U.S. Triathlete Forced to Pay Blood Money after Hitting Volunteer on Course in Abu Dhabi
An American athlete is suing an international triathlon organization after being forced to remain in Abu Dhabi for more than a month and made to pay “blood money” following a bicycling accident last year during a competition in the United Arab Emirates capital.
Professional triathlete Andrew Starykowicz claims in his lawsuit targeting the International Management Group (IMG) that the event it sponsored in March 2012, the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, was badly organized, leading to the accident that left him injured and in prison.
Invited to participate in the Abu Dhabi triathlon, Starykowicz was participating in the 200-km bike leg of the race when a British volunteer, 27-year-old teacher Carly Ann Williams, darted out onto the course to hand a water bottle to another competitor. Starykowicz’s bike struck Williams, causing him to fly over his handlebars and land hard on the pavement.
He was unable to complete the triathlon, and was initially diagnosed with minor injuries. It was only later, after he returned to the U.S., that Starykowicz learned he had a broken collarbone, among other medical problems.
Williams endured even more serious injuries, and was put into a medically induced coma for a time.
But the worst turn of events for Starykowicz came the day after the race, when he was informed that there was an arrest warrant out on him. Abu Dhabi authorities placed him in jail, charging him with jeopardizing pedestrians’ safety, attempted manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. His passport and bike were confiscated by police.
Starykowicz spent about 20 hours in a police station holding cell, which he shared with two other prisoners. After five hours of questioning by police and prosecutors he was released.
The athlete was told the legal process would take a few days, but it dragged on for six weeks. Fearing he would be re-arrested, he stayed in the home of a friend rather than the hotel where authorities placed him.
The trial itself, said Starykowicz, lasted all of 15 minutes. He was found guilty of four charges and told that a payment of $54,000—which he claims the prosecutor referred to as “blood bond money”—would result in the return of his passport. That money, he was told, would be paid to Williams’ family if she died from her injuries. Otherwise, they assured him, the money would be returned to him. He paid the money (fronted by IMG), retrieved his passport and returned to the U.S.
Starykowicz blamed the accident on IMG, saying it was dangerous to design the bike course with aid stations in the center of the road, which put Williams and others in harm’s way.
He seeks more than $75,000 in damages for negligence, including the $50,000 prize money he believes he would have won in Abu Dhabi had it not been for IMG’s mistakes.
The bond money is yet to be returned to Starykowicz, in spite of Williams’ recovery. IMG offered to fly him back to Abu Dhabi to pursue the funds, but Starykowicz refuses. “I’m not going to go back there,” he told Triathlon magazine. “[The prosecutor] is just going to throw me in jail. He’s going to hold me against my will, probably for more money. I’m not going to take that risk.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman
To Learn More:
What Happened In Abu Dhabi? (by Liz Hichens, Triathlete)
Triathlete Survives Nightmare in Abu Dhabi (by Jack Bouboushian, Courthouse News Service)
One Athlete's Midnight Express (by Dan Empfield, Slowtwitch)
I Did Time (by Andrew Starykowicz)
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