COLUMBIA — The drivers of the two vehicles that struck an MU student on her bicycle in 2005 could have avoided the accident if they were more alert at the wheel, an expert witness for the student testified Wednesday in the personal injury trial stemming from the incident.
That argument was part of a long first day of testimony in 13th Circuit Court, in which attorneys for both sides made clear the issues at the center of the case: First, whether the drivers had time to stop their vehicles before striking the plaintiff, and second, whether the drivers or the plaintiff had a green light at the time of the accident.
On Aug. 18, 2005, the plaintiff, then-19-year-old Krysten Chambrot, was struck by two vehicles at the intersection of College and Rollins avenues. Chambrot's left leg was amputated above the knee after the accident, her right leg was mangled and her jaw was broken. She is currently an MU graduate student and employee of the Missourian.
The defendants in the case include Judy Pope, a Truman Veterans Hospital employee who was driving the Mazda Miata that struck Chambrot; Michael Arens, a Columbia Water and Light employee who was driving the truck that ran over and dragged Chambrot; the city of Columbia; and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.
In five hours of testimony Wednesday, Michael McCourt, a consulting engineer who specializes in accident reconstructions, explained to the jury what happened on the day of the accident according to his investigation, which he said involved evidence from the scene and the vehicles, witness statements and physical calculations.
At the point of impact between Chambrot and the Miata, Chambrot was traveling east on Rollins Avenue at about 8 miles per hour, and the Miata was traveling north on College Avenue at about 18 miles per hour, McCourt said. After the initial impact, Chambrot was vaulted into the air and landed in the right lane on College Avenue, where she was run over by the truck, which was traveling at about 30 miles per hour. She was then dragged more than 60 feet before the truck finally came to a stop, McCourt said.
Although defense attorneys generally accepted the speeds and distances McCourt calculated, they challenged him on his assertion that the drivers had sufficient time to stop their vehicles before hitting Chambrot. McCourt testified that the drivers should have been able to see Chambrot crossing the intersection, and that they should have then been able to apply their brakes in one second or less. He said that was a common estimate of reaction time.
"They were not being prudent drivers," said Donald Schlapprizzi, who is representing Chambrot.
But the defense attorneys argued that one second or less was not a realistic amount of time for the drivers to react, especially considering that they might not have even seen Chambrot before hitting her. Zachary Carthwright, who is representing the transportation commission, cited the Missouri Driver Guide, which says a driver must be very alert to react in even 1.5 seconds.
The defense attorneys also said the results of McCourt's investigation imply that the drivers had the green light at the time of the accident. They said it would be almost impossible for the vehicles to be traveling at the speeds McCourt calculated had they been stopped at the intersection before hitting Chambrot.
Carthwright asked McCourt on the stand to calculate the rate of acceleration necessary for the Miata to hit Chambrot at 18 miles per hour from a dead stop at the intersection; McCourt said it would have to have been twice the average rate of acceleration.
Missourian reporter Tara Cavanaugh contributed to this report.