Cyclist’s family questions charges related to Concord fatal bike-vehicle crash

  • Jessica Warren. Concord police

  • Patrick Bettens

  • A memorial sign for Patrick Bettens sits at the roundabout in downtown Penacook. Bettens, a correctional officer at the state prison in Concord, was killed in a bike-vehicle crash in September. Caitlin Andrews

Published: 3/3/2019 5:13:12 PM

Concord police said the conduct of a driver who struck and killed a bicyclist in September did not warrant felony-level charges even though her license was suspended at the time of the crash.

State law says someone who is driving with a suspended license and causes a crash that results in serious injury can be charged with a felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison.

After consulting New Hampshire State Police, city and county prosecutors and other experts in accident reconstruction, the department brought a misdemeanor charge of vehicular assault against Jessica Warren, 41, of Concord in connection with the crash that killed correctional officer Patrick Bettens.

Warren also faces a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended or revoked license, as well as two violations for traveling over a solid line and following a vehicle too closely, namely Bettens’ bicycle.

The misdemeanor charged carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

The news of the charges frustrated Bettens’s mother, Patricia Bettens, who said the woman accused of fatally striking her son should face more serious charges.

“Maybe not murder, but why not at least manslaughter?” she said Sunday from her home in Muskegon, Mich., where her son grew up. “Why not reckless driving or negligent homicide, or vehicular manslaughter?”

The months-long investigation by Concord police found that Warren “was responsible for the crash in that she did not exercise due care” by driving too closely behind Bettens, police said in a statement last month.

“We are responsible for making sure we can prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt in court,” Concord police Lt. Sean Ford said Friday. “We did not come to this decision lightly; there was a lengthy and thorough investigation that showed a lack of aggravating factors. It’s still a very tragic outcome.”

Bettens said the investigation has left her with even more questions about the crash and the final moments of her son’s life.

Being far away from Concord hasn’t helped with the family’s pain and frustration surrounding the case, she said.

“We are not happy our family member is dead and has two orphans,” she said.

Patricia Bettens also questioned whether the driver of a UPS truck who witnesses said was parked in the bike lane will face any charges.

The cyclist was heading north on Route 3 in September when Warren’s vehicle struck him from behind, police said. Bettens had moved into the road to avoid a UPS truck parked in the bike lane, according to witness statements.

The van hit Bettens’s back tire, which caused him to fall off the bike and into the van’s path. Witnesses reported that Warren’s vehicle then jumped the curb and headed back across the road, striking another vehicle.

State law says that someone driving after suspension of a license can be charged with a Class B felony punishable a maximum of seven years in prison if the driver is involved in a serious accident. While prosecutors have to prove that the person’s “unlawful operation of the motor vehicle caused or materially contributed to the collision,” any violation of the rules of the road can be considered as evidence against the defendant.

Bicycles are treated as vehicles in New Hampshire, and riders must stick to the road or a bike lane regardless of traffic conditions. Some laws, like the far-right law and the three-foot law, are meant to protect cyclists by dictating how much space motorists need to give cyclists and where bikers should ride.

Police said they ruled out driver impairment and texting while driving in this case.

Warren is scheduled to be arraigned April 1 in Concord’s district court.

Bettens, 41, of Concord was employed by the New Hampshire Department of Corrections and worked in the men’s state prison in Concord. An athlete who loved to bike, run and swim, he was training for a triathlon when he was killed this past fall.

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