Archive for October 30, 2009

Evil on Trial: Dr. Christopher Thomson denies all in the Mandeville Canyon case

“This case is just stupid. When people are blocking you, you get mad. This is because they said ‘Fuck you.’ It’s just male aggression. They’re both at fault.”

— Overheard during a break in the Mandeville Canyon trial

Thursday was an interesting day, to say the least.

In a courtroom packed with both cyclists and supporters of the Good Doctor — and yes, there are people who support Christopher Thompson, despite everything — the defendant took the stand in his own defense.

According to Dr. Thompson, it was all just an unfortunate accident. The cyclists were rude and riding dangerously. He pulled over, slowly and carefully taking his place along the curb. And he has no idea why those careless, reckless bikers smashed into the back of his car.

Well, one anyway.

According to his attorney, the other one just fell over on his own.

No, really.

“I’ve saved a lot of lives.”

Cyclist/attorney DJwheels, who attended the hearing, said testimony began with a recap of the Good Doctor’s career as an ER specialist, including his work as the head of emergency services at Beverly Hospital for the past three years prior to the incident he’s charged with.

According to Thompson, he’s treated over 100,000 patients in his career, including “hundreds” of injured cyclists.

Under questioning by his attorney, Peter Swarth, he explained his understanding of the medical definition of “serious” injuries, in an attempt to address the comment clearly heard on his 911 call, in which he said the cyclists injuries weren’t serious, “but they’ll tell you that.”

He said that by definition, a serious injury requires admission to the hospital in order to stabilize the patient, and can be determined by simple observation. A close examination of the patient isn’t necessary to evaluate them by ABC — Airways, Breathing and Circulation — while a simple neurological exam be performed by observing how the patient responds to questions.

He continued by describing how he moved into his home in Mandeville Canyon on October 1, 1987; memorable as the day of the Whittier Earthquake. And noted that Gov. Schwarzenegger and his family moved to the canyon about 5 years ago.

Swarth asked why Thompson doesn’t live there anymore, and why he no longer works at Beverly Hospital; however, both questions were disallowed as a result of previous rulings by the judge.

Thompson described the canyon in detail, including the length of the roadway, elevation gain and the exact number of speed bumps and stop signs. According to him, it wasn’t necessary to step on the gas to reach the bottom; coasting and braking was enough to maintain the 30 mph speed limit downhill.

Since 2001, however, the canyon has been progressively overrun by cyclists, he said.

“I don’t have a problem with cyclists,” Thompson said. “I just don’t like their behavior.” He even claimed to ride a bike himself, though he couldn’t describe it in any way — by brand, type, color or number of gears.

The Good Doctor explained that he doesn’t like to drive behind cyclists in the canyon because they run stop signs, ride side-by-side and in large groups, and won’t allow drivers to pass. But he doesn’t get mad, he claimed; just frustrated and concerned for their safety, due to their own reckless actions.

He nearly came to tears as he related the story of a childhood friend named Bobby who went for a bike ride, fell over and was run over by the car behind him. That’s why he believes bicycles are inherently unstable, he said.

Thompson went on to explain how he had spoken to other canyon residents, as well as the chairman of the local neighborhood association safety committee, about what could be done to rein in cyclists since they can’t be identified to the police. The conclusion was that the best option was to take pictures and videotape the riders.

“I wasn’t there.”

Thompson explained that he couldn’t have been the driver who had the earlier encounter with Patrick Early, for which he wasn’t charged.

He was too busy with work, he claimed, and frequently out of town on business. He never had such an incident at that time, doesn’t know Early and couldn’t identify him — despite the fact that Early had picked Thompson’s photo out of a lineup and recalled the Good Doctor’s personalized license plate months afterwards.

“Ride single file”

The incident with Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby, for which he is charged, wasn’t so easily explained.

According to DJwheels, Swarth lead him through his testimony, explaining that he came up behind two riders going downhill side-by-side, honking once as a polite warning. When the cyclists failed to respond, he attempted to pass, but was blocked by an oncoming car.

On his second attempt, he crossed over the yellow line and accelerated, passing about three feet from the cyclists. And as he did, he extended his arm and index finger out the passenger side window, saying “Ride single file.”

They responded by yelling “Fuck you asshole!” and “shot him the shaft,” as the doctor put it — explaining that was his preferred way of saying they flipped him off.

Thompson claimed he then came to a normal, controlled stop in order to get their names. By his account, the cyclists rode safely past on either side of the car — he denied that Watson ever left the road, despite the earlier testimony by both riders. When they started to approach the car, he became frightened because the cyclists “were acting crazy,” and so he accelerated in order to get away as quickly as possible.

He was surprised to receive a call from a police detective about two weeks later asking about the incident, after Watson had reported it to the police.

“Here we go again”

Last year’s 4th of July started out a good day, as far as Dr. Thompson was concerned. He was expecting a normal, if busy, day because of the holiday, and said he wasn’t angry or in a hurry.

That lasted until he encountered three cyclists riding side-by-side as he made his way down the canyon.

They were about 50 feet ahead when he tapped gently on the horn; the center rider looked back at him and dropped slightly behind the other riders. So he honked again, and the outside rider “shot him the shaft.”

