My conversation with Sheriff O’FlynnAugust 5, 2012
On Friday I spoke with Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn by phone. I had sent an email to his office earlier in the week asking why the female driver who hit Heather Boyum was released with an appearance ticket when she had a prior criminal record and someone had died. To my surprise he called me and we spent a few days playing phone tag. I spoke with him directly after he met with the Boyum family. I have also since spoken to the family and they are very appreciative and supportive of what has happened on that side.
I have heard sheriff O’Flynn speak on the radio several times and I have always respected his willingness to talk. I know he’s an elected official. I am a good judge of character. (As a former emergency nurse trust me you learn to smell a fraud a mile away). He’s also a person. He’s also a cyclist, which I did not know. Therefore what he said took on even deeper meaning for me. If you ride the roads in this area then you do have a greater understanding of what it is like to be on two wheels. And you do know what it’s like to be the target of a motor vehicle.
Why was Megan Merkel given an appearance ticket and sent home? She has a prior criminal record and someone is dead.
Sheriff O’Flynn explained to me the whole ticket, booking, all of that process. What it really came down to was this: he realizes to the public it appeared that it took too much time to come down with the charges of manslaughter. He gets that. But what I (and maybe we) don’t realize is that there is a process to making that charge. There is evidence and it has to be air tight. One mistake on their part and their case is worth nothing. So their team spent a great deal of time making sure that every piece of evidence they needed to make that charge was in place and perfect.
Why was Scerbo released from prison?
Sheriff O’Flynn reminded me….. he doesn’t make the law….. he has to enforce the law. He said that he is as frustrated with this as we are, as his officers have to scoop these guys up time and time again.
For some background, according to the Democrat and Chronicle:
“Scerbo had been paroled from state prison on July 5, according to Peter K. Cutler, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Scerbo had been in prison since November 2011. He was serving a maximum sentence of three years after being convicted of driving while intoxicated for a third time.
Normally, Scerbo would not have been eligible for parole until September, but he completed a shock incarceration program at Moriah Shock Correction Facility in Essex County, Cutler said. Completing the program made Scerbo eligible for release in six months.
Scerbo’s criminal record on file at the Monroe County Clerk’s Office dates back to 2006, when he was convicted of third-degree burglary for breaking into a Penfield business and stealing about $250.
He was sentenced to five years of probation, but the probation was revoked and he was sentenced to one year in jail after he was caught in January 2007 racing his car on the grass around a business in Penfield.
Even before that happened, Scerbo was in danger of having his probation revoked. He had violated several terms of probation by not going to school or getting a job, not paying restitution, and failing to participate in a mental health treatment program.
When confronted with his lack of cooperation, Scerbo wrote a note to his probation officer promising to behave: “I will not mess up and do something that causes me to return to jail or violate my probation. This is my personal promise,” he said in the handwritten note dated Jan. 17, 2007.
“This officer was amazed that he violated the contents of that document less than 24 hours after signing it,” his probation officer wrote in a court document.
Scerbo pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated on July 21, 2011. He was arrested Jan. 7, 2011, in East Rochester. Before he could be sentenced in that case, Scerbo was arrested again for DWI in Brighton on Sept. 6, 2011. He pleaded guilty to both charges.
Scerbo also had a previous DWI conviction in 2007 in Cayuga County.”
Sheriff O’Flynn explained that Scerbo met criteria of this SHOCK program, (for details on that please click here) and that is why he was released. O’Flynn went on to say that they scoop up many of these offenders.
How were these two driving without licenses?
As we learned last week there are many unlicensed drivers in New York State. Many use vehicles borrowed or bought and then given to them. According to 13WHAM reporter Rachel Barnhardt:
“The State Department of Motor Vehicles reports the following number of convictions in Monroe County for unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, all degrees:
- 2007 – 14,975
- 2008 – 15,671
- 2009 – 11,645
- 2010 – 11,660
- 2011 – 11,456
Those are only the ones police caught.”
People want to know how that is possible. Think about this…. how many police officers are there in this state. How many people are in this state? How do you control every single time anyone gets behind the wheel?
Again….. our law enforcement is just as frustrated as we are about this.
