Driver is charged in death

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Daniel Johnson was in the Aiken County jail Tuesday night, charged with reckless homicide in an October crash that killed a bicyclist, records show.

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Johnson, 41, was charged 19 weeks after the crash on Beech Island Avenue that critically injured Dr. Matthew Burke, an orthopedic surgeon at Fort Gordon. Burke died Sunday.

Johnson was booked at 7:25 p.m. Lance Cpl. Judd Jones of the South Carolina Highway Patrol confirmed the charge Tuesday night.

The crash happened about 6:40 p.m. on Oct. 1 as a group of about 15 cyclists pedaled their usual Friday route after leaving Outspokin' Bicycles in Augusta.

Some cyclists said they heard a pickup's engine revving right before the moment of impact on the rural, two-lane road. The impact knocked over four cyclists but launched Burke into the air. He suffered severe head injuries and remained in a coma until his death.

Burke, a U.S. Army major, worked at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center and spent six months in Iraq. He is survived by his wife, Bonnie, and 11-month-old daughter, Anna.

A funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church, his brother, Paul Burke, said Tuesday.

Laura Farmer was one of the cyclists struck by the Dodge Durango driven by Johnson.

The road rash on her arm has healed into a scar, but a torn rotator cuff still pains her, even after more than four months of therapy.

She said she has been troubled by the pace of the investigation, but was glad to hear that a charge had been filed.

"That's good news," she said.

A message for Solicitor Strom Thurmond Jr. in Aiken was unreturned Tuesday.

South Carolina law defines "reckless homicide" as driving a vehicle with "reckless disregard of the safety of others."

A person who pleads no contest or is convicted of the charge faces no more than 10 years in prison and a mandatory five-year driver's license revocation, according to scstatehouse.gov.

In a separate incident, cyclist Pascal Limouzin is still in the hospital after he was hit by a car Jan. 23 on Banks Mill Road in Aiken.

The driver, Drew Ward, fled but turned himself in a week later and is charged with hit-and-run with great bodily injury, according to SCHP.

Tom Lex with the Aiken Bicycle Club said safety on the road is the responsibility of both motorists and cyclists.

Law enforcement can help to a point, but most roads in Aiken County belong to the state and troopers are spread too thin to be much help, Lex said.

"What is feasible is thoroughly educating the public on the laws and rights of cyclists on the road," Lex said.

Since the wreck in October, Farmer has ventured out twice on a bicycle. But it has been on a protected path away from the road at Fort Gordon.

Whether she rides in Beech Island again is another question.

"Maybe when people pay better attention," she said.

Comments (102) Add comment
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Name Not Important
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Name Not Important 02/09/11 - 11:55 pm
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Some comments say he

Some comments say he shouldn't have hit him and throw him under the jail and blah blah blah...well I'm so sorry everyone casting stones at this man are so perfect...I do believe he needs to be punished for his actions causing the death of another human being...however we all have accidents...if this was your picture we were all looking at you would probably feel different about the situation...it was an unintentional death...he isn't a murderer...him doing what everyone on here has done from time to time (looking down, out the window, etc) caused him to take a persons life...grow up people...if you are so perfect and do no wrong let me see you walk on water...and yes I would say the same thing if it was one of my family members who were accidentally run over...it's a tragedy but he isn't a murderer...

Clemson Engr in GA
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Clemson Engr in GA 02/10/11 - 12:10 am
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Why not filed earlier? If

Why not filed earlier? If the State charged
him with assault and Dr. Lived 2 1/2 more
years, A speedy trial guarantee would have
had the charges Adjudicated (guilty or not)
and no recourse on homicide due to double
jeopardy. There are Major differences in
Between these penalties.

Even if you file and amend, you will be
giving the defense access to all your
evidence earlier than if you wait to file
correctly.

My fervent hope is that this man gets a
fair and unbiased trial from complete
evidence so his peers can fairly find him
either not guilty, guilty or guilty of a
lesser charge.

To take a person's life, accidentally or as
some who have served had to do in conflict
is a life changing experience that you can't
Completely purge from you memory.