“Here we go again,” he thought, briefly accelerating up to 45 mph and crossing the yellow line in an arc-like pass. He called out “Single file please,” and was met with “a hail of ‘fuck you, asshole!’”

Again, he claimed that he braked to a controlled stop, this time in order to take photos of the cyclists as he had discussed with other residents. By his account, he had time to come to a full stop, set the parking brake, take off his seat belt and open the door before he felt an impact at the rear of the car.

As he stepped out, he saw one of the cyclists removing himself from the glass of the rear windshield.

Thompson said he identified himself as a physician and offered to help. The response he got was “Fuck you, asshole.” So from a distance, he began assessing their condition, concluding that their injuries were not life-threatening, and therefore, not medically serious.

The third rider approached, telling him to turn off the engine.

“I didn’t slam on the brakes”

The Good Doctor continued, explaining that he then called 911 for assistance.

Swarth stopped him at that point to ask about the 911 recording in which he said he “slammed on the brakes.” Thompson answered that he braked, then increased his pressure on the brakes, but never “slammed” on the brakes.

Another person soon stopped and tried to control Peterson’s bleeding using his own shirt; Thompson said he offered medical advice before the other man identified himself as a physician. He tried to flag down a paramedic unit that was coming down the canyon with cyclist injured in a previous accident. After pausing to assess the situation, they decline to stop and help; Thompson explained that they would have stayed if they thought the situation was serious.

Once the police, fire and paramedics arrived, he tried to give his statement to the investigating officer. However, Officer Rodriguez seemed distracted, and simply walked away as he was finishing his statement.

Thompson said he never told the officer that he wanted to teach the cyclists a lesson. Yet shortly later, more police arrived and another officer patted him down and cuffed him.

Again he got emotional, saying he didn’t try to hurt anyone, and didn’t think he’d stopped in an unsafe manner. “I thought I had a reasonable plan, but obviously I didn’t execute it effectively.”

And now he wakes up every night upset about what happened. “I don’t hurt people,” he said, “I help people.”

“I didn’t think it through”

The prosecution then took over for cross examination.

Assistant District Attorney Mary Stone didn’t waste any time with her cross, finishing just 15 minutes after she started.

She began by confirming that the Good Doctor was the only driver of the car in question. And that he doesn’t know Patrick Early, owe him money or is owed money by him — clearly attempting to establish that Early had no reason to lie or get even with Thompson.

He then agreed that because of what had happened to his friend as a child, he is even more aware of cyclists on the road, and that he had treated many cyclists as an ER doctor. He also agreed with her that cyclists are fragile and, unlike drivers, have nothing around them to protect them.

“You know the speed limit,” she continued, “and know it’s not just a suggestion?”

“Yes,” Thompson responded.

“You could have kept going if you wanted to?”


Thompson admitted that he was annoyed by the confrontation with the riders, but denied being angry. He also said he knew more or less where the cyclists were, even though he lost sight of them for a few moments when passing.

Stone then played the portion of the 911 tape where the doctor told the operator he’d “slammed on the brakes,” asking if he now denied that. “That’s correct,” he said, “I did not slam on the brakes.”

Her next question hit hard, even though the judge sustained the defense’s objection to it. “You got teary eyed when you talked about how you felt about this. Is that something you worked on with your attorney before you testified?”

She continued, “Do you have experience taking pictures of cyclists riding at 30 miles per hour using a cell phone?”

“I guess I didn’t think it through,” he answered.

She also asked if he seriously expected Watson and Crosby to give him their names after they “shot him the shaft.”

She then went through the testimony provided by LAPD Officer Rodriguez line by line; Thompson agreed he had said everything that Rodriguez reported about the incident with Peterson and Stoehr, with the single exception that he never said he wanted to teach them a lesson.

And she concluded by saying once again, “You could have kept going, but you didn’t.”

Read more about Thompson’s testimony in the L.A. Times and VeloNews.

Click here for a full report on Thursday’s closing arguments; click hereherehere, and here for previous reports on the trial.

The jury began deliberations late Thursday, and will resume on Monday morning; the courthouse was closed on Friday.

Evil on Trial: UPDATE — Mandeville Canyon case goes to jury, adjourns until Monday

Testimony in the Mandeville Canyon case concluded on Wednesday, with the Good Doctor, Christopher Thompson taking the stand for the full day. Closing arguments were held on Thursday, including a powerful presentation from Asst. D.A. Mary Stone in which she employed a baseball bat, doctor’s lab coat and Ron Peterson’s shattered bike — can’t wait to get details on that one.

The case went to the jury about an hour before court adjourned on Thursday; the courthouse is closed today, so deliberations will resume on Monday.

DJwheels was in the courtroom for both days and has promised to provide a full update today; check back later today for more details.

He also reports that there’s a phone chain in place, so I’ll post the verdict as soon as it comes in. Then again, the weather is supposed to be great on Monday and Tuesday, so if the verdict comes in when I’m out riding, it will go up as soon as I get back.

I know, I know. Damn cyclists.

One other note: There’s a lot of anger over this case in the cycling community, and the verdict could go either way. So please, no matter how this case comes out, keep cool — and try to channel that anger productively, where it will do some good.

