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Driver Cleared in Hailey Ratliff Accident

Novato police said toxicology report came back negative and there was no indication that the unidentified man did anything wrong behind the wheel when 12-year-old girl tried to cross in front of him.

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.

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Christine November 06, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Rest in Peace Hailey
Gram November 06, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Were they able to determine how fast he was driving at the time of impact? THAT is the issue.....
NovatoAVID November 06, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Rest in Peace
JaneDoe4 November 06, 2012 at 07:06 PM
The skid analysis, combined with the accident recreation and witnesses accounts all indicated that the driver was not in any violation - which means he was not speeding, if that's what you are questioning. If you read the article it says, in no uncertain terms that the driver is not in anyway to be blamed for the accident. As sad as it is, sometimes accidents are accidents. A child was killed. A family, a community, and an unsuspecting and innocent driver all have to live with that for the rest of their lives.
Peter Rudy November 06, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Wonder if all those people who vilified the driver without any facts feel remorse right now. Such a sad, sad story--made even more sad by people's building-high leaps to conclusions. My heart goes out to Hailey's family and friends and, yes, to the driver whose life will surely never be the same either.
Dexter Kaziff November 06, 2012 at 07:27 PM
If e was speeding he wouldn't have been cleared. It was a terrible accident. Let this man have some peace.
Kathleen November 06, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Please, with all due respect, drop it Gram. They did their research, they came to a conclusion. Why is everyone so hell bent on placing blame on this man who is going to have to live with this for the rest of his life??? I don't get it.
oblio November 06, 2012 at 09:07 PM
I truly hope the citizen's group that has formed can lobby successfully for a reduction in the speed limit on that stretch of road. Brent, can you provide more information on the citizen's group and their activites? I think other community members may be interested.
Roni Yarnot-Krajeski November 06, 2012 at 11:23 PM
What may be a better use of time would be what we used to call "bike rodeos" when I was a kid. We learned about bicycle safety and the rules of the road. I'm not sure who put them on, but there were police officers, the parks and rec, and scouts. Surely these groups can put their heads together and hold an event like this. I know a lot of us forget just how dangerous cars are and how one mistake, by anybody, can lead to tragedy. It would be great to see some education around bicycle safety happen. I talk to my children about safety, but I'd love to have it reinforced. Anybody?
Cathy November 06, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Not having children in the Novato schools, what is their policy in regards to students riding bikes to school? I was reading the SF Chronicle story and found this comment in their blog posts and was curious as to whether this was already happening in Novato and, if it wasn't, if it might be considered: "At my elementary school (also in Marin) back in the olden days before helmets, the only students permitted to ride their bicycles to and from school and use the school's bike racks were those who participated in a Saturday safety event on the school playgrounds. Those who completed it successfully got a sticker to put on the handlebar stem. Parents were the ones conducting this. [Nezumi, 11/6/12]
Anthony November 07, 2012 at 12:39 AM
In that case, tell them to make ALL roads 5mph so nobody ever gets hurt. There is nothing wrong with the speed limit there. Sadly, this was the girls fault. What needs to happen is we need to educate young bikers.
Leslie November 07, 2012 at 02:19 AM
I am at the dog park four or five times a week and I can tell you that there is a definite need for two different cross walks. One at each of the entrances to the development that is being talked about. This would slow all of the drivers coming in from the west well before the houses and then the high school. This would allow for safety to and from the dog park, in and out of the development, and safety for the San Marin students. A flashing pedestrian light at one of them would be the best.
angela ratliff November 07, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Anthony, are you implying that a 45 mph speed limit near a school, at a curve in the road, between a dog park AND a residential neighborhood, with overgrown trees is okay????????? You either don't have children, have never been a pedestrian or bicyclist on that road, or you are stupid.
Janna Barkin November 07, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Rest in Peace baby girl.
