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Questions, emotions linger after cyclist killed 

A hit to the heart

click to enlarge Carol and John, a “quiet, gentle giant,” pictured with their granddaughter. - COURTESY JESMER FAMILY
  • Courtesy Jesmer Family
  • Carol and John, a “quiet, gentle giant,” pictured with their granddaughter.
Around 9 p.m. on Oct. 23, Carol Jesmer called the police.

Her husband of nearly 48 years should have been home an hour or more prior and she had begun to worry — especially when she heard on the news that a cyclist had been hit on Weber Street.

John Jesmer, 69, had been at the Jack Quinn’s Running Club (he was a board member) before riding his bike home. Carol knew he had almost certainly taken Weber Street, the same route he had ridden for 25 years back and forth to his job at the City Administration Building downtown where he worked first in the engineering department, and then as a Regional Building inspector.

Carol’s instinct, unfortunately, was correct. It was dark when 46-year-old Jason Smits, who had his disabled son in the car, hit John. According to the police report, Smits, a teacher in Colorado Springs School District 11, never saw John.

He did, however, pull over. Upon finding John bleeding and unconscious on the side of the road, Smits performed chest compressions and later spoke with police who described him as “very upset.” Detective C.T. Compton wrote in his report, “[Smits’] hands would tremble as he explained to me what he remembered as having happened and at several times he appeared to be on the edge of crying.”

John didn’t die that night. But he suffered severe blunt-force injuries. Carol and her daughter, Devra Ashby, who is — in a cruel coincidence — the spokesperson for D-11, say John was in a coma and never woke up. He died six days later.

John was one of 48 traffic deaths in the city in 2018, including four cyclists hit by automobiles. Three cyclists were killed by cars in 2017. (Notably, no cyclists were killed by cars in the city in 2016 or 2015, and one in 2014.)

Of the seven crashes in 2017 and 2018, the driver was found to be at fault in five. But no one was faulted in John’s death.

Carol and Ashby view John’s death as a grave injustice. Or, more accurately, injustices.

The two say that while they realize the collision was an accident, the fact that Smits was not charged with anything — not even a misdemeanor — is just plain wrong. Ashby notes that a driver who hits a parked car would be ticketed.

“If you hit a pedestrian, you don’t even get a slap on the hand, you get nothing,” she says.

The second injustice, they say, is the way the case was handled by both the police and the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office. They say they waited months, and only recently were provided with a police report. And they say neither office was proactive in sitting down with them and explaining why no charges were filed; instead they pursued a meeting and were eventually granted one.

“At the very least, it wasn’t handled humanely,” Ashby says.

Carol and Ashby also say they disagree with the police report. For instance, the report describes John as wearing dark clothes and having little lighting on his bike, but the two say John’s friends, who saw him just before he died, say he was “lit up like a Christmas tree,” and he was known to wear lights.

Smits says he didn’t see John according to the report. But Ashby and Carol say John was an experienced and safe rider, and they note that Smits admits in the report that he was engaged in conversation with his son and occasionally glancing at his phone.

Ashby and Carol also wonder why an interview with Smits was conducted days after the accident, and in front of his wife. (Police say that the interview in question was the third with Smits, and because he wasn’t a suspect, he had every right to talk, not talk, or talk with his wife present.)

It’s also, perhaps, notable that police did not test Smits for drugs or alcohol. Asked about that, police say in an email response that they were not able to perform such tests because Smits exhibited no signs of intoxication and thus they lacked probable cause.
For their part, police say they were in regular contact with John Jesmer’s family, and even sent a sympathy card. They add that there was not a timeline for the investigation and it took a while. They also say it was appropriate not to file charges — because it was very difficult to determine exactly what happened.

There were no witnesses to the crash, and even Smits didn’t witness what happened. Marks on the car were minimal. Smits moved his car after the accident, pulling it off the road, making the investigation trickier.

When this reporter, for instance, asked police if John’s toe cages, which strapped his feet to his pedals, could have impacted his trajectory, police replied that they could have — though minimally. But, police noted via email, his trajectory also could have been impacted by “him standing on his pedals or sitting in the saddle, how he was holding the handlebars, if he got hung up on the handlebars, whether he [was] sitting at the leading edge of the seat or sitting back on it, the type of clothing he was wearing and how tight it was, and even the type of material the clothing was made of.”

“That is the main issue of this crash,” police wrote in response to the Independent’s questions, “there are too many unknown variables in a variety of areas to make an absolute determination of fault for this tragic incident.”

The Indy reached out to Smits, but he said he didn’t wish to comment at this time.

As for Carol and Ashby, they’re left with the memories of a man whose absence has “left a big hole in the family.” Carol remembers that before John left on the day he was hit, he kissed her and she told him she’d see him in a bit. That’s was what they always said.

John, whom Carol calls “a quiet, gentle giant” was always athletic. When he was young, he played soccer, even traveling the world for it; later he coached his two children’s teams.

He was also persistent as an athlete. As a young man he lost three fingers in a work accident but retaught himself how to use the hand. Before he died, he was an avid pole vaulter — which he initially had to give up after his injury.

John also enjoyed hunting and fishing, and he always had to try his hand at fixing things around his house (or his daughter’s house) before he called a professional. He once built a canoe out of three aspen trees.

Ashby remembers her dad as attentive, wise and always there, but usually reserved. One of the only times she saw him cry was when he dropped her off at college.

Ashby, who admits at Carol’s teasing that she was a bit of a “daddy’s girl,” misses her dad. So does her husband, for whom John was the father he never had. And the couple’s young children have struggled to deal with the loss of the man they called “Bop.”

Carol and Ashby plan to pursue a civil suit over John’s death. They say they aren’t vindictive — and they know that Smits is grief-stricken — but with John gone, Carol will need some help. And beyond that, both women say that there must be some consequence for taking a life — to ensure that people are careful when they’re driving. After all, Ashby says, her father was just one of 48 people killed on the city’s roads last year.

“Every one of those people,” she says, “was a human being.”

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