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No charges against driver of car that hit, killed bicyclist in Anchorage

Kyle Hopkins

State prosecutors have decided not to press charges against a driver whose vehicle struck and killed a bicyclist Jan. 2 in Midtown Anchorage.

Tj Justice, 59, was driving westbound on Northern Lights Boulevard at 2:45 p.m. when his Subaru collided with a southbound cyclist just west of Minnesota Drive, according to the Anchorage Police Department.

Doctors pronounced the bicycle rider, 65-year-old Eldridge Griffith, dead at a local hospital shortly after the crash. Griffith had ridden into the street without waiting for traffic, prosecutors concluded. One car slowed to avoid the retired state youth counselor. The other, driven by Justice, hit Griffith in the middle lane.

"Griffith failed to yield to traffic entering Northern Lights to his left from the post office lot," Assistant District Attorney Daniel Shorey wrote in an Aug. 22 review of the case. “His failure to yield to cross-traffic with the right-of-way resulted in his death.”

A video captured by surveillance cameras at the nearby Carrs grocery store appears to show that Justice’s view of the cyclist was blocked by another vehicle, Shorey wrote.

Eldridge was the first of three cyclists killed by vehicles in Anchorage this year, with the string of deaths raising questions about the safety of biking in the city. In the other cases, prosecutors accused the drivers of felonies.

A 4-year-old girl, Ashley Xiong, was hit in May while riding her bicycle in the Dimond Estates Mobile Home Park. Police say the driver, Her Thao, was talking on her cell phone when her SUV ran over the girl. Thao has been charged with criminally negligent homicide.

In July, 51-year-old Jeffery Dusenbury was killed while bicycling on a residential street in South Anchorage. A grand jury indicted driver Alexandra Ellis, 17, on charges of manslaughter and failing to assist an injured person in that hit-and-run case.

In the January case, Justice said he was on his way home from Costco at the time of the crash.

He had been arrested on drunken driving charges at least four times, in 1977, 1983, 1997 and 1998. That rap sheet likely would not have been admissible in court, Shorey wrote.

“Given the age of the prior convictions coupled with significantly different factual scenarios I am of the opinion that no judge would permit evidence on Justice’s prior driving while intoxicated convictions at trial,” he wrote in a memo to Anchorage police investigator Steve Dunn.

The purpose of the review was to decide if the state should pursue charges of criminally negligent homicide, which would mean proving Justice’s conduct was a “substantial factor” in the death, and/or driving while intoxicated.

A blood test found no sign of alcohol in Justice’s system, although the driver admitted to smoking marijuana the night before the January accident. Testing at a Washington state lab suggested he had used pot that day.

Prosecutors wrote that the drug use and Justice’s speed -- police estimate he was traveling between 38 and 46 mph in a 35 mph zone -- were not sufficient evidence to pursue charges.

Another driver in the right-hand lane of Northern Lights had apparently seen Griffith enter the roadway and slowed down. That vehicle blocked Justice’s view of the cyclist and Justice traveled in the middle lane, according to prosecutors’ analysis of the investigation.