Five weeks after an elderly Toronto pedestrian was fatally struck by a cyclist in the north end of the city, police are renewing appeals for witnesses to step forward, with a view to laying possible criminal charges.
Nobu Okamoto, 74, was hit by a 33-year-old cyclist on Finch Avenue West, near Sentinel Road west of Keele Street, on Aug. 4.
Mr. Okamoto had been walking east on the sidewalk at around 10:15 a.m., heading for his local bank, when he was knocked to the ground by the cyclist, who was biking westward along the same sidewalk.
The cyclist, whose name was not released, remained at the scene and was later fined, police said.
The fine for cycling on the sidewalk in North York is $3.75. As in most jurisdictions, small bicycles with a wheel diameter of 61 centimetres or less are allowed; adult-sized bikes are not.
Mr. Okamoto sustained head injuries, cuts and scrapes to the right side of his body and died a week later in Toronto Western Hospital.
It was the city’s second serious cyclist/pedestrian accident within a few weeks – in July, a woman walking in Chinatown was badly hurt by a cyclist travelling the wrong way on a one-way street – and both incidents stirred debate about whether the laws that apply to cyclists are too lenient.
In most situations, errant cyclists can be fined a maximum of $400 under the Highway Traffic Act, even when death or injury occurs.
Drivers of motorized vehicles, by contrast, can be charged under the Criminal Code with a wide range of offences and face far stiffer penalties, including jail.
But in any circumstances, negligence that results in death or serious injury can be prosecuted under the code, and in this instance one possible charge against the cyclist – described by police as remorseful – would be criminal negligence causing death.
“Anybody who saw the incident, we would like to speak to them,” police spokesman Tony Vella said.
Mr. Okamoto’s death refuelled the long-running argument about whether more bike lanes are needed in the city.
It also underscored how different bylaws apply to different parts of the city, 10 years after amalgamation. Had the accident happened in downtown Toronto, the ticket handed to the cyclist would have been $90.
In the meantime, “I urge people to ride their bicycles on the roadway, not on the sidewalk,” Constable Vella said.
“You do not want to endanger your life, nor someone else’s.”