Victim: We wanted accountability, not harsh punishment
MOORESVILLE – An Iredell County judge has convicted a Davidson woman of reckless driving in the July 4 incident that left a woman cyclist, also from Davidson, with a fractured spine and broken ribs.
But with no objection from the victim, Julie Zimmerman, District Court Judge Christine Underwood limited Heather Ramsey’s punishment to court costs and a prayer for judgment continued, which requires Ramsey to drive carefully in the future.
Speaking from her Davidson home after the trial, Zimmerman said she was surprised when the judge invited her to speak.
“Mrs. Ramsey was crying, and I was tearing up,” Zimmerman said. “I think the reckless driving conviction was justified, but that doesn’t mean that she needs to have a bunch of additional punishment. … Taking her driver’s license away would just be perpetuating the badness. I know she pays more attention to cyclists now, even without talking to her.
“… I think people need to know if they do hit someone, that you won’t get a slap on the wrist. We wanted people to know that there are consequences to your actions, that you can get a fine, your license revoked and jail time. And your insurance premium can go through the roof.
“… It’s not like she’s a horrible, terrible person, but she made one very bad judgment. I feel bad for her family. She has children the same age as my children.”
William Willis IV, Ramsey’s attorney, said his client has always admitted causing the accident, but a Highway Patrol trooper initially cited Ramsey for failure to slow down to avoid an accident before finally charging her with misdemeanor reckless driving.
Willis said his client offered to plead to the less-serious infraction but took his advice to go to trial on the reckless driving charge.
Willis said Ramsey did not want to comment now. But the attorney said, “Mrs. Ramsey has been deeply remorseful and always concerned about the welfare and recovery of Mrs. Zimmerman. … It’s a miracle that she lived and made the recovery she has.”
Julie Zimmerman and her husband, Dr. Matthew Zimmerman, who operates Zimmerman Family Wellness chiropractic center in Cornelius, refused to accept a plea agreement. Assistant District Attorney John Burns did not return a call from the Herald Weekly, but Matthew Zimmerman said they wanted to send a message by not compromising on the charge.
“If you’re going to drive in Lake Norman, you need to pay attention and watch out for cyclists to see what they’re doing,” he said. “We weren’t out to get blood or vengeance. We wanted to make sure the accountability was there.”
The July 4, 2010, incident occurred on two-lane Faith Road in Mount Mourne, between N.C. 1125 and Shearers Road. Julie Zimmerman, an experienced triathlete, was riding her bike east on Faith Road by herself. Ramsey, driving a Toyota Land Cruiser in the same direction, approached the cyclist from behind.
Other cars were coming in the opposite direction, and Ramsey thought she could get by Zimmerman in time. Willis said she was not speeding, but when she reached the cyclist, Ramsey realized she couldn’t pass and hadn’t slowed enough to avoid slamming into Zimmerman from behind.
Emergency medical crews flew Zimmerman to a Charlotte hospital, where she was initially in serious condition. But Matthew Zimmerman said his wife, given her excellent condition, has made steady progress. She’s trying to gradually wean herself off a neck-to-groin body cast and has even begun cycling classes on a stationary bike.
“I was a runner before I started cycling,” Julie Zimmerman said. “That’s my first goal. I hope that I can begin running in the next month.”
When sentencing Ramsey last week, the judge reportedly spoke to everyone in the courtroom, “Let this be a learning experience. If you see a cyclist, slow down,” Willis said.
The trial “was not an easy thing,” Matthew Zimmerman said. “My wife showed grace under pressure and showed true forgiveness in that courtroom. … Hopefully people in this courtroom will think twice when passing.”