Truck driver faces charges after state official dies in bicycle accident

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comJuly 6, 2012 

Steven Jordan, director of the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

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— Police on Thursday charged the driver of an unloaded log truck in the death of Steven Laverne Jordan, North Carolina’s mental health division director, who was struck and killed the day before while pedaling his bicycle on a North Raleigh road.

Clifton Paul Ellis, 27, of Kenly is charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle and failure to reduce speed to avoid collision, according to police spokesman Jim Sughrue.

Police said Jordan, 49, of Raleigh, was riding his bicycle in the far right, northbound lane of Louisburg Road when it was struck by Ellis’ truck. Emergency workers pronounced Jordan dead at the scene.

Ellis told police he was trying to drive past the bicyclist but could not move his tractor-trailer over into the center lane due to the traffic, according to the accident report.

The posted speed limit on Louisburg Road is 50 mph. The tractor-trailer was traveling 35 mph and the bicycle 15 mph when the collision occurred, police reported.

In 2010, 56 bicycle fatalities were reported in North Carolina, according to Patty Harrison, a spokeswoman with the state’s highway safety research center.

Jordan was hired by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services in July 2010 to help oversee the state’s mental health system. Before that, he was state director for ResCare, a private treatment provider for people with disabilities and youth with special needs.

Soon after starting work for the state, Jordan began making phone calls to leaders across the state to create what he called an “external advisory team.”

“He called community leaders from around the state and asked them to advise him and tell him if what he was doing was really useful,” said Debby Dihoff, executive director of the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It showed tremendous wisdom. Steve was really, really good at taking the best that people had to offer. He really cared what people thought.”

The state division’s website described Jordan as a “passionate advocate for the citizens of North Carolina” and a loving husband, father of three sons, and a man of character devoted to those in need of mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse services.