Columnist Robert Novak Accused of a Hit and Run in Washington

Columnist Robert Novak has a reputation for being an aggressive and fast driver. It may now have put him into legal jeopardy. He is accused of hitting a man in his black Corvette who was lawfully crossing in a pedestrian walkway in Washington and then speeding from the scene — only to be stopped a block away by an attorney who chased him on a bicycle. Novak joked in 2001 about his hatred for jaywalkers and the option of running them over. A video of the aftermath is linked below.

The pedestrian was a 66-year-old man but Novak told reporters that “I didn’t know I hit him. … I feel terrible. He’s not dead, that’s the main thing.” Well, maybe not. Novak admits that he was a block away the accident when he was stopped by a bicyclist. However, that bicyclist witnessed the accident and says that he had to chase Novak after he sped from the scene. He would seem a pretty credible witness. He is David Bono, a partner at Harkins Cunningham, who saw the accident and says that Novak “plows into the guy. The guy is sort of splayed into the windshield.” How does one not notice a guy splayed on your windshield?

Bono said that he was outraged by the Novak’s flight: “This car is speeding away. What’s going through my mind is, you just can’t hit a pedestrian and drive away.” It is hard to see how Novak was only charged with failing to yield the right of way. There is at least one eyewitness who believes that this was a hit and run — and another witness supports part of his account with a contemporary statement. Another witness, a concierge named Aleta Petty, said that Bono told her immediately after the accident that he was going to chase a hit and run driver. She quoted Bono as saying “This guy hit somebody and he won’t stop so I’m going to stay here until the police come.” Thus, Bono did not just adopt a harsher view after finding out it was Novak.

Hit and run is obvious a much more serious charge. Section 50-2201.05 states:

Fleeing from scene of accident; driving under the influence of liquor or drugs.

(2) Any operator whose vehicle causes personal injury to an individual and who fails to conform to the above requirements shall, upon conviction of the 1st offense, be fined not more than $500, or shall be imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both; and upon the conviction of his 2nd or subsequent offense, shall be fined not more than $1,000, or shall be imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both.

In the meantime, civil litigation could ensue for negligence and other claims by the victim. A trial would be particularly interesting to see if the court would allow the following statement from Novak in a 2001 Washington Post interview: “I really hate jaywalkers. I despise them. Since I don’t run the country, all I can do is yell at ‘em. The other option is to run ‘em over, but as a compassionate conservative, I would never do that.” Now, that would be an intense motion in limine fight to keep that from a Washington jury.

Novak’s hit pieces on folks like Valerie Plame are now notorious examples of his work. However, the alleged expansion to the actual use of a car for a hit and run is a new development.

For a video of Novak after receiving the citation, click here.

For the full story, click here.

58 thoughts on “Columnist Robert Novak Accused of a Hit and Run in Washington”

  1. binx101
    1, July 24, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    By the way – when I scrape something off the bottom of my shoe that appears to be excrement, I usually call it Novak. I detest him

    yea, he’s not exactly on my Christmas card list either, lol. I almost feel sorry for the little guy though, even though I know he deserves what he gets. But just contemplating how hard life is being, and going to be on him from now on, moves me to pathos, lol.

    But I appreciate you adding that little but important tidbit, which identifies you to me, as someone who makes their decisions based on the issues, and not your opinion of the person.

    Thats a good way to fly.

  2. binx101
    1, July 24, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    The police officer would have to be an idiot with a dream to work the graveyard shift until retirement to arrest for Hit and Run. Now if he told the cyclist to F-off and drove away … now you’re talking about posing for the camera.

    So we’ll have to respectfully disagree

    Well I don’t disagree that hit and run would be unlikely, in fact, isn’t that a charge usually leveled by a DA, after the fact? I’m not sure, just asking. But certainly driving a block beyond the scene before effectively being compelled to stop by a pedestrian certainly to me at least, demonstrates intent to leave the scene. But hey, I could be wrong, so I’ll just say you may be right, but I think theres room for doubt. Not with regards to the Hit and Run. I agree with you that that was reaching.

