Evil on trial: Perspectives on the Christopher Thompson sentencing

This is not a happy day.

Yes, the Good Doctor got the sentence he deserved, despite what countless apologists have said online today.

But the sad thing is that a man like that, who clearly has so many supporters, committed such a heinous act. And that so many of these supporters don’t get that what he did was wrong.

You see, I don’t hate Christopher Thompson. I don’t even think he’s a bad man. Not that I ever met him.

He’s just a man who did a very bad thing.

That may sound odd, considering the header at the top of this page. But when I first started writing about the Thompson trial, I wanted to grab peoples’ attention and identify any posts on the subject. What I came up with was what you see above.

I thought someone would challenge me, and ask just what I meant by that. But no one ever did. Not even the Times, which mentioned one unnamed blogger who wrote under the headline “Evil on trial.”

So I never explained that it referred to what he did, not who he was.

During the course of the trial, Dr. Christopher Thompson has been variously described as a good husband, a good friend and neighbor, and a skilled, caring physician. I have no doubt that all of those things are true.

But none of that excuses what he did to Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr on July 4th, 2008 in Mandeville Canyon. Or what he tried to do to Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby in an earlier incident, and at least one other incident before that.

Now Peterson has permanent scars, despite plastic surgery, Stoehr has had to recover from his injuries, and the others have to live with the memory of having their lives threatened. And an otherwise good man is facing 5 well-deserved years in prison.

According to cyclist/attorney DJ Wheels, who was in the courtroom today, Thompson faced his victims and apologized for his actions, wishing them good health. He claimed that he never wanted to hurt anyone, in a statement that brought tears to the eyes of his many supporters in the courtroom.

The Times quotes Thompson as saying, ” I would like to apologize deeply, profoundly from the bottom of my heart.” He added, “If my incident shows anything it’s that confrontation leads to an escalation of hostilities.”

His father also spoke to the court in support of the Good Doctor. In what Wheels described as a very emotional statement, speaking without notes, he talked about the things his son had done for the surgical community and how he had helped a lot of people. And told how a humiliated Christopher Thompson had to move back into his father’s home in Oklahoma after the incident.

That was offset by statements from three of the cyclists involved, who talked about their injuries, how dangerous it is for cyclists in L.A., and how the punishment should fit the crime. Looking directly at Thompson, Josh Crosby said, “You were upset that we were on your street.”

Judge Scott Millington clearly got the severity of the incident, despite noting that the 270 letters he’d received from cyclists urging a stiff sentence had no bearing on his ruling.

As the Times put it:

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott T. Millington called the case a “wake-up call” to motorists and cyclists and urged local government to provide riders with more bike lanes. He said he believed that Thompson had shown a lack of remorse during the case and that the victims were particularly vulnerable while riding their bicycles.

He sentenced Thompson to the minimum 2 year sentence for each of the two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and added three years each for both counts of battery causing serious bodily injury; however, he ordered that those sentences be served concurrently, rather than consecutively.

There were also sentences of 1-year and 90 days for the lesser charges of reckless driving and mayhem; again, he ordered that those be served concurrently with the other sentences for a total of 5 years.

He also ordered Thompson to pay restitution for the cyclists’ medical expenses, with a hearing set for next month. And he revoked the Good Doctor’s drivers license for the remainder of his life.

However, DJ Wheels says that Thompson could be eligible for parole after serving just half his sentence, with the rest served on parole — assuming Thompson doesn’t get into trouble behind bars. And don’t be surprised if state prison authorities consider the Good Doctor an ideal candidate for early release, if plans to reduce prison overcrowding in California are put into effect.

With the felony conviction, loss of his medical license should also be a foregone conclusion — though a number of people in the medical profession have warned that it may not be as clear cut as it seems.

Of course, that does nothing to address the vitriol flying across the internet today. Like this comment that followed a story on the Arizona Star website, from a woman who claimed to be a personal friend of Thompson’s:

Not only were these cyclists COMPLETELY OUT OF LINE but they were traveling five wide on a road that is less than 9 feet across. He has NEVER injured anyone in his entire life and would never intentionally hurt someone…He caused injury to people by complete accident which could have been avoided if they had OBEYED THE RULES of the road while biking. IT IS THAT SIMPLE!!!

DJ Wheels also notes one other fact that puts this case in stomach-turning perspective. Alejandro Hidalgo is scheduled to be sentenced this Monday for the drunk-driving hit-and-run death of Jesus Castillo last April.