We have a bad enough reputation as it is.

You can read about Thompson’s testimony in the L.A. Times and VeloNews.

Today’s post, in which I make nice with LADOT

I don’t think I have many fans at L.A.’s Department of Transportation.

Or any, for that matter.

The feedback I’ve gotten, limited though it may be, is that I’ve been unduly harsh in criticizing the agency. And that the flap over the bike lanes on Reseda Blvd could have been handled better.

I can live with that.

The end result was that the long-promised bike lanes on Reseda finally turned into paint of the streets, with a promise of more to come — and no peak hour lanes on the boulevard.

As for any criticism of the agency, you only have to ride these streets for awhile to understand that criticism is not only deserved, but necessary. And not just LADOT.

Los Angeles is decades behind most American cities when it comes to biking infrastructure. Meanwhile, the cycling community has been growing exponentially, putting more riders — and more inexperienced riders — on streets that were not designed to accommodate them.

If anything, I’ve tried to hold back, in light of the impossible position bikeways staff find themselves in, stuck in a department — and a city — that doesn’t understand, let alone support, cycling.

And yes, this is me holding back.


Like anyone else, LADOT and its employees are welcome to comment on anything I write. If you like something I have to say, say so; if you don’t, say so. And if you have more to add to the story, or corrections, or just want to tell me I’m full of it, you can find my email address on the About BikingInLA page.

Convince me I got the story wrong, and I’ll be happy to correct it. If not, I’ll gladly share your side of the story — then offer my best arguments to show why I think it’s wrong.

So I was a little surprised to attend the West L.A. bike plan meeting last night, and discover just how helpful and determined to make a difference everyone was.

Even after they found out who I am.

Whatever you may think of the plan — and yes, I do have reservations — it’s clear that there are people within the Bikeways Department who really do give a damn about making this a better place to ride.

I spoke with one employee who talked about working with a street crew into the wee morning hours to convert old parking meters into bike racks. And how he was working on a plan to put abandoned bikes — which are currently sold off to wholesalers for pennies on the dollar — to better use, such as offering them to non-profit co-ops like Bike Kitchen or Bikerowave, or donating them to organizations that serve the underprivileged, whether here in L.A. or in underdeveloped countries like some other cities do.

Both of which are plans I can support, without the slightest reservation.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how helpful bikeways coordinator Michelle Mowery was when I suggested how a minor change in signage on a street I ride regularly could encourage cyclists to use it more.

At first she said it couldn’t legally be done. But then she made some alternate suggestions to solve the problem — and offered to pass it along to the right people who might be able to do something about it.

Then again, maybe it’s not so surprising.

Because we’re all going to have to work together if we want things to get any better around here.

Whether we agree with each other or not.

I’ll offer my take on the bike plan next week. Meanwhile, LACBC continues to press for more time to respond to the plan, and offers suggestions to improve it — with attribution. Dr. Alex reports that LADOT is woefully inadequate in regards to the plan, while fellow Westside Bikeside writer Mihai ask why the plan can’t reflect the 720 bus route. C.I.C.L.E. says the new bike plan is a step backwards, and asks why we can’t have multiple bike coordinators. Damien discovers the difference a .com vs a .org can make. And phase two of the Department of DIY’s write-your-own-bike-plan takes place this Saturday at 1 pm.


Start making your plans for next years Bike Summit — now with added pedestrians! (Seriously, it’s fun, informative and free; what more could you want?) A Boston cyclist writes about trusting total strangers with his life everyday. Portland asks if the local cycling scene is too white. Do mandatory helmet laws make cyclists safer — or just reduce the number of riders on the road? A UK student helps save the life of a critically injured cyclist. A writer Down Under says reduce speeds so cyclists can live. Finally, a photo bike tour of Nashville, and a lovely one of Scotland — and before she says it, let me remind you that the weather up there in Bobby Burns land isn’t always like that.

Evil on trial: UPDATE — Christopher Thompson takes the stand

According to cyclist/attorney DJwheels, Dr. Christopher Thompson took the stand for the final 10 minutes of testimony this afternoon.

The defendant in the Mandeville Canyon case is accused of intentionally slamming on the his brakes in front of two cyclists on July 4, 2008, resulting in significant injuries to both riders, as well as another incident in which the riders escaped injury. So far, the only questions have been about his medical background; the judge has urged the defense attorney to keep questions relevant to the case.

Thompson will resume testimony at 10:30 am tomorrow; it’s expected to take approximately 2 hours, with cross examination projected to last an additional 2 hours. Court will recess at noon, and resume from 2 pm to 4:30 pm. Closing arguments will most likely begin Thursday morning; the case should go to the jury by Thursday afternoon.

The trial is open to the public, at Department C of the Airport Courthouse, 11701 South La Cienega Blvd just below Imperial Highway; click here for map.

Scroll down or click here for an earlier an earlier update, with more details from yesterday’s testimony.

Final arguments have concluded and the trial has gone to the jury; court is closed today, with deliberations scheduled to resume on Monday. You can read about Thompson’s testimony in the L.A. Times and VeloNews. I should have a detailed warp-up by Friday evening.