I hope that true justice is done, but I can
guarantee Mr. Johnson will never be able to
Escape that feeling that comes with the
taking of another life - regardless if it was
A Doctor or a NVA or a Elite Iraqi Guard. It
just never leaves you completely.

Pray to God that something good comes
out of this tragedy. Even if it is nothing
more than some amelioration of the hostility
Between car and bike supporters.

Honestly Ask yourself, was it worth two (2)
lives? One dead and one ruined for life for
causing that loss of life? Are we really that
jaded that we can't find some middle road
to walk together??

ArmyFriend
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ArmyFriend 02/10/11 - 01:08 am
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As I read these comments,

As I read these comments, since I posted my first one, I get more and more depressed. Not only am I, among many others, suffering the loss of a friend, but now I see such vitriolic comments from many people on both sides of this issue.

I feel for Matt's family, as I said in my earlier post. What they are going through is something that I don't wish upon anyone. However, I don't wish suffering on the man who caused the accident (more on that in a minute). I don't wish suffering on anyone, and those that do need to reevaluate how they view life. I have a personal interest in this story, but can also relate how a ROTC friend of mine was killed by a drunk driver. I was present at her sentencing, and left there sick and distraught over her sentence (7 years) and how much this 21 year old would have her life changed due to a mistake (albeit a severe one).

As I said in my earlier post (I think), I am a bicyclist as well as a motorcyclist, so I know how roads look from the perspective of a guy on two wheels. I was not at the scene, and don't know this road. I do know, however, that I have been speeding before in my life, and if we (as Iamacyclist proposes) say speeding incidents are not accidents, they we, as a society, open ourselves up to a lot of crimes (willful, purposeful incidents) that were once traffic accidents. I think that is a mistake.

Another comment - it is said that the other cyclists are sure this was not an accident or a mistake. Has anyone said that out loud, and thought what a ridiculous statement that is. You believe that this man purposefully rode INTO these cyclists, just to make a statement? Or to try and kill them? I don't think so. Or perhaps it was an attempt to "buzz" (an action that I have seen, and do not support) gone bad? We will never know. What I am not so sure about is the ascertainment by the fellow cycling "witnesses" that this was definitely not an accident. Let me explain.

I have been in combat - more than once. When stressful events happen, recollections of the events differ. Memory becomes hazy, even seconds after an event. None - I say again, none - of the witnesses on a bicycle were in a position to SEE what happened behind them. They could only hear and see the result. Many said they HEARD the vehicles accelerate before the "Attack." I submit that this is pure speculation. It may be true, or it may not. It certainly is not fact. Furthermore, I submit that the fellow cyclists are not an unbiased bunch, though I am not calling them liars by any stretch. Just those who, in a stressful situation, may not recollect true facts.

The driver behind Mr. Johnson was in a position to see, but not hear. He saw the car go into the pack. He wondered why the man did not see them (a valid question, in my opinion). He, too, was speeding (and thus a fellow murderer had he hit anything, even a pet dog), so I guess that crime is not altogether uncommon.

I don't know why Mr. Johnson failed to see the rider pack for the approximately 36 seconds he could have seen them. Or maybe he did, and, while close, was briefly distracted. Or maybe he planned to "buzz" and lost control. In none of those cases is he a murderer, committing conscious act of trying to kill Matt or others. In only one case is he purposefully trying to hurt or kill. And, if he was doing this, I guess he was either prepared to face the consequences, which would likely be jail. Ask yourself which is more likely. Then ask if you are being honest with yourself. Bottom line is - the fact is - only Mr. Johnson knows what he saw and what he was doing. Everyone else is speculating.

I am glad Mr. Johnson was charged. He deserves to face justice for his crimes. Just don't make his crimes out to be more than what they are. The DA clearly believes this was reckless homicide, not murder, else they would have filed different charges. I can't answer why he waited so long, and no one here should second guess the DA either. Let the criminal justice system run its course. Let the civil court system run its course. Let the systems do so without interference from truly well meaning people who may, through misguided efforts, actually hinder the justice system.

