as she emerged from the car, but said she heard her asking someone to “come and get her.”
Following the accident, Richardson said she “didn’t think (Morgan) was going to be alive when I got to the hospital.”
Judge Joe Taggart found Norton guilty, saying he didn’t believe it was intentional, but that she acted negligently. He said it was a preventable situation and “unless there was a car coming the other way or her breaks didn’t work,” it shouldn’t have happened.
Taggart went on to say he didn’t believe a penalty was justified in this case and fined Norton $50 plus the court fees. He said that although he was sympathetic to Morgan’s situation, he felt people take the risk when riding bicycles and “the highways weren’t designed for bikes.”
Following the accident, Morgan spent two months in the hospital fighting for her life after she suffered a massive head injury and a number of broken bones. Though the bones eventually healed, Morgan still suffers the effects of the head injury.
“I’m feeling pretty well, but I can still tell some days that I’ve had a head injury,” she said. “I’m not 100 percent yet, but if I never get any better than this right here, it’s still really good. It’s a lot better than we thought I would be.”
No felony charges were filed against Norton following the accident. District Attorney Forrest Allgood said he could not find any felony laws that had been broken. Morgan and her husband, David, were frustrated by the lack of action taken against Norton for her part in the accident. In August, David said it appeared that it would be up to them to press misdemeanor charges if they wanted any justice.
Though the Morgans said they were satisfied with the verdict and now feel they can move on, what they’ve wanted all along was some remorse from Norton.
“One thing that would have been truly nice — and may have meant we could have avoided all of this — was to have a genuine, ‘This is what happened, I am genuinely sorry,’ from her. That very simple act would have gone a long way,” David said. “I don’t want to think this was intentional. Sometimes I’ve thought that this could have been an intentional act with unintentional consequences because so many people get angry about people on bikes. But a simple ‘I’m sorry,’ or ‘I was distracted. It was an accident,’ then that would have helped.”
After seeing the woman that changed her life forever for the very first time, Jan said she just felt pity more than anything for Norton.
“What can I say? I’m not angry. I think I was for a while — I think everybody was,” she said. “I don’t feel that, I’m just sad that people don’t see bicyclists. We just want people to think when they get behind the wheel.”