A motorist found guilty of negligent driving for striking local business owner and cyclist Jan Morgan last year with her vehicle faces harsher penalties after an unsuccessful appeal of the initial $50 fine she was sentenced to pay last November in justice court.
Robbie Norton, of Cedarbluff, was found guilty of simple assault last week in Clay County Circuit Court Apr. 4. She was fined $250, given a six-month suspended jail sentence and made to contact the Mississippi Department of Public Safety to do a public service announcement.
Morgan, who was cycling with a friend on Highway 50 near Pheba, nearly lost her life as a result of her injuries from the May 22 accident.
According to an accident report published by Morgan’s husband, David, she was hit from behind, and the impact threw her in the air before she landed on the hood of Norton’s vehicle. Norton reportedly continued to go forward a few feet before stopping when Morgan was thrown to the ground. Norton exited the vehicle and observed the cyclist while talking on her cell phone before getting back into her car and again running over the cyclist.
Morgan said while she felt felony charges were what Norton deserved, she is pleased with the ruling Judge Jim Kitchens handed down in circuit court. No felony charges were filed because the incident did not fall under criteria necessary for that level of punishment in Mississippi law.
“My belief is that day, that woman made a choice ... She chose to do something that diverted her attention away from her responsibility to pay attention to the road,” Morgan said. “It was a very long stretch, it was a flat road, it was well lit and it was wide open. She was careless, reckless and distracted. It had devastating effects. I think it should have been a felony, but I don’t make the laws. I am pleased that she at least received this judgment.”
Morgan said once Judge Kitchens found Norton guilty, he deferred to her in a recommendation for sentencing. She originally suggested only a public service announcement, but when Kitchens asked Norton if she had comment and Norton continued to reject the reasoning behind the ruling, he added the additional punishments to the sentence.
“It seemed like (Norton) accepted no responsibility at all,” Morgan said. “Why she appealed in the first place, I don’t know. She set herself up for a stiffer penalty.”
Kim Richardson, who was riding with Morgan at the time of the incident, said she hopes the ruling increases motorist awareness for cyclists as well as runners.
“I hope if anything can come of Jan’s accident it will be raised awareness and safety. We were following all the laws and all the safety rules that day, and what happened happened,” Richardson said. “I think driver attention is becoming more and more of a problem in general, but where cyclists and runners are concerned, it can be deadly.”
Morgan said while the healing process has been gradual, she expects to make a full recovery.
“I still have a way to go. My strength, my balance, my mentation is not what it was before, but as a result we’ve got a lot of ... signs (reminding drivers that it is state law to stay at least three feet away from bikers) around the community. Starkville has become much more aware of that,” Morgan said. “People are telling me they notice motorists are more courteous of cyclists ... and that is really good. Public awareness is what we need.”