Pittsburgh driver charged in death of cyclist
David Witherspoon likely didn't hit the brakes before he rear-ended the car that pinned bicyclist Susan Hicks between its front end and the car in front of her last fall, police say.
Witherspoon, 49, of Beltzhoover is charged with homicide by vehicle in the death of Hicks, 34, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed Friday.
Hicks, a University of Pittsburgh professor and adviser from Morningside, was on her bicycle and stopped in traffic at the intersection of Forbes Avenue and Bellefield Street in Oakland about 5 p.m. Oct. 23 when she was struck by a vehicle that had been hit by another car. She was pushed into the back of the car in front of her, pinning her between the two.
Hicks died about 30 minutes later of blunt-force trauma at UPMC Presbyterian. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office ruled her death accidental.
According to a criminal complaint, witnesses told police they saw Witherspoon's green Saturn slam into the Toyota behind Hicks.
One witness told police she saw Witherspoon's Saturn speeding on Forbes as he approached the intersection. Another said Witherspoon did not brake, according to the complaint.
Investigators wrote that there were no marks on the road indicating Witherspoon tried to avoid the crash.
Immediately following the crash, a witness told police he saw Witherspoon open the driver's side door and fall to the ground, according to the complaint. He was breathing but unresponsive. Paramedics said he later complained of pain, though they found no indications of an injury, police wrote.
Paramedics reported a strong odor of marijuana on Witherspoon. A urine test showed synthetic marijuana in his system, according to the complaint. Police said they found a marijuana blunt cigar on the floor of Witherspoon's car and a package of synthetic marijuana marked “Wonderland” in the center console.
Hicks' death rattled the city's tight-knit biking community.
Scott Bricker, executive director of nonprofit Bike Pittsburgh, said he hopes Witherspoon's arrest serves a purpose.
“I think what we're hoping is that this reminds people about just what a serious responsibility driving is,” he said.
Witherspoon already was in the Allegheny County Jail on Friday on unrelated charges, according to Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler. Court records show he was arrested in February on theft charges stemming from an October incident. Formal arraignment in that case is scheduled for May 17.
He also is awaiting a May 3 hearing on theft charges filed in June.
Witherspoon's criminal record dates back to 2008 when he pleaded guilty to possession with intent to deliver, possession of a controlled substance and possession of marijuana. He was sentenced to up to three years in prison.
In the same hearing, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy, possession of a controlled substance and two counts of possession with intent to deliver.
In 2012, he pleaded guilty to harassment. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to speeding and, in a separate incident, driving with a suspended license, according to court records.
In addition to homicide by vehicle, Witherspoon is charged with accidents involving death while not properly licensed, involuntary manslaughter, possession of a controlled substance, driving without a license, following too closely and careless driving.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or [email protected].