    But the intent on “leaving the scene”, seems to me more than apparent, so I have room for doubt there.

    Here Jinx, I’ll tell you a true story about this, that happened to me in DC about 10 years ago. When I used to work downtown, I was one day driving just below Chevy Chase Circle in the District, and as I was driving, I noticed an accident on one of the side streets. It happened while I was sitting at a light, and I didn’t see it, I just heard the bang of the crash, then noticed up ahead in the intersection two cars had collided.

    I proceeded to make a U Turn from the intersection, and headed back towards Chevy Chase Circle and Western Ave. Just as I got to the stop sign, a police woman ran up to my window, and smacking her hand on the window she demanded I stop and roll down the window. She threatened to charge me with leaving the scene of the accident. I told her I hadn’t seen a thing, just heard the bang, and she said “fine, then thats what you’ll write”. They made me pull over, and write a statement. Now, at the time, I didn’t know if that was legal or not, but I certainly didn’t want to argue. She was pretty mad at me. So I did the complaint thing, and left. But the story I think, at least for me, demonstrates that most of us little people don’t get to benefits of the doubt you are giving to mr Novak on such things. I think there was favortism here, and I think leaving the scene, or “ATTEMPTING to leave the scene” is more than a reasonable call.

    So yes, on that point, we respectfully disagree.

  3. No that wasn’t my point at all. My point was that this trail is taking place here. No facts whatsoever. Just opinions and news reports being considered evidence. I’ve gathered enough evidence in my day to be able to distinguish between evidence and opinion, including the cyclist’s, irrespective of his Juris Pedigree.

    Of an in itself opinions are great. My opinion is … no criminal charges, no charges other than the traffic infraction and everything else is a insurance case.

    By the way – when I scrape something off the bottom of my shoe that appears to be excrement, I usually call it Novak. I detest him.

  4. What’s that thing, you know about how it’s attempted murder when you shoot a corpse if you think it’s still alive? It doesn’t matter if he was stopped one foot later, the only thing that matters is that he attempted to drive away instead of stopping to check on the person. If he had planned to stop he would have done so far earlier.

    (As others have repeatedly pointed out, this wasn’t a “did I hit something?” moment or “did somebody run into me?” moment. People getting spread across your windshield doesn’t leave much doubt you should stop.)

    Ditto, it doesn’t matter that he was unsuccessful getting around the cyclist. In. Heavy. DC. Traffic. It’s that credible witnesses said that he did try to get around the cyclist. Repeatedly.

    By your logic, as I understand it, the only people who can be charged with crimes are the people who make clean getaways.

  5. With all due respect – remove the incident the fact the Novak was stopped a block from the scene – Novak’s car is stopped at the scene and the pedestrian victim is on the ground after sliding off of Novak’s car windshield and hood.

    What are the charges ??

    My guess – same.

    Now factor in Novak in la la land – but no impairment as judged by the officer at the scene after questioning Novak. Novak says – I didn’t realize I had hit anyone.

    The cyclist stops him a block later and tells Novak that he’s hit someone with his car – he waits for the police.

    The police officer would have to be an idiot with a dream to work the graveyard shift until retirement to arrest for Hit and Run. Now if he told the cyclist to F-off and drove away … now you’re talking about posing for the camera.

    So we’ll have to respectfully disagree.

  6. binx101
    1, July 24, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Unless he traveled with a clear intent to flee the scene, creating an arrest event would be career changing for the cop

    While in theory this statement makes sense, the testimony of the cyclist removes any doubt as to Mr Novak’s “clear intent”.

    If the cyclist had reported that Mr Novak may have “brushed” the victim with his car, then there would be some doubt as to his intent in leaving the scene, in that there is a reasonable doubt whether he was aware or not that he had struck a pedestrian.

    But given the cyclists report that the victim was literally “splayed” across the hood of Mr Novaks Penismobile, and given that Mr Novak continued driving on anyway, his intent on fleeing the scene has been made evident.

    If this was you or me, we’d have been cited at the minimum with leaving the scene of an accident, or even “hit and run”.

