DIY police work leads to meager charges — and dangerously written laws

A popular L.A. cyclist thinks he knows why the driver who hit him ran.

And he knows who it was.

Maybe you know Roadblock. It’s almost amazing how many L.A. area cyclists do, and just how highly they regard him. But then, as one of the city’s leading bike activists and an original founder of the Midnight Ridazz, it’s pretty easy to understand why.

Or maybe you read about his recent biking accident, when the story of how he got run down by a hit-and-run driver made waves in the local online and cycling communities.

Fortunately, he’s okay, aside from a complaint about lingering back pain. In fact, when I ran into him the other night — figuratively, not literally — he looked good.

But it could have been much worse.

He was hit from behind at high speed, and carried several yards on the hood of the car before the driver applied the brakes and he was thrown off onto the street.

And then, as so often happens, the driver gunned his engine and took off, disappearing into the night. In fact, at least four cyclists in the L.A. and Orange County area have been killed by hit-and-run drivers this year alone; Santa Clarita held a Ride of Silence this past Saturday to commemorate the most recent cyclist run down by a drunken runaway motorist.

Fortunately, he somehow managed to get a partial license plate as he lay in the street. And that’s when L.A.’s Department of DIY sprang into action once again.

Overnight, signs sprang up seeking witnesses. Back channel contacts identified the owner of a suspect vehicle. A little detective work led to a local auto body shop, where photos were taken of the car as it was being repaired.

And in less than 48 hours, the suspect was identified to the police and the legal process was in motion.

Roadblock wants to keep the driver’s identity to himself for now, until the legal process is further along. But he says it’s someone well known in city circles, who certainly should have known better — and acted differently.

He also has a theory — which, due to the delay in finding the suspect, is likely to remain nothing but speculation — that the driver had been drinking. And that’s probably why he ran.

Evidently, the driver’s gamble paid off, since Roadblock had the good fortune to escape with relatively minor injuries, so the driver will escape with relatively minor charges.

Under California law, a hit-and-run that doesn’t result in injury is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in county jail, and/or a fine of up to $1000. And the authorities seem to feel that the sort of soft-tissue injuries Roadblock suffered don’t count, despite lingering pain and stiffness nearly five months later.

If the collision had resulted in a few broken bones, the penalty would be up to a year in jail, with a fine up to $10,000; a hit-and-run resulting in death or serious, permanent injury could bring up to 4 years in state prison.

And that’s the problem.

Existing law actually encourages intoxicated drivers to flee the scene of a collision, because the penalties for drunk driving resulting in injury or death can be far more severe than the relatively minor penalties for running away.

In fact, according to the Driver’s Handbook published by the DMV, a DUI case involving serious injury or death can be prosecuted under the state’s Three Strikes Law, potentially resulting in life imprisonment. Which makes the maximum penalty of four years for running away pale in comparison.

And relatively minor charges like hit-and-run are often dropped or plea-bargained away before a case ever comes to a resolution.

So for a driver who’s had a few drinks, fleeing the scene offers a reasonable gamble that they may get away with it. Or at least have time to sober up before getting caught.

And that has to change.

The penalties for hit-and-run have to be increased, until they’re strong enough that no one would ever consider leaving the scene of an accident.

Because this epidemic of drunken hit-and-runs has to stop. And our government has to stop encouraging it.

………

Santa Monica authorities insist it’s safe to ride through the city even if you don’t have a license, despite what the law says. L.A.’s bike culture captures yet another convert. A motorist in Sun Valley is in desperate need of a better bike rack; if your bike is missing, this might be your prime suspect. An upcoming photo exhibition profiles Angelenos who somehow survive sans cars. The paparazzi catch Sharon Stone bike shopping with her kids; the unidentified store looks like I. Martin to me. Joe Linton lists Long Beach’s leap to livability. In Chicago they even bike for cocktails; how civilized. An S.F. paper asserts cycling steers fashion, and that cars and bikes can, in fact, coexist. New York gets the kind of center median cycletrack we can only dream of. A Florida cop tases a fleeing cyclist before running over and killing him. Lego cyclists can be put back together; real ones can’t. Ex-framebuilder Dave Moulton explains the bike’s evolution away from the wheelbarrow effect. Edmonton police are on the lookout for a biking people-basher, while Toronto cyclists look hotter in a helmet. Finally, the Times touches briefly on last Friday’s David Byrne panel discussion; look for my take Wednesday on Streetsblog.

2 comments

  1. [...] the Scene Pays for Drunken California Drivers (BikingInLA via [...]

  2. [...] Fleeing the Scene Pays for Drunken California Drivers (BikingInLA) [...]

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