More coverage of the previous two days’ testimony on VeloNews.

Evil on trial: Mandeville driver may testify Wednesday

Attorneys will tell you than no defense lawyer wants to put his client on the stand in a criminal trial.

It’s usually considered the last resort, in hopes that the defendant and his story will appear sympathetic to the jury, despite the inherent risks in exposing the defendant to cross-examination.

And it looks like that’s exactly what will happen Wednesday in the Mandeville Canyon case. On both counts.

Dr. Christopher Thompson and his attorney may take the stand to try and spin the events of July 4, 2008 in his favor. If they do, the prosecutor has shown every indication of being willing to go after him as aggressively as necessary.

According to cyclist/attorney DJwheels, who was in the courtroom again yesterday afternoon, it looks like the trial will go to the jury late Wednesday or Thursday morning. Meanwhile, the testimony presented on Monday appears to be setting up an appearance by the defendant himself.

Since any good lawyer will want to end with a bang, that means Thompson is likely to be the defense’s final witness, unless scheduling issues force Peter Swarth, the Good Doctor’s lawyer, to follow with someone else.

It’s just a guess. But it’s an informed guess, from a lawyer who’s been closely following the Mandeville Canyon case.

So mark your calendar.

It could be the perfect opportunity to kick off your Halloween weekend with something truly horrifying.

“The laws of physics just don’t allow it.”

Unfortunately, DJwheels had to tend to his own legal practice on Monday.

As a result, he missed the first hour of defense testimony, and wasn’t sure about the exact name of the first witness called by Swarth — a highly paid expert witness specializing in accident reconstruction.

He presented two animations offering a 2-dimensional bird’s eye view showing how the accident could have happened. The first was based on statements provided by Chris Roberts, the cyclist Peterson and Stoehr had just passed prior to their encounter with Thompson; Swarth claimed he had the best perspective of the events. The second was based on Dr. Thompson’s version of events, setting up his potential testimony.

However, the witness conceded under cross-examination that the Thompson animation was based on information provided by Swarth, rather than actual police statements or interviews with the doctor.

He testified that Roberts had said Thompson was traveling at about 40 mph — 10 miles over the posted speed limit — when the Good Doctor passed him before encountering the other two riders. (So much for Thompson’s claim that the cyclists were riding “three abreast.”)

By his estimation, that allowed about 2.3 seconds between the time the brakes were applied and the moment of impact with the rear of Thompson’s car. The second animation allowed even more time, 3.4 seconds, due to Thompson’s estimate that he’d been traveling at 45 mph.

In his opinion, either estimate provided enough time for both riders to see the brake lights and respond in time to avoid collision — making the collision their fault, rather than that of the doctor who told police he did it to “teach them a lesson.”

Evidently, he’s never tried to stop a bike going downhill at 30 mph.

Asked why he didn’t prepare a 3rd animation based on Peterson and Stoehr’s statements, he said the way they described the events couldn’t have happened. “The laws of physics just don’t allow it,” he said, adding “it would have been a cartoon.”

Under cross-examination by assistant D.A. Mary Stone, he was asked if he discounted the fact that Thompson had made an “abrupt and aggressive” move in front of the cyclists before slamming on his brakes. According to DJwheels, he tried to evade the question before conceding, “I can’t show aggression in an animation.”

Stone pressed him further, showing him the infamous photo of the back of the Good Doctor’s Lexus, and asking if he agreed that Thompson had “slammed” on the brakes, causing the damage seen in the photo. Again, he tried to evade the question, but eventually conceded the point. “I’m denying that it was the sole cause, not that it was any cause.”

He also admitted that he would receive about $40,000 for his testimony and preparation for trial — with the clear implication that he would not have been paid to testify if his conclusions didn’t support the defense.

“They both slapped the car as they passed”

The next witness was Jody Fitz, who was a passenger in the car when the Good Doctor had the earlier encounter with Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby.

According to Fitz, they were headed down the canyon when they came up behind two cyclists riding side-by-side on Mandeville Canyon. Thompson tried to pass them, but couldn’t due to oncoming traffic.

However, a second attempt was more successful; Fitz said Thompson rolled down the passenger window as they passed, extended his arm and index finger, and yell out “Ride single file!”

The cyclists responded by flipping the bird and yelling something he couldn’t make out. According to Fitz, when Thompson made a “normal, controlled stop,” the cyclists passed on either side, both slapping the car as they passed. He contradicted Watson’s earlier testimony that he bunny hopped the curb, saying neither rider ever left the roadway.

He said both riders dismounted and began to approach the car; he thought there would be a fight until Thompson stepped on the gas and took off.

Under cross, Stone was able to point out a number of contradictions between his testimony and the statement he had give to the police. For instance, he told a police detective that the car hadn’t passed close to the cyclists, claiming the distance was great enough that the riders wouldn’t have been able to touch the car — despite his claim that both slapped the vehicle after it braked to a stop.

He also testified that, following the confrontation, neither he nor Thompson said anything about it until later that evening; however, he told police that Thompson had been muttering angrily afterwards, saying something like “those son of a bitches flipped me off.” And he denied saying that Thompson had stopped at the next stop sign to “see what he could do about them.”