Sharing the Road
We turned the conversation to what many of us are taking a good hard look at, bike safety and bike laws. As a fellow cyclist Sheriff O’Flynn resonated with me how frustrating it is that care don’t believe we belong on the roads. He agreed that the legislation does need to be changed regarding what our rights are and what the laws are. He reminded me that he does not make the laws, he enforces them. I tend to forget that. In the emotion of all of this it’s easy to place blame on the police. They are right there in front of us.
We spoke about cycling in Europe and how this kid of thing really isn’t an issue. We spoke about barricaded bike lanes in New York City and Washington DC and agreed that while that was wonderful….. we can’t expect 100 miles of country roads to be barricaded. He agreed wholeheartedly that things need to change and offered whatever support his office and his team could provide to us.
What should we do when a motor vehicle runs us off the road?
O’Flynn advised that is we are the target of a motor vehicle to first and foremost be safe. Get to a safe place. He advised not to get into a rage match with a car or truck. They are bigger. Get to a safe place. Get the license plate number and a good description of the vehicle. Even if we can provide a description such as” Blue pickup truck heading North on Smith Street”…. chances are …. where we ride….. a Sheriff is out there nearby. Just because we don’t always see them doesn’t mean they are not in the area. They will respond. They will try to track them down and they will take appropriate action.
How many of us have been run off the road and we pull it together and keep going? It might mean that we have to stop our workout. But I think that would be worth it to do. If we take action…… it can only help.
On the same token….. I promised that we as a community would take steps to ensure that we as cyclists would also do our part. As triathletes we especially don’t always do our part. Many don’t have good bike handling skills or don’t always follow the etiquette of group riding (not riding in aero bars in a group, communicating to those you are passing, riding safely). It is a fact that triathletes are NOTORIOUS for that.
If we want protection on the road….. we have to meet them half way.
Share the Road Meeting
Sheriff O’Flynn was very interested in being a part of our Share the Road meeting on Thursday August 30th at 7pm. He or someone from his office will be at the meeting to answer our questions.
Just as an FYI: The meeting right now is scheduled at the Pittsford LIbrary. On Facebook we have over 150 signed up to attend. As we get closer look for a change in location and a very clear agenda. This will not be a disorganized pitch fork throwing type of meeting. I am a former ER nurse, I can run a meeting. We get to the point very quickly. Again we will present a very clear agenda that we will make available the week before. We will prepare all questions before hand, and we will make sure this is productive. The sheer size of this meeting could welcome mayhem, which we will not have.
In my communication with the Boyum family they would very much like us to focus on legislation as it pertains to cycling. Our first focus likely will be increasing the penalty in New York State for hitting a cyclist. A petition has already begin circulating to support tougher laws regarding DWI penalties click here to sign that. Beyond that cycling safety awareness will be a very big topic….. but we again want this to be a very solid and productive meeting. You can find the meeting info on Facebook under “Share the Road Meeting” and the wall is open to brainstorming, venting, all of that. So hop on over. There has been a lot of talk about inviting elected officials. I think that’s wonderful…. but this first meeting will be more about answering questions and coming together on what we want to accomplish regarding the law and safety (we are creating an online voting system and everything, so stay tuned… and thank you to EVERYONE who has jumped in on this.)
The Monroe County Sheriff’s office again, is going to be a part of that and will help us in any way that they can.
That was the jist of the conversation. I felt a lot better having heard the explanation of the process of charging and evidence collection and have a much better sense of understanding of why the timeline occurred in the way that it did. I have a much better feeling about the support we as cyclists have in this community. I really believe that we can change it.
Again, the family is going to be focusing on the prosecution stuff. They want us to focus on the bike stuff. That is why our focus is there. One more law or a change in the laws would not have prevented what happened to Heather. I was at the site of the crash yesterday and I lost it. Three of us could have laid in the shoulder, next to each other… and still would have been inside the white line.
What happened was the culmination of so many things. It was the perfect storm of so many things gone wrong. None on Heather’s part.
I also want you to remember that Heather was not alone while she was riding. She was riding with a friend who witnessed the entire thing. She was not injured but she is …. there are no words for what she is going through right now. That’s been kept kind of quiet for good reason. Just imagine what her life has been life the past 7 days. And don’t forget about her. Hold her just as tightly.
Thank you Sheriff O’Flynn for the conversation and for the open door policy that you hold with me and all of us who just want to go out and ride our bikes. This is a situation none of us should be in right now. But we will come together and make something good to increase safety on the roads for all. And like I said….. that’s a two way street. So be safe out there friends.