Coaches Corner: Cross Country Student Killed During Athletic Practice

Posted on Jul 03, 2016

Heartbreaker out of Shenandoah, Iowa - Kinsee Rooker, 14, was participating in cross country practice at approximately 7:15 a.m. on June 7th. As she crossed at the intersection of Highway 2 and A Avenue in Shenandoah she was struck by a vehicle driven by Brent McKinnon. Rooker died at the scene. An investigation is ongoing in this case.

This is a tough one to report about. I coached soccer for over ten years. I still live and work in West Des Moines where the Valley High School Tigers train for cross-country. I see the cross country teams running along the streets as I travel to and from work. They run on the sidewalk, the teammates stretched out for city blocks; the line of runners form a ribbon of runners right up until the intersections; where large groups bunch up like too many concert goers attempting to squeeze through an entrance door; excited to see what is on the inside. Like cross country racehorses just before the Kentucky Derby these cc runners are all nervously running in place and wanting to be first to cross some ever-moving finish line somewhere off in the distance at the school yard. Some have their head on a swivel, nervously looking to and fro hoping and praying they will safely make it to the other side of our four lane busy streets.

And in the streets the cars keep on keeping on. Drivers seated behind steering wheels some paying attention to the runners and many not-so-much. Texting while driving is illegal, but then so is speeding and not paying attention while they drive. But we all know what it feels like to sit at a stop light and see drivers attention focused on their cell phones. They look up only when they sense the eyes of another driver riveted on them with a disapproving stare.

I have been a lawyer for over thirty-five years and have been personally involved in over two thousand cases. Allow me to tell you what goes on after you hit a pedestrian. First a lawsuit is filed after which written discovery is exchanged. In every case the parties are allowed to ask each other written questions. The answers are sworn answers, meaning they have similar weight as testimony given under oath. And in almost one hundred percent of all personal injury accidents I deal with at least one of those written questions wants to know the driver’s cell phone number, cell phone carrier and for the driver to state whether they were on their cell phone at the time of the collision, the moment when the pedestrian was struck, and in this instance killed. Then there is what we call a request for production. Requests for production are written instructions asking parties to produce documents. One of those documents the parties want drivers to produce are cell phone bills covering the date of the accident. That way we can all see the exact minutes the driver was on the phone and how many minutes the call lasted. We also get to know who was talking to the driver, which is as interesting as when. Because the “who”, will be a witness that can then be placed under oath and questioned about what was being talked about.

And if you ever want to hear meaningless talk put on display and compared with the risks of killing a pedestrian this is the place where it happens and is laid to bare.  

Now I know nothing about the driver of this car or the pedestrian and certainly don’t mean to insinuate anyone was on the phone. But this accident and any accidents we discuss are important opportunities to openly discuss what we see that is wrong with the behavior or drivers that increases risks of injury to pedestrians and to other people using the roads. And this discussion about discovery is a warning about what follows after an accident and the lawsuit is filed. There is no hiding your use of a cell phone while driving and certainly you won’t be hiding texting.

So take heed and avoid texting and cell phone use while driving and while talking on your cell phone isn’t illegal, think about how this young ladies’ family feels and how you would feel about some trivial conversation that perhaps distracted you and ended up taking someone’s life. And this is an important point. Even if a runner is somehow found to be at fault the driver may have had the last clear chance to avoid hitting them. You can exercise that last clear chance if you aren’t paying attention.

As a trial lawyer who’s seen way too many death cases I can’t help but wonder why we aren’t doing more to stop distracted driving. But many would say I have just seen too much and am being overly sensitive. Maybe; but then again maybe not. If it were my child who was running, I would say, “no way”, find a field or go down to Raccoon River’s three mile trail, where there is no motor traffic. And then you can run to your hearts content without wondering if the next driver is distracted. But that’s just the old coach in me, the one who worried about the players as if they were all my children.

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Steve Lombardi
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Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death