Two witnesses with nothing much to say

The day ended with brief testimony from two other witnesses.

Dr. John Uphold, the Good Doctor’s former partner/employer, was asked about the period between December 2007 and January 2008 when Thompson is suspected to braking in front of Patrick Early, who had been riding up Mandeville Canyon when a car matching Thompson’s slammed on the brakes in front of him.

He testified that the Good Doctor had often been out of town on business or visiting family during that period, implying that it couldn’t have been his car. However, he was forced to admit that he wasn’t in the car on those days when Thompson was in town, so he had no way of knowing what might have happened then.

He was followed by LAPD Detective Phillip Enbody, the senior lead officer in the Brentwood area. He was asked if he was aware of any tension between cyclists and residents in Mandeville Canyon, and if he had advised residents to use cameras to document any problems with cyclists.

“Not exactly,” he said, adding that he made that suggestion in response to complaints about people walking their dogs off leash.

Testimony continues today with the woman to whom Det. Enbody supposedly made that suggestion, along with another expert witness and a second police officer.


Dr. Alex urges cyclists to attend this weekend’s DIY bike plan session with the Bike Working Group, while Enci explains why she hates L.A. bike lanes. The Times reports on an off-road fat tire fest in the hills above L.A. In a refreshing change, a Folsom driver apologizes to the cyclist he didn’t see on his way to work. As usual, WA police hope to keep cyclists safe by targeting riders, rather than the people who hit them. Eugene celebrates its new Gold Bike-Friendly award. The widow of the New Zealand rider killed by a hat-trick drunk driver demands changes in the law to keep drunks off the road. Town Mouse says this is what Scottish cyclists need instead of bike lanes. Finally, Newt Gingrich, the student cyclist’s friend? Really?

Evil on trial: will CVC 21202 be the key to the trial?

It’s probably the most misunderstood traffic law on the books.

Ask just about any driver, and they’ll tell you that bicyclists are required to ride as closely as possible to the right side of the road. Even motorists who ride bikes are often convinced that we have to hew to the curb — if not the sidewalk.

They’ll also tell you that cyclists are required to ride single file.

It’s not true.

Section 21202 of the California Vehicle Code only requires cyclists to ride as closely to the curb as practicable — and then only when riding at less than the normal speed of traffic.

These days, many cyclists understand the first part, even if motorists don’t. They know the law doesn’t require them to ride through potholes and broken glass on the far right. Or confine themselves to the door zone, where they’re at risk from every inattentive driver who flings open a door or pulls out of a parking space without looking.

They know they’re allowed to ride far enough from the curb as necessary in order to ride in a safe and prudent manner — with the knowledge that the exact distance can vary from one road to another, at various times and under different road and traffic conditions.

But even cyclists are often unaware of the second part of that sentence.

The simple fact is, if you can keep up with traffic, you are legally allowed to ride anywhere you want on the road, as long as you follow the lane markings and ride with the flow of traffic.

If congestion causes traffic to slow down to 15 mph, you have every right to move over and take the full lane, until speeds increase to where you can no longer keep up.

Or when the speed limit holds traffic down to 20 or 25 mph, you’re free to take the full right lane — or the left, for that matter — if you have the skill to keep up. And nothing requires that you ride on the shoulder if you’re bombing down a mountain pass at highway speeds.

As long as you can keep up, you have the legal right to ride wherever you feel most comfortable.

It’s not just the law in California, either; section 11-1205 of the Uniform Vehicle Code says almost exactly the same thing. And to the best of my knowledge, it’s the law in every state of the U.S.

There is also no restriction about riding side-by-side in this state.

Section 11-1206 of the UVC says that cyclists may not ride more than two abreast, as long as they stay within a single lane and don’t impede the “normal and reasonable movement of traffic.” And I challenge you to find a single line in the California Vehicle Code which prohibits it.

And that brings us to this recent exchange of comments in last week’s discussion of the Mandeville Canyon case.

Dave Lewis noted that when riding down Mandeville, he often found himself riding at or above the posted 30 mph speed limit, without pedaling — which meant that he could take the full lane without violating CVC21202. And asked if anyone had raised that issue in court.

According to DJwheels, the cycling community’s eyes and ears in the courtroom, the speed of various cyclists on the road has been brought up several times during the trial.

The latest article from VeloNews says that data from their GPS units shows Watson was riding at 29.2 mph just prior to the incident, and Stoehr was traveling at 28.1 mph. Which means they were entitled to full use of the lane, and the Good Doctor would have had to have been traveling at significantly over the speed limit for the incident to have occurred the way both sides have described it.

The same article also notes that testimony from Patrick Early, who had an earlier, similar encounter with Dr. Thompson, estimated that the car approached him from behind at 40 – 50 mph.

Nothing in California law gives speeding vehicles priority over cyclists, or anyone else, using the road in a safe and legal manner. And as previously noted, riding two abreast is not prohibited by any statute in this state.

Which means that the cyclists were well within their rights, and this incident could not have occurred if Thompson hadn’t already — and evidently, repeatedly — broken the law.

As an attorney as well as a cyclist, DJwheels said he hopes the prosecution will ask for a simplified version of CVC 21202 to be included in the jury instructions so they can consider it during deliberations.

