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Indiana court rules against ex-con in bike wreck suit

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - 6:04 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — A man whose face was disfigured in a bicycle wreck that occurred when he biked over a pothole while he was drunk can't blame Indianapolis officials or a utility for the accident, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

The judges ruled 3-0 Monday that Paul Komyatti Jr. was drunk and riding the wrong way on an Indianapolis street in June 2010 when his bike hit the pothole, flinging him over the handlebars face-first onto the pavement and severely injuring his face. Komyatti was not wearing a helmet, the ruling said.

Court records said Komyatti had consumed about two quarts of beer before leaving an Indianapolis bar on his bike before dark, but witnesses said he didn't appear to be drunk. When his blood alcohol level was measured at the hospital, court records said it was substantially over the legal limit for driving. The records did not indicate if he ever was charged.

Komyatti sued Indianapolis and Citizens Energy in September 2010, saying they were responsible for the pothole he blamed for the accident. The lawsuit said the city was responsible for the condition of the street and that Citizens had allowed coke to escape its property, contributing to the formation of potholes.

A trial court ruled in favor of the defendants, saying Komyatti himself caused the accident.

The state Court of Appeals agreed.

"It was still light out when Komyatti started biking home on the left side of the street, in violation of Indiana law. He was traveling at least 20 mph on a downhill slope," the ruling said.

Komyatti moved left to avoid two oncoming cars and rode into a puddle that concealed a pothole, the lawsuit said. The impact stopped the bike and threw Komyatti face-first into the street, briefly knocking him unconscious. He was not wearing a helmet and his face was severely injured.

One of the motorists who stopped to help said Komyatti smelled of alcohol and that she didn't see any water in the pothole.

On March 19, 1983, Komyatti held his father down in bed while his brother-in-law William Vandiver, who was later executed, stabbed the man more than 30 times with a fish filet knife and severed his head with a hacksaw. Komyatti was convicted later that year on charges of murder and conspiracy and sentenced to 55 years in prison.

While in prison, Komyatti earned three bachelor's degrees from Ball State University. He was released in 2009.

Brian Welch, an attorney with the Indianapolis law firm that represented Citizens Energy in the case, said the utility was satisfied with the court's ruling. He declined to comment further.

"We thought the court got to the right result and we were pleased with it," Welch said.