The controversy began June 10, 1999, when local skater William Tyler Smith careened into a pedestrian at a crosswalk on Southwest Second and Oak Street, knocking the hapless bystander to the pavement.
Smith fled the scene with skateboard in hand. Unfortunately for him, a Portland police officer witnessed the collision. Smith was tried and convicted of unlawful skateboarding on city streets--which carries a $25 fine--and of reckless driving, which is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.
But Smith's attorney, public defender Peter Gartlan, appealed the reckless-driving conviction, because the offense involves a motor vehicle, and under Oregon law, a skateboard is not a motor vehicle. (Oregon statutes define a motor vehicle as any transportation contrivance that is not propelled by human power. Somewhat perversely, there is an explicit clause defining bicycles as motor vehicles).
The Court of Appeals agreed and struck down the reckless-driving conviction, which means Smith walks away from the collision with no more than a $25 scratch.
The decision is good news for Portland skateboarders, who now appear to be immune from motor-vehicle charges such as reckless endangerment and reckless driving. But local skateboard advocates were reluctant do kickflips over the case, because they fear it will reinforce negative stereotypes of daredevil skaters. "It takes one bad incident to give all skateboarding the same image," says Howard Weiner, the owner of Cal's Skate Shop.