Meanwhile, a comment from another attorney, Jim Gallo, says it looks like the D.A. is doing all the right things in this case.

We’ll soon find out.

The prosecution rested its case on Friday; the defense begins today.

Read VeloNews coverage of the trial here, here and here. L.A. Times coverage here and here. DJwheels comments on the trial in L.A. Streetsblog coverage here.


Debate over the proposed new L.A. bike plan goes on; Enci Box explains why non-cyclists should care, and Joe Linton covers the first meeting on the bike plan. Twenty-eight percent of L.A. commuters rely on something other than driving alone. Slower traffic should stay to the right, even on a bike path. The Interior Department says no to a Yosemite start in next year’s Tour of California. A D.C. writer takes U.S.A. Today to task for a badly misguided rant about two-wheeled trouble makers — including a misapplication of the Mandeville case. More riders are commuting to work; even New York magazine editors and people in Colorado ski areas. A Baltimore councilwoman suggests moving the bike lane out of the door zone. A Massachusetts writer observes that 79% of local cyclists obey the law. Finally, evidently California as a problem with elderly scofflaw cyclists, as an 82-year old Lompoc man was seriously injured, and an 80-year old Placentia man was killed — both after supposedly running red lights. I’d certainly like to know if there were any witnesses other than the drivers who hit them.

Today’s ride, on which I encounter just a little road rage

Living on the Westside, I often ride through the grounds of the Veterans Center in Brentwood — a quiet, low traffic alternative to the area’s frequently gridlocked streets.

When I ride there, I remember that it exists to serve the people who’ve served our country. And that virtually everyone I see there is a veteran, or someone who has dedicated his or her career to helping them.

So I always bear in mind that I am a guest there, and try to act accordingly.

I stop for every stop sign. I signal. I wait patiently for slow-moving people to make their way through the crosswalk. And I make a point of looking into the faces of the people I pass, acknowledging that these are people who sacrificed a part of their lives for us.

So I was more than a little surprised by what happened there on my way home today.

As I approached the hospital grounds, I saw a man about a block ahead, crossing the street in his motorized wheelchair. But instead of rolling up onto the handicap-accessible sidewalk, he chose to ride in the street, on the wrong side, headed directly towards me.

I think he must have been a former navy man, because he gave every indication that he intended to ram my ship; he looked directly at me as he rolled straight towards me with all the speed his little chair could muster.

So I waited until he was about 10 feet away before giving a slight shrug of my left shoulder and swerving around him, passing with over six feet of clearance.

As I passed, I distinctly heard him say “fuck you!”

Now, I have no idea why he was angry, or why he picked me to take it out on. And it probably didn’t help his mood when I rode away, laughing out loud at the absurdity of the situation.

I don’t know if any motorists noticed my grin as I made my way home, or what they thought when I broke into random bouts of giggling — or outright laughter — as I sat waiting for various red lights to change.

But I did notice they gave me an unusually wide berth the rest of the way home.


The 2010 Tour of California will feature two L.A. area stages next May; and yes, Lance and his new team will be there. Dr. Alex looks at a typical bike lane in L.A.’s bike-friendly neighbor to the west, and notes why you shouldn’t try to reclaim your stolen bike yourself. Metro’s new blog says more bike lockers are coming to Metro stations. Bicycle Cop Dave defends Downtown in a new webcomic, starting next week. Indianapolis cyclists question their Bike Friendly City award, too. In Arizona, a right hook apparently isn’t illegal — unless you do it to a bike cop. In Texas, sharrows and bike boxes are considered experimental; in L.A., they’re non-existent. Bike helmets are dorky and unnecessary, until you need one. A Chicago writer lists the best and worst things about bike commuting. A Portland study shows 90% of cyclists also own a car — which means they have a license, pay gas taxes and carry insurance, despite what the bike haters claim. Finally, this is what we miss by not having a real autumn in L.A.

Evil on trial: testimony begins in the Mandeville Canyon case

The defense strategy is starting to come in focus.

Based on his cross examination, Peter Swarth, attorney for Dr. Christopher Thompson, intends to paint a picture of a canyon plagued by angry, out of control cyclists. And portray the Good Doctor as their unfortunate, and innocent, victim — three times, no less.

That message is reinforced by the noticeable presence of two large bodyguards in the courtroom, suggesting that Thompson is the one who is in danger from cyclists, rather than the other way around.

As both the Times and VeloNews reported, testimony began with Christian Stoehr, one of the two cyclists seriously injured on the 4th of July last year when the Good Doctor pulled in front of them and slammed on his brakes.

Stoehr described how he hit the back of Thompson’s car when the doctor cut in front of them and slammed on his brakes, rolling over the top of the car and falling into the street. But when he had trouble explaining exactly how that occurred, Swarth suggested that maybe he simply fell over.

You know, ‘cause experienced cyclists do that a lot.

According to cyclist/attorney DJwheels, the other rider, Ron Peterson, went into more detail, describing how they had passed a slower rider shortly before they heard a car approach from behind. When Stoehr called out “Car back!,” Peterson responded by taking single file position in front.

