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Wednesday, February 28, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lights, speed at issue after rookie kills bicyclist

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Seattle police investigators don't yet know whether a patrol car had its emergency lights on or whether the officer ran a red light when he struck and killed a bicyclist in North Seattle early yesterday, police spokesman Sean O'Donnell said.

The rookie Seattle police officer was on his way to back up another officer when the accident occurred. Police say a number of questions still remain about the predawn crash that killed 31-year-old Joel R. Silvesan.

Among other things, the accident investigation will focus on issues including the traffic signal, the speed of the vehicle, and what emergency signals were used, said police spokeswoman Pam McCammon.

Silvesan's family and friends yesterday remembered a troubled yet talented musician, artist and loving father, and they angrily demanded the truth about the accident.

"I want to know what really happened," his mother, Nancy Silvesan of Toronto, said by phone yesterday before boarding a plane to Seattle. "I won't accept a lie from the police department. I will accept an apology. The police department needs to be held accountable."

Silvesan died at 7:15 a.m. at Harborview Medical Center, just over an hour after he was struck at Aurora Avenue North and North 90th Street.

The police officer, Christopher J. Hansen, 24, suffered minor injuries and was released hours later from Harborview.

Hansen, who joined the force in January 2000, is the son of a 29-year veteran Seattle police sergeant, Jim Hansen, a highly respected member of the department's bomb squad.

Police said Officer Hansen was driving north on Aurora Avenue to back up another officer who had pulled over a driver. Silvesan was pedaling his bicycle, without lights, west on 90th Street.. The collision sent Silvesan flying to the pavement. His crumpled bike landed 150 feet beyond the intersection.

Hansen's patrol car then slammed into Acme Auto Electric, 80 to 100 feet beyond the intersection.

The patrol car was totaled, police spokesman Sean O'Donnell said.

Two men who say they witnessed the crash said Hansen ran a red light. Both men estimated the patrol car's speed at 50 mph or more. Both also said the patrol car did not have its emergency lights or siren on.

O'Donnell also said police aren't sure whether the two men who said they saw the accident were even at the intersection when the crash occurred.

O'Donnell vowed the department would complete a thorough review.

State law says police may drive faster than the speed limit and pass through red lights and stop signs, "so long as he does not endanger life or property." But officers must have emergency lights flashing.

But less clear is whether sirens are required. State law says only that they should be used "when necessary to warn others of the emergency nature of the situation."

Seattle police department policy says officers should "drive no faster than reasonably necessary to arrive safely at the scene." "Preliminary indications we're getting is that the actions of the officer were reasonable," said police guild president, Mike Edwards. Meanwhile, Hansen was placed on paid medical leave while the department reviews the accident.

Fellow cops say that the young officer may face a tough time coping with the fatal accident. "One of the biggest fears you have is hitting someone," said one veteran officer. Silvesan grew up in Seattle's Roosevelt neighborhood with a single mother and attended Roosevelt High for a while, then later an alternative high school, his family said.

"He was a brilliant musician and a wonderful human being," his mother said. "But Joel had been struggling his whole life to overcome his alcohol and drug addictions." Those addictions, friends and family said, pulled Silvesan into trouble with the law from an early age. Recently he was homeless, staying with friends when he could. It's unknown whether Silvesan had been drinking before the accident. Toxicology test results won't be back for at least a week.

Despite his troubles, Silvesan played guitar in a local band called Paddlewack, described by the drummer as "an obscure, experimental, psychedelic, possibly schizophrenic, kind of rock band."

"His main life was the art and the music," said Blake Musselman, Paddlewack keyboardist and a childhood friend. "There was no violence in his heart."

And he loved his daughter, 7-year-old Zia Cloud, a golden-haired girl who yesterday said she loved her dad most because he never even raised his voice at her. "We never fight," she said.

"He was just so close to his daughter; they were just so tight," said Zia's mother, Jodi Itman . "He had a real peacefulness to him. He was just a kind soul."

Early yesterday, Silvesan had hopped on his bike and ridden to Musselman's to collect pay for working in his friend's gardening business. Later, he had an appointment with his probation officer.

"He may not have been an esteemed lawyer or the average guy going to a nine-to-five, but he was an artist and a beautiful man," his mother said. "He was struggling with himself, and he wanted to change his life."

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