When Carrie Thomson agreed to settle the wrongful-death lawsuit following her 15-year-old son's tragic death, she thought she would finally hear an apology — that the Spokane County Sheriff's Office would take some responsibility. Ryan Holyk died from a severe head injury in 2014 after a sheriff's deputy hit him with a patrol vehicle, evidence shows.
Instead, what she says she heard from Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich were denials that Deputy Joe Bodman had any culpability in the accident that caused her son's death; skepticism that the deputy actually collided with the teen; and misguided praise of the police investigations.
"I just feel like [Knezovich] turns stuff around," Thomson says, speaking publicly for the first time since the settlement earlier this month. "During his press conference the other day, he said they determined that Bodman had no part in it, when just last summer they released a statement saying they found Ryan's hat band imprint and DNA on the bumper. So how can you turn around and say now that Bodman had nothing to do with it?"
Thomson explains that the lawsuit was never about money, but about getting to the truth of what happened the evening of May 23, 2014.
"You hear about corruption and watching out for each other, and the one effect this whole thing has had on me is to know that's real," Thomson says. "That really does happen and I'm just blown away by it. I don't have any faith or trust in our local government. I know that they'll just do whatever they need to do to cover their own ass."
The wrongful death lawsuit was settled out of court for $1 million. Knezovich, for his part, says he wanted the case to go to trial. "That is the only way the facts come out in totality," he says.
Let's break down the whole story, using statements from Knezovich during a news conference announcing the settlement and on his radio program, along with statements from Thomson, context from the police investigations, witness statements and sworn pretrial testimony.
1. Who is responsible?
• What Knezovich said earlier this month: "It was the fact that the evidence consistently showed that Joe Bodman was not the causal effect of this." Inlander: If Deputy Bodman wasn't the causal factor in the accident, who or what was?
Knezovich: "I think if you take the totality of the situation, anytime you come out against a red light, there's going to be a causal effect to that, and that's what happened that night. The facts speak for themselves. ... This is a tragic situation. A 15-year-old boy went out in the middle of traffic and ended up losing his life. And that's what happened. There's a series of things that could have, should have changed that, but it didn't. The end game is, when you come out against a red light, things can happen, and that's what happened in this case."
That night, Bodman was driving more than 70 mph in the dark without lights or a siren. Ultimately, he was given a letter of reprimand for a violation of internal policy but never faced criminal charges.
• What Ryan's mom says: "I'm not sitting here trying to say that Ryan did nothing wrong because he obviously didn't do everything right, but he's also 15 and this guy is a trained professional."
2. Did the deputy's vehicle hit Ryan Holyk?
What Knezovich says (on his radio show): "KHQ makes it sound like it's definitive that the deputy hit the child with the bumper. It's not definitive. We have so much evidence that conflicts in this case."
Later, in an interview, Knezovich acknowledges that it's not impossible for the police vehicle to have struck Ryan. "You have to look at all the evidence. You can't ignore the fact that there's DNA on the bumper," he says.
What the evidence says:
• "There is a lot of [Ryan's] DNA," on the driver's side bumper of the police vehicle, according to Washington State Patrol forensic analyst Anna Wilson. The DNA did not come from bodily fluids such as blood or saliva, but contrary to police conclusions, Wilson says there was enough DNA to rule out secondary transfer at the scene of the accident.
• An imprint of Ryan's snapback hat band was found on the bumper in the same area as Ryan's DNA. Accident analyst Jarrod Carter, who found the hat band imprint, says: "The fact that we have DNA in this same general area and now we have this hat band showing up very clearly does indicate the bumper did in fact strike Mr. Holyk's head." Carter was asked to review the case last year amid doubts surrounding the work of video analyst Grant Fredericks, Knezovich says.
•Surveillance video, as interpreted Fredericks, shows that Ryan wrecked his bike and remained on the ground as the police vehicle passes. Fredericks ultimately concludes that "the police vehicle passes to the north of the bicycle by just over two feet," missing Ryan.
• Rasha Germain, a neurosurgeon who treated Ryan, says: "If somebody asks me if I feel that Ryan's injuries, the way I saw them, and the way he looked, and the way his CAT scan looked, is consistent with being hit by a car, then my answer is yes."
• The Spokane County Medical Examiner John Howard ruled out the possibility of a "crushing" blow, meaning Ryan wasn't run over. But he told police in 2014 that he could not rule out a collision with the vehicle or with the pavement. The Medical Examiner's Office declined to comment further when contacted by the Inlander recently.
• Multiple eyewitnesses say they saw the vehicle hit Ryan, though their specific descriptions of how and where the vehicle hit him vary.
• Immediately following the accident, Deputy Bodman radioed to dispatch: "I just hit a pedestrian."
• A report written by Deputy Clay Hilton from that night states: "While continuing to speak with Deputy J. Bodman, he told me that he had a green traffic light as he approached N. Vista Rd. Deputy J. Bodman said prior to reaching the intersection, Holyk quickly entered the roadway from his right and as he attempted to avoid colliding with Holyk, he observed a second male ... entering the roadway behind him. Deputy J. Bodman then heard his vehicle collide with Holyk."
