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Archive for Wednesday, August 11, 1999

BICYCLIST SHOCKED TO LEARN OFFICER WAS BEHIND WHEEL

August 11, 1999

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A bicyclist who was struck by a Jeep last weekend in downtown Lawrence didn't realize the man who hit him was a police officer.

When he saw the headlights coming toward him on the sidewalk where he was riding his rainbow-painted mountain bike, Steve Mitchell thought someone was playing a joke on him.

Then a blue Jeep Wrangler hit him, flipping the 22-year-old bass player three times and turning his right thumb, the strumming thumb, into "hamburger," he said.

Emergency-room doctors treated and released Mitchell after the Saturday accident. He didn't learn until Tuesday that the Jeep's driver was an off-duty Lawrence policeman.

"Oh my God," Mitchell said when a Journal-World reporter informed him.

"I thought maybe it was just a naive mistake," Mitchell said later Tuesday afternoon during an interview at his home. "It turns out it's a man who, no matter if he's on duty or off duty, is supposed to be looking out for the community."

City officials are investigating the accident. Meanwhile, Officer Micah Stegall, 24, has been placed on paid administrative leave.

Stegall told Officer Max Dickens, who responded to the accident call, that he was coming out of the parking lot on the northeast corner of Eighth and Vermont streets, making a left turn onto Vermont. While traveling south on Vermont, he tried to make a left turn onto Eighth, but was driving "too fast," he said, and drove onto the south sidewalk off Eighth Street.

The LPD accident report says that Stegall's eyes were bloodshot, that he smelled of alcohol and that alcohol contributed to the accident. Police have not released results of blood-alcohol tests.

After the accident, Stegall drove Mitchell to the hospital.

Mitchell called the accident "unfathomable" and said Stegall seemed intoxicated while driving him to the hospital.

Whether Stegall erred in driving Mitchell to the hospital instead of calling for an ambulance is something the police department's investigation will look into, Lawrence City Manager Mike Wildgen said.

"I asked that question too, so it will be part of the evaluation," Wildgen said.

Stegall did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Mitchell, who plays with the Lawrence band PBJ, is scheduled to undergo plastic surgery today for his thumb. Scabs cover his legs and arms, and his forehead is bruised. But, he said, he's most worried about his thumb because for now, he can't play music.

Mitchell, who doesn't have medical insurance, says he was lucky not to have been more seriously injured.

But, "I wouldn't consider my injuries to be minor at all," he said. "I'm definitely beat up."

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is dgruver@ljworld.com.

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