The driver, later identified as a Thompson, yelled out “Ride single file;” Peterson responded with “Fuck you!” He said Thompson then cut over and braked to a stop about five feet in front of them. Because of their downhill speed, a collision was unavoidable; after striking the car, Peterson flew forward into the car’s rear windshield.

“My face did that,” he said, pointing to a large hole in the glass in a photo of the scene. “And that’s my blood.”

Under cross examination, Peterson admitted that after extricating himself from the glass, he told Thompson to “Get the fuck away from me,” adding “I’m going to fuck you up!”

“I said it,” Peterson admitted. “I’m not proud.”

That exchange is important, both because it points to the anger Swarth suggests, as well as supporting the defense claim that Thompson never refused to help the cyclists, as has been reported, but rather, it was the cyclists who refused his aid.

Swarth continued to pressure Peterson, accusing him of anger before the collision, and still being furious and desperate for revenge. Peterson calmly insisted that he was angry at first, “but it’s been awhile.” He continued by saying “I just want justice. That’s why I’m here.”

Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone then called LAPD Traffic Accident Investigator Robert Rodriguez.

Rodriguez testified that shortly after arriving, he took a statement from the Good Doctor, who said the cyclists were riding “three abreast,” blocking the roadway. VeloNews quotes him as saying “They flipped me off. I stopped in front of them. I wanted to teach them a lesson. I’m tired of them.”

Rodriguez, a veteran officer and former Marine, said that meant this needed to be investigated as an assault with a deadly weapon, rather than a traffic accident. He immediately stopped his investigation and called for backup.

While he waited for help to arrive, Rodriguez took measurements of the crime scene — including one showing the roadway was 20 feet wide at that point.

Again, this could prove important, since standard lane width in California is 12 feet; section 21202 of the California Vehicle Code allows cyclists to take the lane if it’s “too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.” A substandard lane width would justify taking a position within the lane, rather than hugging the curb to the right.

Stone played a recording of Thompson speaking with the 911 operator. The court could clearly hear him tell the injured cyclists to get their bikes out of the road; he told the operator they weren’t seriously injured, “But they’ll tell you that.”

Swarth suggested that to an ER doctor such as Thompson, “serious” means something different than it does to a layman — setting up an argument to combat the doctor’s lack of remorse. However, considering that he hadn’t examined either victim, it may be hard to support a medical determination.

The next witness was another Mandeville resident, Dr. Bruce Rogen, who was returning home with his family when they came upon the crime scene. He was the first person to offer medical care to the cyclists, saying it was “primitive” due to the lack of medical equipment. Peterson was still bleeding profusely, so he took off his own shirt to use as a bandage to staunch the bleeding.

It was at about that point when the trial paused because one of the jurors felt faint — attributing it to her squeamishness around blood. Somehow, the descriptions of blood got to her, even though the previous day’s bloody photos hadn’t.

When testimony continued, Swarth pressed Rogen on whether Thompson had offered assistance. After repeated questioning, Rogen recalled Thompson saying the cyclists had refused his help; however, he did not remember Thompson attempting to assist him or offer advice.

Geoffrey Keyes, M.D. took the stand next. President of both the L.A. and California Society of Plastic Surgeons, he described the surgery he performed on Peterson, citing significant internal and external injuries to the nose, which required both nasal and septal reconstruction.

The day’s final witness was Patrick Watson of Team Helens, who recalled a similar experience in March, 2008, with a car and license plate number matching that of the Good Doctor’s.

According to Watson, Thompson ran him off the road, forcing him to bunny hop over a curb onto the lawn of a house. His riding partner, Josh Crosby, was forced onto the opposite side of the road; Crosby responded by yelling at Thompson and striking the side of his car.

Meanwhile, Watson hopped back onto the roadway, finding himself one again in front of Thompson’s car; the car charged towards him — forcing him to bunny hop onto the yard once again — before swerving off and driving away.

Watson said Crosby’s punch may have left a dent in Thompson’s Lexus, which they thought could be used as evidence in a hit-and-run charge. Swarth jumped on that, accusing Watson of threatening to file a false police report, since it was Crosby who struck Thompson’s car, rather than the other way around. However, he was forced to back down when Watson said that the police had told him that.

Then again, Swarth was also forced to back down when Judge Scott Millington sternly reprimanded him for repeatedly interrupting witnesses, as well as the judge himself.

According to VeloNews, there was a third, eerily similar incident in Mandeville Canyon that preceded the other two. In the winter of 2008, Patrick Early narrowly escaped injury when a car resembling Thompson’s buzzed his bike and the driver yelled “Get off the road!” Like the riders in this case, he responded by yelling back “Fuck you!,” only to have the driver cut in front of him and slam on the brakes; fortunately, he was riding uphill, so he was able to stop in time to avoid a collision.

Watson’s testimony continues today, followed by Josh Crosby and additional police witnesses; Friday’s witness list includes medical experts, as well as possible testimony from an expert witness about information downloaded from Watson’s Garmin.

“I hope Crosby is composed,” DJwheels said, “because it’s clear that Swarth is going to go after him.”

Defense testimony may begin on Friday or Monday, though Swarth has expressed concern about the availability of witnesses on the first part of the week. Closing arguments are expected on or about October 28.

