DA reopens biking case after outcry

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

District Attorney Forrest Allgood will reopen his investigation of the May 22 car-on-bicycle accident in Clay County amid mounting pressure from the state’s cycling community.
Allgood said Monday his team will interview witnesses of the crash that left Starkville cyclist Jan Morgan comatose for a month. Their statements could change his initial opinion that motorist Robbie Norton committed no felony acts when she hit Morgan and then ran over her a second time.
That opinion had been based on written witness statements taken by the Mississippi Highway Patrol, which handled the wreck and ultimately decides whether to press charges. Allgood said his phone hasn’t stopped ringing since the media reported his determination last week.
“This is all out of kilter,” Allgood said. “I do not decide who to charge and who not to charge. I give advice, and at this time I don’t see any felony charges.”
Others have disagreed with Allgood, and the story has received attention from cycling groups nationwide. At home, state advocacy group Bike Walk Mississippi drafted a letter to Allgood urging him to enforce the law.
“I think the cycling community as a whole is very up in arms,” said Bike Walk Executive Director Melody Moody. “This story is so mind boggling that I think people who haven’t ridden their bike in 10 years are outraged.”
The crash occurred mid-morning on an open stretch of Highway 50 in Clay County. Morgan and her friend Kim Richardson were pedaling single-file along the right side of the road.
Morgan, who had been leading the duo, dropped behind Richardson to take up the rear. A moment later, Norton struck Morgan in her 2000 Daewoo Leganza sedan.
“My recollection is the sound of the impact and the mass of the car next to me, very close,” Richardson told the Daily Journal. “And then seeing Jan up in the air over the car after the impact and then continuing down the road before the car stopped, and she rolled off the hood.”
The MHP accident report lists Norton’s speed as 55 miles per hour. But Moneaka Jones, who was driving her 2004 Mustang behind Norton, said she was traveling 75 miles per hour and that Norton was going just as fast.
“When she hit Jan, she didn’t dodge her, never slowed down,” Jones told the Daily Journal. “She got out of the car, she was on the phone, saying ‘I just hit a lady. You better get down here.’”
Jones said Norton peeked at Morgan, who was bleeding and unconscious, before getting back inside her car and slowly running her over.
“The front tire sat on Jan’s head 45 seconds to a minute,” Jones said. “You can hear it on the 911 tape, me telling her she was on top of Jan’s head. Then she got off her head. She was in a state of shock. She attempted to get back in the car a third time actually but we wouldn’t let her.”
Norton did not return a call to the Daily Journal, but in an earlier interview she said she doesn’t recall having run over Morgan the second time. Allgood said she had told him it happened as she eased her car off the road so as not to block traffic.
She also said she wasn’t talking while driving but had grabbed her phone to call for help. Witnesses say she didn’t call 911 but was instead on the phone with friends or family members.
“I was in shock,” Norton said in the earlier interview. “This has been very traumatizing. I’m still sick about it. I’m having nightmares.”
Morgan had spent a month in the critical care unit at North Mississippi Medical Center. She was transferred Monday to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for rehabilitation, said her husband, David Morgan.
Morgan has expressed outrage that felony charges haven’t been filed.
A felony is possible under only three circumstances, Allgood said: Leaving the scene of an accident that caused injuries; aggravated DUI; aggravated assault.
Norton stayed on the scene, even though witnesses reportedly prevented her from leaving. And she hadn’t been drinking, though the accident report states no sobriety, breath or blood test was done.
For aggravated assault, Allgood said, he’d need proof Norton either intentionally hit and ran over Morgan or that she acted with reckless disregard to the value of human life – culpable negligence.
Neither Allgood nor the witnesses said they believe Norton acted intentionally. And culpable negligence applies only in extreme circumstances, Allgood said.
The Morgan family’s attorney, Brace Knox, said this case is indeed extreme.
“The first time she hit her it was gross negligence,” Knox said. “The second time, there was no compelling circumstance whatsoever to return and restart the vehicle.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.