Whether or not you want to admit it, there are many suffering families and friends right now, and not all of them are on Matt's "side." To say that prayer for Mr. Johnson's family is not right, since it was his "fault" is to truly be hateful. Even if you can't pray for Mr. Johnson, why not his family and friends. They may still be suffering. Ask yourselves what your position would be if your best friend was speeding, and killed someone in a car accident. Since he was speeding, it was murder (by many people's statements here), and he goes to jail, leaving his wife and child without their father for a time. Would you feel bad? Would you want any sympathy for yourself (as a friend) or his family? What if he were a "really good person" who made a mistake?

Don't rush to judgment. Don't hate.

Again, my $.02 - many will ignore what I write, or post why it is wrong. Feel free, but I ask that you honestly answer the questions I asked before you do, and ask if your quest to see this man charged with murder is the right thing.

Finally, remember that hate will not help. Bonnie and the families don't need to read (if they are reading this) hateful words, but support and love.

the_source
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the_source 02/10/11 - 06:00 am
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raresaltydog said "So Mr.

raresaltydog said "So Mr. Johnson might not be the only one at fault. Additionally Mr. Johnson happens to also be respectable citizen and public servant with Aiken County and the Department of Homeland Security."

Oh? What dept does he work in Aiken County? I know many people there. Haven't heard of Johnson.

xrev
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xrev 02/10/11 - 06:38 am
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Wow!!! NEVER had this kind of

Wow!!! NEVER had this kind of interaction on any topic. NEVER. Ive had hate email sent to me just because I said ANY of us could have been that driver so show some compassion; his life is ruined too. And yes he could have been more careful, more alert, more whatever.
But I will also tell you road loving cyclists that stuff happens. It doesnt matter who is at fault. You mix a bicycle with an an automobile and the bike loses every time. Forget Mr Johnsons intent . Lets assume you are riding some other day and a car approaches. He sees you riding 3 abreast (illegal and Ive seen in hundreds of times) yet slows down and waits until he can safely pass. What if a tire blew out on his car as he was passing? Or a bike had a blowout and swerved into the car? What if the car driver or the bike rider had a seizure? Or a heart attack?? It doesnt matter if the car driver or the bike rider was at fault. The bike loses. Its simple physics. And the roads in Beech Island, I can guarantee when they were graded and paved years ago were NEVER intended for bicycles. Never. You may have the "right" to ride on those roads. What kind of lame argument is that? I also have the right to waterski in stump infested waters. I have the right to do shots of alcohol until I pass out. I have the right to handle poisonous snakes. I have the right to eat 3 dozen cheeseburgers a day. That right doesnt make it smart. So go ahead and demand your "right" to the highways designed for cars. But that wont make it any smarter.
Mix car with bike and bike loses. Almost every time. And if you have a wife (or husband) and children and insist on riding a bike or even a motorcycle, or skydiving, or bull riding, or racing a car professionally, or whatever risky behavior you fancy: you are increasing risk. Yes this thing could have been averted had Mr Johnson paid more attention. But it also could have been a non incident had that little group exercised their "right" and chosen to ride a stationary bike in a gym. But its really not about exercise , is it? Its about exercising your rights, and then blowing a gasket because the laws of physics and risk eventually get someone killed.

Iamacyclist
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Iamacyclist 02/10/11 - 07:22 am
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Armyfriend, I am sorry for

Armyfriend, I am sorry for your loss and most of your points are correct. I only mentioned the 50mph in a 35mph zone to say at a minimum he deserved some sort of traffic violation; not a murderer. If a traffic violation results in such a tragedy; think it warrants more than a speeding ticket.