Anthony November 07, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Angela, I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say, or I did a bad job writing it out. Yes, this is a 45mph near a school, but I have never seen an issue with it. I went to San Marin when I was in high school and always hung out right next to this road and never saw a problem with cars. I do agree there should be a crosswalk going to the high school and another from the dog park to the residential area. I drive this road very often and I think 45 is fine there. I believe it slows to 25 (maybe 35) once you get just passed the school. This was a terrible loss and it saddens me when kids lose their lives, but I think we also should use this to educate other children on the safety of the road, and crossing it while either walking or riding a bike.
Karen November 07, 2012 at 04:06 PM
A stop sign in that area and change of speed limit should be something to consider. Remember that neighborhood is ten or so years old and San Marin HS was the end of town basically. Newly licensed drivers are coming out the SM's back lot, kids walking home from school, etc. Its too busy of a stretch of road to have make a change. I certainly have sympathy for the driver. This could have been anyone of us , the parent of the child or the driver (speeding or not). If I was a driver involved in an accident that took someone's life, I'd be devestated. Think about it, whether driving 25 or 45MPH, you hit a pedestrian, you're going to seriously hurt them or worse, as in this case. The lives of both sides will never be the same and I pray that they both find peace. From a mother and a driver
Gram November 07, 2012 at 05:15 PM
I guarantee you he was not going 25 mph! Speeding in Novato is an acceptable entitlement...wish I could figure out why.
Barb Curtice November 07, 2012 at 08:55 PM
The bike rodeos were discussed in the meeting we had with NPD a couple weeks ago when they came out to speak with Novato Blvd Safety Committee. We meet again tonight at 6:30 pm in the Chase Subdivision, Please contact me for more info 717-6100 or barbcurtice@gmail.com. We have also connected with Safe Routes to School and Pat Eklund on shared ideas that we want to implement. There are programs in place that need to be revisited and further reinforced. We welcome your support.
Barb Curtice November 07, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Please contact BarbCurtice@gmail.com or 717-6100 for information regarding Novato Blvd Safety Committee. Our next meeting is tonight in the Chase Subdivison at 6:30 pm. We welcome your input and support.
Barb Curtice November 07, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Very good point Cathy. This was discussed at our last Novato Blvd Safety Committee meeting and we have it as an agenda item to address. The thought was both student and parent would need to sign off on understanding and adhering to the safe travel route. I don't yet understand everything around this administratively. We have connected with Safe Routes to School to get more clarity on what we can do to improve the Novato plan.
David Edmondson November 07, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Going 30MPH you have a 45% chance of killing someone if you hit them; going 40 MPH you have an 85% chance. It's an exponential growth. There should be stop signs at Copper Hill Way and Sandy Creek Way, and Novato Boulevard needs to be repainted with an eye towards safety. That's the minimum.
Kevin Moore November 07, 2012 at 11:38 PM
From what I saw, the legal speed limit is 45 mph. The residential area of Novato expanded out into the rural area and the speed limits have not been revised downwards.
angela ratliff November 08, 2012 at 12:11 AM
One more mile of 35mph speed limit could have possibly saved her life.
Kevin Moore November 08, 2012 at 12:38 AM
I am reminded of Princess Diana's death, where so many things that went wrong; change one thing (seat belts, drinking, press, better guard rail); she is alive today. This accident is a similar perfect storm that created a horrible accident. The residential area has expanded out into the rural area, yet the speed limit is still 45 mph. There are sidewalks on both sides, but the nearest crosswalk is at San Marin, a 1/4 mile back. The curve is subtle and "don't cross near curves" doesn't come to mind, but the curve does obstruct the driver's view of the road ahead. At the curve, cars drive onto the bike lane line (the paint is gone), reducing separation. The large trees obstruct views and create shadows making it harder to see anyone. It all adds up. Not making excuses, just trying to reason why. Some have come to the defense of the driver as we believe there was no bad intention (racing or drinking) and the police could not prove speeding or distracted driving was involved. Also, there are bicycle riders that always blame the driver and this has caused some backlash. The driver, who may have done nothing wrong or done everything wrong, may carry the guilt with him for life. The road can be made safer by reducing the speed to 35 mph, putting in two crosswalks a good distance from the curve, and adding "Bots Dots" or plastic cones to the bike lane at the corner. Nothing can fix what has happened or take away the pain that is felt. I am very sorry for the loss.