Later, in a written statement, Bodman walked back those statements, saying he initially thought he avoided the teen. When he looked back and saw Ryan on the ground, the deputy "assumed" that he hit Ryan. Ultimately, in a sworn deposition, Bodman says he is certain that he did not hit Ryan.
• There was no blood found on the deputy's bumper. Although Ryan's DNA was found on the driver's side bumper, it was "trace" DNA, likely from skin cells.
• In addition to head injuries, Ryan also had a broken wrist. Knezovich suggests that the injury would have made it difficult for Ryan to get up and move toward the police vehicle after initially dumping his bike.
Knezovich notes that had the case gone to trial, attorneys for Spokane County would have argued contact between the vehicle and Ryan is irrelevant.
"What's relevant is who is the causal factor of the incident," Knezovich says. "The incident was an individual coming out against a red light, that's the causal factor. Had we gone to trial, these are the arguments that would have been made."
3. How accurate were the police investigations?
What Knezovich says: "One of the things that I find in this situation is that it really shows just how thorough the investigation that the Washington State Patrol and City of Spokane Police Department did in this matter. Every ounce of evidence that was used on either side of this issue came from that investigation. It was very thorough, very detailed."
Two police investigations and two accident reconstructions initially concluded that the police vehicle missed hitting Ryan.
• Spokane Police acknowledge that Ryan's DNA was on the bumper, but conclude that it was likely the result of secondary transfer. This is refuted by the Washington State Patrol forensic analyst who found the DNA.
• Washington State Patrol's investigationexplicitly states "No DNA or fabric was found." The investigation is dated Oct. 31, 2014. Ryan's DNA was found on the bumper more than a month prior, on Sept. 3, 2014, in a separate investigation.
• Jarrod Carter, a forensic analyst initially comes to the same conclusions as SPD and WSP investigators. However, after taking a second look, Carter identified an imprint of a hat band on the bumper of the police vehicle, matching the one Ryan wore that night. Ultimately, Carter concluded that Ryan was struck by the vehicle. Carter only took a second look at the evidence after watching an accident reconstruction provided by the Holyk family attorney. (See the video at the bottom of the page.)
4. Was Deputy Bodman in route to assist another deputy?
What Knezovich says: "Yeah, [Bodman] was driving over the speed limit, on a green light for him, in response to another deputy, who was out with three subjects, and one of them was known to have warrants, and that deputy was not responding to his radio."
What the evidence says: • Yes, Bodman was on his way to help a deputy who was not responding to his radio.
• But in an internal investigation, Bodman says he knew that two other deputies had arrived to help the non-responding deputy before he encountered Ryan. Knezovich notes that none of the three deputies checked in with dispatch as "Code 4," which means everything is OK.
• The internal investigator writes, "In spite of knowing [two other deputies] were on scene with Deputy Karnitz, Deputy Bodman continued to drive toward Deputy Karnitz' location at an accelerated rate of speed without his emergency lights or siren for approximately 2 minutes prior to encountering Ryan Holyk."
In an interview with the Inlander, Knezovich emphasizes his frustration with the settlement.
"I want to make sure this is very clear in your article," he says. "This interview is not the forum for this to happen. That forum was at trial. All of these facts from both sides would have played out, and a jury would have weighed the evidence."
Carrie Thomson, Ryan's mom, explains that after she heard the seven-figure settlement offer, the only other reason to go to trial was to get more money. And that was never the point.
"I did not do this for money at all," she says. "After the lawyer's fees and medical fees, we're not walking away with anything. I was just hoping not to walk away in debt. I did this because they left Ryan laying in the street, bleeding on his own while they took care of Bodman. That's why I did this — because I didn't get an apology. I didn't get shit from them ever."
She continues: "I didn't feel like anything more would be gained by going to trial, and that we accomplished everything we set out to do. We proved that Ryan was in fact hit and that Bodman did have culpability in it."
Below is an accident reconstruction prepared by Anand Kasbekar, a forensic engineer in North Carolina who specializes in analyzing bicycle accidents. Kasbekar was hired by the Holyk family attorneys.
To create the reconstruction, Kasbekar says he considered all the evidence in the case including surveillance video footage, the position of Ryan's body after the accident, the position of Ryan's hat, which landed several feet into the intersection and the presence of Ryan's DNA on the bumper among other factors.
"In most cases, I don't say I'm 100 percent positive, and I'm not in this case either," Kasbekar says. "But I'm 99 percent certain that what we're showing in these animations is what happened."
Mitch covers cops, crime and courts for the Inlander. He moved to Spokane in 2015 from his hometown of St. Louis, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri. He likes bikes, beer and baseball. And coffee. He dislikes lemon candy, close-mindedness and liars. And temperatures below 40 degrees.