Wife of cyclist demands change in law after husband’s killer was only charged with misdemeanor

HENRY COUNTY, Ga. — The years have not made it easier for Mary Carol Harsch.

“It never gets easy,” she said.

Almost eight years ago, her husband Dr. John Harsch was on a bike ride when a driver slammed into him in Henry County.

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“John’s head went through the driver’s windshield, at probably around 45 miles per hour,” Harsch said.

The driver was charged with vehicular homicide. However, because he was not drunk or super speeding, that vehicular homicide charge was a misdemeanor.

Bruce Hagen, an attorney with Hagen-Rosskopf, says the driver spent less than a year in jail, even after violating his probation.

“There was never any discussion or doubt about the driver’s guilt. But the inadequacy was really in the punishment for causing the death of a human being,” Hagen said.

Hagen has represented multiple cyclists in crashes over the years.

He says that Georgia Law requires an aggravating offense, like driving under the influence, to make vehicular homicide a felony.

“The law allows someone to serve up to a year for a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000, but that almost never happens,” Hagen said.


Instead, he says most drivers spend 30-90 days in jail.

In addition, state law does not consider distracted driving a serious enough offense to make vehicular homicide a felony, even if a driver violated Georgia’s hands-free law.

“If someone is distracted and holding their phone in violation of the hands-free law, or if they are operating their phone and have their eyes off the road, that’s just ordinary negligence,” Hagen said.

Hagen, Harsch, and other advocates believe the law should change to include distracted drivers.

“If a driver is distracted while they are driving, there is no reason why that should be treated differently than driving drunk,” Hagen said.

“Distracted driving isn’t a felony, but you chose to not pay attention to the roadway,” Harsch said.

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