Barb Curtice November 08, 2012 at 02:13 AM
I just drove the back roads from Novato to Fairfax and back before our meeting tonight. I was told to look at the new signage in Fairfax crossings and around the new Good Earth. I lked what I saw throughout Fairfax as their main road goes right through town so there are several cross walk areas. I was amazed to see that driving in and out of Fairfax from rural Marin is at 35 MPH - moves to 40 in some places and 50 around Nicascio. Does not budge much from that 40-50 between Nicasio and Stafford Lake except for some turns. Around the school zone at Nicasio there was a CHP trailer with 35 MPH signage. At the school they had it signed for 25 mph when children present AND had speed bumps in the road to slow traffic down. This is a similar stretch to what we are looking at on Novato Blvd and yet Marin County has this area at 35 MPH and not the 45 MPH as Novato has posted entering into the city and school zone. Entering Novato in unmarked (last sign at the Cheese Factory) and very little information for people to know they are coming upon a town after the bridge turn headed toward Dog Bone Park. There is much to do ... let's get busy!!
Wendi Kallins November 08, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Safe Routes to Schools provides pedestrian and bicycle education at Novato schools. We teach pedestrian safety to 2nd graders and bicycle safety to 4th graders. We also teach advanced bicycle safety to 6th graders. both 4th and 6th grade classes include a bicycle rodeo.
oblio November 09, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Anthony, I have lived in Novato for only 10 years, and during that time there have numerous accidents on that stretch of road. I have driven it many times, and I have bicycled it many times as well. In my opinion, the speed limit there is too high. I don't know how long you've been out of high school, but a residential subdivision went up there since I've lived here, with no changes to the speed limit. Novato can do better.
It Me November 22, 2012 at 09:56 AM
As a former resident of Marin County, it’s a little late in the game to have all this rage, hate, and anger, if every one was so worried, why then pray tell was not a partition to the City of Novato presented some years ago? The one thing I notice over the years most drivers ignore the posted speed limited, and do some of the strangest things to get from point A to point B. as example, I could have been seriously injured when this old man went from highway 101 to exit on Northgate drive (see Google maps for a better understanding). I have seen blatant speeding, passing over double yellow lines, red light running. So next time your out driving, check your Speedometer, and the yellow doesn’t mean speed up.
Tori Waymire February 15, 2013 at 02:53 AM
Hailey was a beaitiful girl who loved to ride her bike and understood the importance of safety she would never had done anything to cause this accident however the driver needs to be able to continue through his life even though she can't (please continue to be supportive of her family and the many others going through this with them ) She will be missed especially here at home.
Steve Bingham May 05, 2013 at 12:44 AM
I don't know if anyone is reading here anymore. My wife and I lost our daughter Sylvia Bingham who was killed on 9/15/09 in Cleveland while riding her bike to her new VISTA job, 4 months after college graduation. She grew up in Marin and graduated from Terra Linda High. We are just now reaching out to Hailey's family as we are organizing a Ride of Silence to remember all who have died biking. see http://www.rideofsilence.org/locations-domestic.php?s=CA#CA. The Tiburon ride is listed under San Rafael. We have a website www.sylviabinghamfund.org. I agree w/ comments about reducing the speed limit where Hailey was killed. Nicasio has model signage. It's apparent Novato hasn't reflected on the recent development on that stretch of road and should promptly bring the speed limit down to 25-30. One thing I noticed is the slight curve in the road which probably prevented Hailed from seeing the oncoming SUV which at 45 mpg is going 66 feet PER SECOND. Think about how fast that is. a football field in less than five seconds! Also I noted the decrepit condition of the road which may have made it difficult for Hailey to maneuver her bike (also true of the street where our daughter was killed). So bottom line, driver may not have been at fault but there was fault by Novato authorities.

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