  7. Chris,

    Thank you for the update. My neighbor was similarly hurt and your are quite correct to say this is not over for the victim. Novak should not be treated differently than any other person who did such a thing.


  8. AFAIK the victim is still in the hospital. He would not say the story is already over. Nor a prosecutor looking at adding “-resulting in injury” to charges.

  9. First of all … the altitude of this conversation has caused me to reach for my oxygen – not that I don’t enjoy the parabola and the resulting brief weightlessness but there is some simple Andy of Mayberry Police logic here.

    Man operates car.
    Man hits pedestrian.
    Other man chases man on bicycle
    Other man stops man in car tells him he’s hit a pedestrian
    Man waits with other man for police

    Now unless you believe that Novak mistook the cyclist for a super-hero because of his colorful tights – Novak reacted lawfully when confronted by a civilian. Unless he traveled with a clear intent to flee the scene, creating an arrest event would be career changing for the cop.

    My further two cents: NO matter how much one dislikes Novak, or chuckles over his Viagra Signature Corvette, or the numerous and thoroughly comical inspiration for an endless riff of comedy sketches – this story is already over – less an auto-insurance claim.

  10. dundar:

    An attorney who reasonably can be expected to be a necessary witness in a trial cannot serve as the attorney for the victim litigant. ABA Model Rule 3.7. I also suspect that Harkins Cunningham is not doing a lot of plaintiff’s personal injury work, unless it involves mass tort. So, as usual, your venom is misplaced.

  11. A question occurred to me this morning — how likely is it that the officer’s precinct captain (and higher) did NOT get involved? Even if the officer ignored any “do you know who I am?!” screams, the presence of cameras would certainly tip him off to the fact that this was no ordinary traffic accident and he should contact the precinct.

    On top of that, many passerbys would recognize him and some might call his office. I’m certain he has many high-level contacts with local LEA.

    So… did somebody order the officer to only issue a “failure to yield” ticket?

  12. Thanks everyone. It is true that crimes are actionable as torts, but the entry was meant to say other claims, not other crimes. The transition from a criminal claim to a civil claim is usually quite simple. Most crimes are forms of battery, false imprisonment or other forms of intentional torts. There is an interesting crossover on the criminal. While I am no fan of the provisions, there are crimes of “criminal negligence.” Many states allow criminal charges for recklessness in driving etc.

    It will be interesting how the police handle these allegations of a hit and run. If it were treated as a hit and run, Novak would have been taken to the station. It may be that the police did not interview witnesses, which seems odd with an attorney who saw the entire accident.

  13. The guy on the bike is a smart attorney.

    He knows his future client’s settlement will be impacted by what he said at the time about the non-incident that is now being blown up as a hit & run.

  14. Josh Marshall ( raised an interesting point. If we take Novak at his word, he’s so out of it that he really didn’t notice hitting a guy hard enough to put him into the hospital. That scenario is not entirely out of the question to anyone who’s lived in Florida. It would eliminate a lot of his moral and legal jeopardy, although I think it concurrently makes it morally and legally imperative for him to voluntarily surrender his license.

    In any case, it’s medical grounds for the state to pull his license.
    At least require extensive tests to show that he’s not susceptible to blackouts or whatever happened.

    So… it’s a dilemma. Either he fled the scene and should have his license yanked for hit-and-run, or he’s medically incompetent to drive and should have his license yanked. There doesn’t seem to be a third option — and either way he should have his license yanked.

  15. “Novak joked in 2001 about his hatred for jaywalkers and the option of running them over.”

    Another example of not-very-funny right-wing humor.

  16. Brian
    1, July 23, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    Civil litigation does not deal in crimes. It deals in contracts and torts, one of which is negligence. Most of us knew all this even before we went to law school



    But most seem to know better after law school.

  17. I agree with Mespo that Prof. Turley was talking about intentional torts. Brian might have been confused with the term crime, but nonetheless, Novak is looking at a civil suit and I would guess he would have pretty deep pockets. At least his insurance company will.
    It is a shame that it had to happen to such a nice, moral guy like Robert Novak. Once again, I hope the victim heals completely from his wounds.

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