I know that road probably as well as any; there is no way after Mr. Johnson turned onto that road did not see a cyclist for a half a mile; the distance to the point of impact. Hey, but at the last minute, there is a possibility he could have been distracted and just forgot what was in front.

saywhatagain
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saywhatagain 02/10/11 - 07:41 am
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Lima59: If Johnson

Lima59: If Johnson intentionallly ran the bikers down, then he ought to fry, not get off with jail time. However, that is up to a judge and jury, not us. Also, you are right that we can't hide under our beds all day. Life has risks, but I will tell you this, I pray for my kids safety every single day precisely because I know there are crazies like Johnson on the road....and a lot of them are on their cell phones.

the_source
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the_source 02/10/11 - 07:49 am
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xrev said "What if a tire

xrev said "What if a tire blew out on his car as he was passing? Or a bike had a blowout and swerved into the car? What if the car driver or the bike rider had a seizure? Or a heart attack?? "

None of that happened with Johnson. Witness accounts indicate that he was defiant as well as reckless. There was nothing wrong with his vehicle, the bicycles, or his health. It was a clear day, no oncoming traffic in the other lane, straight road, 1/2 mile distance between him and the cyclists before impact, speeding at least 15 mph above the limit.

While all this has already been posted, you and others seem to keep forgetting the conditions and speculate on what could have happened (a heart attack?) rather than what witnesses will testify really happened. Why not throw in that an elephant fell out of the sky and obscured Johnson's vision?

the_source
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the_source 02/10/11 - 07:52 am
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saywhatagain said "However,

saywhatagain said "However, that is up to a judge and jury, not us."

Later in the same post, saywhatagain said "I pray for my kids safety every single day precisely because I know there are crazies like Johnson on the road"

Does anyone else see a contradiction in saywhatagain's post?

Phillyfriend
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Phillyfriend 02/10/11 - 10:16 am
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This whole situation is very

This whole situation is very sad. When I first heard about it, I was recovering from my first bike accident. I was riding on the shoulder of the road when a SUV that was next to me turned into me. I got lucky...very lucky and ended up hitting the SUV on the passenger side door. It hurt, alot, but I Was able to essentially walk away from it. When I heard about what happened to Dr. Burke...I definitely took a step back and truly realized how lucky I was. One second earlier and I would have been launched through the air. Since my accident however, I have found myself in a lengthy legal battle. The cops never gave the driver a citation and now her insurance company wants me to pay for the dent my body created in her car. Meanwhile, I have been in physical therapy and my prized possession, my bike, has been annihilated.

Point is....what I have found through my accident and following this one (and many others) is that there is a level of ignorance and impatience in regards to cyclists that is astounding.

First, drivers must realize that NO MATTER what the cyclist is doing, no matter how flagrant their regard for the rules is....they are on a bicycle. In a fight, the car will ALWAYS win. So drivers must practice patience and remember that is a life, a person, a mom or dad or son or daughter on that bike. Be a bigger person and let it go. Don't give in to temptation and rev or buzz or try to go around when it's not safe. It's not worth it if an accident should happen.

Second...cyclist need to remember always to be on the defense. Don't take the laws for granted because people in general DO NOT KNOW THEM. Don't run stop signs, don't ride too many deep, don't be a general jerk. Like I said before, the car will always win. So protect yourself and your fellow cyclist. Make nice with drivers so they in turn make nice with us. Someone needs to make the first step, let it be us.

I whole heartedly believe in justice. I also believe it will always prevail. What is meant to happen to Mr. Johnson will happen, be it jail time or whatnot. We must remember he is a person as well. No matter if he did this in a moment of insanity or rage, he is now and forever will live with this guilt. I would think there are few of us out there so callous as to never feel pain for something so bad. He will live with this forever and that is a punishment in and of itself. Let's practice forgiveness and humanity. Compassion breeds compassion..let’s give it a try.

I believe that things happen for a reason, whether you know that purpose now or later. I did not know Dr Burke personally, but from what I read he was an amazing person who helped others. Maybe through his death, others will be saved. I know personally that I am going to my next bike coalition meeting and finding out what I can do to help advocate education. Educating drivers and cyclist is the strongest tool to fight ignorance and hate. So I'm using this to do that.

My prayers are out there for all people involved...especially Dr. Burkes little girl.

Sean Moores
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Sean Moores 02/10/11 - 10:32 am
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I'm closing comment under

I'm closing comment under this story. If you want to post comments on this topic, go to our most recent story.
http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2011-02-10/driver-gets-bo...

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