90-year-old's charges fuel senior driving debate

By: Joe Nelson Email
By: Joe Nelson Email

EAU CLAIRE/CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wisc. (WEAU) - A 90-year-old driver appearing in court Thursday on vehicular homicide charges, sparked debates on senior driving.

Archie Van Wormer is charged with homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle and hit and run involving death in Eau Claire County, where he appeared in court and was released on a $25,000 signature bond.

A criminal complaint said Van Wormer was driving a sports utility vehicle June 29 on Clairemont Avenue when he drove up and over two concrete traffic islands and onto a bike path. That's where police said he hit 51-year-old bicyclist Kirk Cartwright of Eau Claire, who died at the hospital.

Police said Van Wormer's license requires him to wear glasses but he was not wearing them at the time.

The crash has sparked a debate among older drivers and their families, as seniors want to keep their independence, without putting anyone in harm's way.

Caroline Black, 85, of Chippewa Falls still drives to church and to go shopping but said after the Eau Claire crash, her family got concerned.

"My son said, 'Mom, did you hear about that guy?' I said 'Yeah.' He said, 'I don't want that to happen to you.' He's worried," Black said.

State law only requires drivers to pass a vision test to renew a license every eight years, with no age restrictions. If a doctor, police or relative believes someone is unable to drive safely, they can fill out a report that's sent to the state licensing division, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

"If they do find cause, driver is notified of cancellation and get an explanation of what it would take to renew their license," Chippewa Falls Lt. Mark Hanson said.

Hanson said his department sends 10 to 20 reports to the state for review each year.

Ninety-seven-year-old Mae Ryan, who still drives, and other residents of the Homestead Village Senior Apartments in Chippewa Falls have differing opinions on how long people should be able to drive.

"My license is good (until I'm) 101, but I won't drive that long," Ryan said.

"When they get close to 80, they should let somebody else drive," Barbara Cox, who stopped driving last year, said.

"I drove so many miles in my life, I just enjoy riding now," Elizabeth Schafer, who said she drives about once a week, said.

"I don't think when you're real old; you should be on the road ... Not very far. I don't go very far," Ryan said.

Police say there are many reasons why a behavior report might be issued, and that some licenses can be given back with restrictions of distance or time.

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