Who’s At Fault? Wyoming Cop Weighs In On Viral Crash Video Showing Motorcyclist Flipping Over Car

A video showing a motorcyclist plowing into the back of a car that stopped suddenly for a three-legged dog in the road has sparked a storm of debate as to who's to blame. But a 20-year Wyoming cop says its not a close call.

Jake Nichols

March 08, 20236 min read

Whos at fault 3 8 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Any opportunity to get a viral video uploaded to the website, right? Actually, this clip presents a teachable moment and, judging from the thousands of accompanying comments, the Twitter world is fairly split on one burning question: 

Who’s at fault?

Take a minute. Hold our beer. Watch this:

To be fair, the first question that needs answering concerns the welfare of the motorbiker. Is he going to be alright?

A close second is what ultimately happened to the three-legged dog who narrowly avoided being turned into Puppy Chow?

Also, if this had happened in Wyoming, who would get the ticket? And what is the duty of a motorist to avoid a collision with an animal, pet or wildlife? 

Finally, isn’t it the responsibility of the biker to follow traffic at a safe distance and avoid, like, bashing into the back of the car in front of him with enough force to flip him over to land on the windshield?

What Do Cops Say?

We went straight to an expert, Lt. Russ Ruschill, who has been with the Jackson Police Department for two decades. 

In addition to his desk duties, he also heads up the department’s mounted patrol, training a group of volunteer horsemen and horsewomen to patrol downtown from the saddle every summer. 

In the tourist town of Jackson, Ruschill has pretty much seen it all. Everything except, maybe, an incident like the video we showed him the other day in his office.

“That guy was lucky to walk away from this,” Ruschill first remarked after letting out a low whistle. 

He replayed it.

“That’s a road obstruction right there,” Ruschill said of the red vehicle that stops for the wandering three-legged dog. “Stopping, standing or parking in the middle of a roadway is illegal unless you have some reason to do it.”

Ruschill reached for a well-worn traffic statutes book on his desk, thumbing through to a section earmarked by a binder clip.

“Except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic, or in compliance with law, or the directions of a police officer, or a traffic control device, no person shall stop, stand, or park a vehicle on the roadway or street or in an intersection, or on a crosswalk …”

On and on he read until our eyes glazed over. 

Lt. Russ Ruschill, a 20-year veteran of the Jackson Police Department, reads from the traffic laws while watching a viral video of a motorcycle crashing into a car stopped for a three-legged dog. (Jake Nichols, Cowboy State Daily)

Yup, That’s A Ticket

OK, let’s come back to the red car. What about the guy on the bike?

“He’s following too close,” Ruschill stated flatly.

Unlike the explanation of who can just stop a vehicle in the middle of the road and for what reason, following too closely is comparatively straightforward, the lieutenant said. 

“This is actually one of the simpler laws out there,” Ruschill assured. “The driver of a vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than what is reasonable or prudent, having due regard for the speed of vehicles and the traffic upon the highway.”

OK, explain it like we’re 5.

“Well, I would say running into the back of a stopped vehicle, with the amount of time and distance the biker had to adjust, is neither reasonable nor prudent. And probably somewhat painful in this case.”

So, the motorcycle guy probably gets a ticket. 

What About That Stopped Car?

Back to the red car. Is that driver allowed to stop in the middle of an intersection on, presumably, a green light if there is a dog running around loose?

“I believe the dog had the right of way because he was in a crosswalk,” Ruschill said, followed with a puzzled look. “Let me look up the state’s definition of a pedestrian.”

According to the state of Wyoming, a pedestrian is considered a “person travelling on foot.”

“Hmm, so maybe a pet or wildlife would not technically qualify as a person and, therefore, a lawful reason to stop your vehicle,” he said. “But if you ran over a dog or hit a mule deer or a moose, especially in Jackson, that would be bad. It would not go over well. But you might, technically, not be breaking the law.”

Ouch. Tell that to the dog owner.

“Still, it’s incumbent upon a motorist to do the right thing here: Don’t hit the damn dog!” Ruschill added.

The 20-year veteran of the Jackson Police shared with Cowboy State Daily just how he would write up the crash:

“Vehicle 1, the motorcycle, rear-ended Vehicle 2, the red Volkswagen, who had stopped in the lane of traffic to allow a pedestrian tripod pit bull to make use of the pedestrian crosswalk.”

Del Ray John (Courtesy Photo)

What Does A Biker Think?

Content with the legal aspects of the video crash, we solicited the slightly less-expert opinion of a motorcyclist. 

Del Ray John has had a hog between his legs for longer than most of us have been breathing. Harleys, Hondas, Suzukis – he’s ridden them all. 

For decades, the Victor, Idaho, resident has commuted to work every weekday morning for his job as an on-air radio personality in Jackson. Thousands of those trips made over Teton Pass were on a motorcycle. 

John watched the video. 

“No question in my mind the guy on the bike has to stop there. It looked like he took his eyes off the road. He was oblivious to that stopped car,” John noted. “But he did a great flip. I give him an 8 for the flip.”

John has had his share of close calls on the road as well. What biker hasn’t? One thing he’s learned is the rules of the road are a lot plainer than what’s in the lawbooks. 

Bikes never win in a collision.

“Here’s the thing about riding a motorcycle: You have to have a Plan B. You are always thinking about an escape route,” John remarked. “I’ve always said: When you are riding a motorcycle, you have to have the mentality that you are in a war zone and everybody else is trying to kill you.”

John sold his motorcycle a few years back. He no longer rides. He said his body told him his days on the steel horse were over. That, and his wife, Lynda.

“’You’re done’ was, I think, exactly how she put it,” he said.

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Jake Nichols

Features Reporter