Motorcyclist case illustrates unreliability of eyewitness testimony

Evan Volkers was an experienced motorcyclist who was making his way to work on July 14, 2014 when he came to the intersection of Highway 100 and Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids.

As usual, Evan was driving his beloved Honda CRB motorcycle, which he had modified from its original stock version, allowing him to perform “wheelies” when he accelerated very rapidly. He was used to taking this path to work, so he knew the timing of the lights at the interchange quite well.

According to other drivers at the interchange that morning, Evan took off at a high speed and popped a “wheelie.” At the same moment, a semi-truck driver crossed through the intersection. Evan tried to correct and avoid the collision, but ended up hitting the rear end of the semi-truck and was dragged nearly 100 feet. He ultimately died from injuries sustained in the accident.

The question in the legal case came to rest on one detail: who had the red light – Evan or the semi-truck driver?

This determination would be made using accident reconstruction and light sequencing to help re-create the accident. Additionally, with the busy morning traffic in the Cedar Rapids area, there were two eyewitnesses who testified as to what they saw when Evan and the semi-truck driver approached and went through the intersection.

The first eyewitness could not testify to the color of the light at the interchange when Evan went through it, but based on his location to Evan prior to when the light changed and proven during a study of the light sequencing, Evan would clearly have had a green light when he went through the intersection where the accident took place. This would mean that the semi-truck driver had a red light.

Another eyewitness traveling in the same direction as the semi-truck driver, would testify that the light was green as he was approaching the intersection and that the light for he and the semi-truck driver was green when they entered the intersection.

These two contradictory eyewitness statements left the court with the responsibility of deciding what probably happened in this case. The Tom Riley Law Firm attorneys representing the administrators of Evan Volkers’s estate must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the semi-truck driver had a red light.

Tom Riley Law Firm attorneys addressed this case by examining eyewitness testimony and its credibility in accident situations.

“Eyewitness testimony can be flawed despite the best efforts of witnesses to testify truthfully and only to those facts they are convinced they remember,” says Peter Riley. “The human brain is a tricky thing. We all regularly fill in the blanks as to our observations even without knowing we are doing it. We are then convinced we saw or experienced those things that our brains filled into the blanks.”

Eyewitness testimony experts acknowledge that witnesses can be convinced that they saw things – and the memory can be especially more pronounced when humans become aware of an event such as an accident.

Through the expert study of light sequencing at the interchange, Tom Riley Law Firm attorneys were able to bring questions about the credibility of the eyewitness’ accounts that claimed that the semi-truck driver had a green light.

With information about the light sequencing in the interchange that directly contradicted the eyewitness testimony of the drivers that morning, the Judge ultimately ruled in the favor of Evan Volkers’s estate and reduced the requested award amount by 25% for the motorcyclist’s fault.

“It was important to have the court vindicate Evan and find that Evan had a green light,” says Peter Riley.

“While we mourn for the loss of Evan in this accident, his case is a prime example of the unreliability of eyewitness testimony,” says Peter Riley. “If his case and death can be used to help others in a court of law, then I feel like his legacy lives on.”

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