After five and a half weeks of investigation, Novato police Tuesday said the driver who struck and killed a young Novato girl who was riding her bike home from school was not at fault.
Hailey Ratliff, a 12-year-old seventh grader, was hit Sept. 27 by a GMC SUV near the western city limits. The driver, an out-of-state man who has not been identified by police, cooperated with officers at the accident site on Novato Boulevard just west of San Marin High School.
Toxicology reports on the driver came back negative, according to the police report.
"There were no indications that he went outside his lane or had any unsafe driving maneuvers," acting Lt. Jennifer Welch said.
“Few things are as heartbreaking as the loss of a child,” said Police Chief Jim Berg said in a statement. “Accidents such as this reaffirm the city’s ongoing commitment to help make our community safer for everyone. We at the city are saddened by the loss of anyone as a result of a traffic accident, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends during this difficult time.”
Multiple witnesses were interviewed as part of the traffic unit's investigation, Welch said. Officers who specialize in reconstructing crash scenes conducted a skid analysis study and combined the data with information obtained from witness interviews, police said. The girl was crossing Novato Boulevard where there is no crosswalk; the closest crosswalk to the crash site is in front of San Marin High a quarter mile away.
"It is the determination of the NPD that the collision occurred because the bicyclist entered a roadway without yielding the right of way to an approaching vehicle," the report said.
Welch said later Tuesday that police would not be releasing more specifics about the crash. In its release, the department did not mention Hailey Ratliff nor the driver by name pursuant to state Vehicle Code Section 20012, which deals with confidentiality.
The investigation is being forwarded to the Marin County District Attorney's Office for review. Police did not reveal anything about lawsuits being filed in connection with the accident.
The Ratliff family — father Charles, mother Angela and their three young boys — have since moved back to New Mexico, from which they had moved to Novato late this summer. Charles Ratliff had started an administrative job at Journey Ford Lincoln dealership in Novato.
The Ratliffs lived in a relatively new subdivision about a quarter west mile from the intersection of Novato Boulevard and San Marin Drive, just across Novato Boulevard from the Dogbone Meadow dog park. School kids from the subdivision often walk or ride on bike paths on either side of Novato Boulevard. Hailey Ratliff had ridden her bike on the south side of the road and attempted to cross Novato Boulevard at Sandy Creek Way, just before the dog park, when she was hit by the SUV.
Hailey's death sparked a large response from family and friends. Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil the day after she died and a roadside memorial has been maintained at the accident site. Memorial bracelets and T-shirts have been sold in her memory to support a fund set up to help the family.
A committee comprised mostly of residents from the Ratliffs' neighborhood has been formed and is working with police and Novato's Department of Public Works to see if additional safety measures can be taken in the area to protect pedestrians and bicyclists.