Video appears to show assault on Asheville cyclist

Mackensy Lunsford
The Citizen-Times
A screen grab of a video shows a cyclist being punched.

ASHEVILLE - A video shared Tuesday by Asheville on Bikes appears to show a motorist assaulting a local cyclist.

In the video, filmed shortly after noon Sept. 27, the cyclist is southbound on Sand Hill Road, stopped at a traffic light at the intersection of Sand Hill and Sardis roads.

A motorist in a Dodge Ram pickup truck, who is stopped in front of the cyclist, gets out of the truck and appears to punch the cyclist in the face.  


Details of the incident were described on the Asheville on Bikes website, and confirmed by the cyclist's attorney, Ann Groninger, Copeley Johnson & Groninger PLLC. Asheville on Bikes is a nonprofit that advocates for "for better biking and walking infrastructure in Asheville," according to a description on its website.

Other details were confirmed by an incident report on file with the Asheville Police Department. The police took statements from at least three witnesses.

According to Christina Hallingse, who handles communications for the APD, the motorist, Claude Donald Watson, was arrested Sept. 29 and charged with simple assault and reckless driving to endanger. Both are misdemeanor charges. 

Claude Donald Watson was arrested on Sept. 29, and charged with Simple Assault and Reckless Driving to Endanger.

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Mike Sule, of Asheville on Bikes, said the cyclist was riding legally within his lane on a two-lane section of Sand Hill Road.

The section of road before the intersection where the altercation took place is a downhill slope, and the cyclist was reportedly riding at the pace of traffic, according to a post on the Asheville on Bikes site. Line-painting crews in the oncoming lane made it difficult for the motorist to pass the cyclist until he neared the intersection, the post adds.

The truck and cyclist together approached a red light, which is when the driver exited his vehicle, apparently striking the cyclist. 

The video was shot from the cab of a commercial vehicle that happened to approach the scene. The video is untouched, but the audio has been altered in one place to remove the mention of the truck’s license plate information, according to Asheville on Bikes.

The cyclist's injuries were listed in the incident report as "minor." Alcohol was not a factor in the incident, according to the incident report. 

Groninger said the motorist hit her client hard enough to give him a bloody nose, busted lip and a toothache.

"Regarding additional charges, it will be up to the Buncombe County District Attorney's office to decide how to proceed on the criminal matter," she said via email. "And since there are criminal charges pending, I don't want to comment too much on that."

She added that she knew people would lump this incident into the bicycle versus car debate. "But it's really much bigger than that."

Sule, director of Asheville on Bikes, said he's heard similar stories from other cyclists. 

"But it's rare that it's documented, which is one of the reasons we decided to put this video out and promote it," he said. "We want people to share their stories so we can better understand the issues and conflicts that occur on our roads and address them."

Sule added that cyclists have the legal right to use the full lane, and there are many occasions in which it's essential, especially when passage of motor vehicles is unsafe. 


Sule said he is convinced that the underlying cause of this incident is a city infrastructure not built to accommodate all forms of transportation.  

He also said he wants other cyclists in similar situations to get documentation and witnesses and reach out to Asheville on Bikes. "We want to better understand this issue of violence so we can better address it," Sule added.

He echoed Groninger's assertion that the incident doesn't boil down to motorists versus cyclists. "We're talking about people, and people are important. And it's important to keep people safe. 

"We're talking about arriving at destination minutes or seconds earlier," he continued. "Is that worth the human life or even the personal repercussions of violence? Just have the discipline to take a deep breath and remember that that is a person."