I’ve done my best to confirm all the names in this story; however, if I have misspelled or gotten anyone’s name or title wrong, let me know and I will be happy to correct it. For more information, see the Times coverage of opening testimony, and the excellent coverage from VeloNews, here and here, as well as today’s story on Streetsblog L.A.

Cyclist critically injured in Sylmar hit-and-run

Somehow, a near fatal a hit-and-run against a cyclist went below the radar last week.

The collision occurred around 4:20 pm Thursday, Oct. 15 at the intersection of DeGarmo Ave. and Vaughn St. in Sylmar; a suspect is in custody on $80,000 bail. The 26 year old cyclist was hit when a red and black Chevy Cavalier ran a stop sign, throwing the rider 30 feet from the initial impact; he was taken to a local hospital in critical condition, If you have any information, contact LAPD Valley Traffic Division Investigator C. Laurino at 818/644-8115, or call the 24-hour toll-free number at 1-877/527-3147; tipsters may remain anonymous.

And let me know if you can fill in any details.

Meanwhile, a recent comment notes that Robert Sam Sanchez, the accused hit-and-run killer of Rod Armas on PCH in Malibu, wasn’t a bad person. And that’s the real tragedy when a person gets drunk and takes a life behind the wheel; two lives are destroyed, two families devastated.

Being human

We’ve all seen it a thousand times before.

The other day, I pulled up next to car at a red light, and when I looked over at the driver, his finger was unselfconsciously inserted deeply up his nose.

And oddly, it occurred to me for the first time that I’ve never seen a cyclist do that.

Not that we don’t have our own questionable habits. But not only have I never seen a cyclist pick his or her nose, I’ve never seen one floss, shave, put on makeup, change clothes or — yes, masturbate — or any of the countless other things I’ve seen people do behind the wheel that are usually best performed in far more private settings.

Wrapped in a two ton cocoon of steel and glass, drivers have an illusion of privacy. Even though they’re surrounded by windows on every side, they feel separate from the world around them, free to do things they would never do standing on the street corner just a few feet away.

At least, I hope they wouldn’t.

On the other hand, we cyclists are well aware of our exposure. In fact, we revel it, taking pleasure in our intimate experience of the unique sights, sounds and smells that envelope us as we ride, as if the world itself were wrapping its arms around us.

We never, ever feel that sense of privacy that so many drivers seem to take for granted. We understand that anything we do while we’re riding can, and probably will, be seen by someone else.

So why don’t drivers see us?

I don’t mean that in the standard careless driver, “I just didn’t see him” sense, that seems to offer a universal excuse for virtually any driver who runs a cyclist to the ground. Even though the law in every state requires that drivers be alert and aware of conditions and vehicles around them.

No, I mean why is it that so many drivers can look at a cyclist, and fail to see a fellow human being?

Take the Good Doctor, Christopher Thompson, who dedicated his career to saving lives, yet had no problem sending two people to the emergency room — insisting in a 911 call that they weren’t really hurt, despite nearly severing the nose of one rider and separating the shoulder of the other.

Or the drivers we discussed yesterday, who couldn’t have cared less about knocking one rider off his bike, or deliberately cutting another off in traffic.

Or countless other drivers, across the city and around the world, innumerable times each and every day. Somehow, they look at us, and don’t see a student on his way to class, or a worker struggling home after a long day. They don’t see a wife, a mother, a husband or a father, a son or a daughter. Someone riding for their health or their passion, for the good of the earth or the good of their community; someone who’d stop to help a stranger or an animal in need.

They don’t see a person who is loved. Or the empty bed or seat at the table, the gigantic hole that would be ripped through the world if just one person didn’t make it home from their ride.

They don’t see a fragile human being. They just see another cyclist.

And they feel justified in hating us.

Simply because we ride a bike.

And we’re in their way.


More on the bike plan:

Steven Box reports on The Department of DIY’s initial efforts to create our own, better, bike plan; Dr. Alex reports on neighborhood councils demanding an extension of the comment period, and Ubrayj responds to a student reporter, saying the best part of the city’s new bike plan is that it contains the words “bike,” “bicycle” and “bike lane.”

And Damien Newton offers a great update of the process up to this point, noting that BAC Chair Glenn Bailey has been promised that comments will be accepted until the final plan is released next year.


A visit to Linus Bikes on Abbot Kinney. Travelin’ Local reports on a website to report, track — and presumably, fix — roadway, bikeway and sidewalk problems. San Diego riders are encouraged to attend a meeting on new road standards this Friday. The latest bike friendly communities have been announced; you can download the full list here. A writer in New Hampshire says waiting 15 seconds to safely pass a cyclist is time well spent. Opus notes that he can’t test a new product that allows a rider to lock his helmet with his bike because he can’t find a place to lock his bike. TreeHugger looks at bike locks, including the new AXA Defender offered at Flying Pigeon. A rider notes that some drivers can’t see him, but evidently they can still hear him. A lawyer claims a champion Aussie rider who ran over his former riding partner doesn’t deserve jail because he didn’t actually flee the scene, but ran to get help; evidently, they don’t have cell phones Down Under.

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