SPOKANE — The 67-year-old woman injured when a bicyclist yelled “hot pizza” and then crashed into her along the Centennial Trail is suing the rider.
Virginia Pearsall hired lawyers Bob Dunn and Dan Fasy to press her case against the cyclist, 44-year-old Justin Haller.
“Like some sort of asinine idiot, he plowed right into her,” said Dunn. “Instead of acting like a reasonable adult, the guy had road rage, acting like some sort of potentate of the pathway.”
Dunn said Pearsall wanted to bring awareness to trail safety but said she could receive compensation in the “high six figures” if her injuries are permanent.
In an interview, Haller denied any wrongdoing. He called the collision an “accident” and blamed the unsafe mix of walkers and cyclists on the trail.
“You shouldn’t have a place where you have five times the speed discrepancy,” he said, noting that cyclists are allowed to reach up to 15 mph on the trail, where most people walk 3 mph. “If I were going to hop onto a highway going 12 mph, don’t you think I should look out for bigger and faster-moving vehicles?”
According to accounts from both Pearsall and Haller, Pearsall was walking with her sister on the trail near milepost 24 at Nettleton Street when she heard someone behind her yell, “Hot pizza!”
The statement confused her, but she moved to the right to avoid what she thought was likely a cyclist. Haller collided with her from behind.
Their accounts diverge there.
The complaint argues that Haller was traveling “at an unsafe, reckless speed without concern for the safety and welfare of others.” After Haller hit Pearsall, first with his bike and then his body, they both fell to the ground.
A witness interviewed for the complaint said Haller “screamed obscenities” at Pearsall as both were on the ground. The witness, a mother with her “small children,” told him to stop yelling and that Pearsall was clearly injured.
Haller continued to berate Pearsall, according to the complaint. He yelled at her and used an obscenity to tell her to get out of the way, according to the suit, adding Pearsall “had no right to be on the trail” and that the trail was “for cyclists only.”
When Pearsall said she was going to the emergency room, her sister was “led to believe” Haller would meet them there, but he didn’t.
According to Haller, he yelled the non sequitur to get the attention of Pearsall, her sister and a nearby group he called “the stroller brigade.”
Realizing he couldn’t stop in time, Haller said he went to the right to avoid Pearsall.
“She went on the grass at the last minute, as I did. It was on accident. Not on purpose,” he said, noting that he’s ridden 100,000 miles and this the first time he’s hit someone. “It’s not something that I wanted to happen. It was the perfect storm of bad things. I couldn’t get off.”
Haller said he doesn’t remember yelling at Pearsall, but said, if so, he was “yelling at the stroller brigade, if anything.”
Instead of going to the emergency room to meet Pearsall, he went to an urgent care clinic and hasn’t seen or communicated with Pearsall since. He posted pictures of his facial injuries from the crash to his Facebook page.
Haller said he regretted the situation, especially considering the “death threats” he’s gotten since the story became news.
“Nothing but slanderous lies based on nothing. It’s a media storm … circus,” he said. “I’m being vilified because I’m a man. If I were a female cyclist, do you think I’d be vilified?”
He added that he welcomed a lawsuit, which he considered “a ruse from the get, because somebody said I had a nice bike.”
“If someone wants to sue me, they can go ahead. I don’t have anything,” he said, adding that his bike isn’t as nice as people say it is. He said he now avoids that section of the Centennial Trail because “it’s not safe.”
Fasy, one of Pearsall’s lawyers, said Haller’s behavior was particular to him.
“Even most cyclists who use the trail would say this man’s behavior is bizarre and dangerous. It’s really about him and his behavior,” Fasy said. “If you’re riding your bicycle in a reasonable fashion, this wouldn’t happen. Follow the rules of the road and avoid this sort of ridiculous behavior. Yell ‘on your left,’ save the hot pizza for the pizza party.”