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SMU prof indicted in cycling incident

Dolkart is accused of hitting man on bike at White Rock

Thursday, July 29, 2004

By ROBERT THARP / The Dallas Morning News

What started with yelling and hand gestures on a Sunday morning in May near White Rock Lake was quickly punctuated by the sound of crunching metal as car struck bicycle.

On Wednesday, a distinguished law professor was indicted, accused of using her Volkswagen Passat as a deadly weapon in what police and cycling advocates describe as an extreme case of road rage.

Jane Dolkart, 56, was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. If convicted, she faces two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Southern Methodist University officials said Ms. Dolkart remains on the law school faculty while the case is under review, but she is not teaching classes this summer.

According to police reports and court files, tensions escalated quickly as cyclist Tommy Thomas and a friend were riding single-file on West Lawther Drive south of Mockingbird Lane about 10 a.m. on May 2.

The two men told police that a motorist in a green Passat started following them closely, honking the car's horn, yelling and gesturing "in an unfriendly manner," according to police reports.

"I said, 'Wow, this is not right, this person has got some anger here,' " said Paul Schoenberg, who was riding with Mr. Thomas. "Obviously she was in a hurry ... she was right on us."

Moments later, a witness described hearing a scream, followed by the vehicle accelerating and then the sound of "an awful crunching noise and brakes screeching," according to court records.

His shoes still clipped to his bicycle pedals, Mr. Thomas was dragged under the car. When the car stopped, Ms. Dolkart commented as Mr. Thomas called 911: "Oh please, I didn't even hit you. ... you were in the way," before driving off and waiting at a nearby parking lot, court records say.

Mr. Thomas suffered pain in his left shoulder, elbow and leg and had a long "road rash" his forearm.

When police arrived to investigate and found Ms. Dolkart in a parking lot nearby, she reportedly described her actions as an attempt to let the cyclists "know I was there," according to court documents.

Reached Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Dolkart said that her attorney had instructed her not to comment about the indictment. In an earlier interview, an attorney no longer retained by Ms. Dolkart described the incident as an accident that happened when Ms. Dolkart tried to make a U-turn and Mr. Thomas stopped suddenly in front of her.

In December, Ms. Dolkart struck two SMU second-year law students as they crossed Hillcrest Avenue near the university campus. Ms Dolkart told police that she had not seen the pedestrians because the sun was in her eyes. A police report ruled that the sun would not have blocked her view of the pedestrians and that she had failed to check the crosswalk.

Bicycling advocates praised the indictment Wednesday and described the incident as an extreme example of what occurs daily for cyclists who share the streets with vehicles.

Brian Hasenbauer, a former professional triathlete who frequently rides around White Rock Lake, said he has survived being struck by vehicles on three occasions, as well as numerous encounters with agitated and aggressive drivers.

"Dallas is not very cycling-friendly," Mr. Hasenbauer said. "I definitely feel it is something that should be prosecuted if it's done on purpose or if it's an accident and it's done by negligence."