His sentence? Two years.

Two years for getting drunk, getting behind the wheel and running down another human being, then running away and leaving a man to die alone in the street.

Meanwhile, Thompson gets five years for intentionally injuring two cyclists, yet remaining at the scene.

What’s wrong with that picture?

In addition to the Times story, you can read additional coverage of the Christopher Thompson sentencing from L.A. Streetsblog, VeloNewsHuffington Post, KNBC Channel 4 and KABC Channel 7.

16 comments

  1. BB says:

    Our justice system is broken. It doesn’t protect people it only stands to shield the guilty. Anyone working remotely with justice should be ashamed.

  2. Anyone who follows me via Twitter or whatever can say that I continually post something like “Ack! Don’t read the comments!”

    What bothers me the most is people who state that I shouldn’t do something even though the law gives me the right to, ie: shouldn’t ride in the street, shouldn’t take the lane (when I’m going the speed limit or with the flow of traffic), shouldn’t ride on streets without a dedicated bike lane, shouldn’t pass on the right-when in reality the person is cutting me off(right hook). A second runner up is people who comment on how cyclists should ride to be safe but have never ridden a bicycle in traffic: ride in the gutter, stop and pull over whenever cars approach, ride on the sidewalk, and the list goes on…

    What I glean from the vitriolic comments on various articles is that while cyclists learn CVC traffic laws quickly when they start cycling, the motorist community really doesn’t know how to drive, as a whole. They don’t know traffic/vehicular law, and they (in general) think that the law is basically “I’m in a car, I have the right of way.”

    Seems to me we could all benefit from additional classes in Drivers Ed.

    • bikinginla says:

      You’re right, of course. I’m always amazed at how many cyclists understand the Vehicle Code better than drivers. We’re constantly told that things we do are dangerous and illegal, when in fact they’re exactly what the law allows and safety requires. I even read one comment yesterday that faulted cyclists for riding near the left white line on bike lanes — not comprehending that we do that to avoid the door zone.

      Drivers need to look at the roads from a cyclists perspective to understand why we ride the way we do. As Dylan said, “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.”

      As for reading those comments, I usually agree with you — it only leads to insanity. But this time, I think it’s important to take the temperature of the situation, so we understand what the people we share the road with are thinking.

      • The funny thing is that I didn’t know half of what I know now since being a bicycle commuter! And when I quiz my colleagues who drive, they always answer incorrectly: in their favor, of course.

        The hard part is that when you tell someone the vehicle code, they still refuse to follow it. People blatantly don’t care that they are breaking the law–those laws are there to keep all of us safe on the roads, not to piss you off! Even after proving to them they’ve broken the law, they say, we’ll I don’t care, that would make my commute longer…

        Final note: Negligence does not equal an accident. Negligence leads to traffic incidents and crashes, not to accidents. An accident is when a couple of kids kick a ball into a street and run after it, and you can’t see them til the last second. (Even then, you should be driving slowly enough in a residential neighborhood to be able to stop quickly.)An accident is COMPLETELY out of your control. You can control negligence.

  3. Sweetpea says:

    Re 2 years vs. 5 years…Dr. Thompson’s higher sentence is probably also influenced by his post-accident nastiness and arrogance. He lied on the stand and accused others of lying. Unless you are a celebrity, that approach just doesn’t work.

  4. DJB says:

    He lost his drivers’ license for life eh? That’s really ironic. I guess it means he might be biking down Mandeville Canyon too now if he still passes through there after he gets out.

    Poetic justice.

    • bikinginla says:

      Hadn’t thought about it that way, but you’re right — although I don’t think he can afford Mandeville anymore. But when he gets out, I volunteer to teach him how to ride safely.

  5. Digital Dame says:

    He added, “If my incident shows anything it’s that confrontation leads to an escalation of hostilities.”

    Sounds to me like he’s still not taking responsibility for his own actions. I don’t know if there was more to his statement, but I don’t get the impression he yet understands the gravity of what he did, that he nearly cost two people their lives, and not for the first time. All these letters and such claiming he’s a nice guy don’t mean squat. Anyone can be nice when it suits their purposes. Thompson has impressed me as nothing more than a calculating, self-serving SOB. I think the judge went pretty easy on him, allowing all those sentences to be served concurrently, and giving him the mininum two years on the charges of assault with a deadly weapon. I’m sure he’ll be doing his time in some nice minimum security white-collar prison.

    I can’t even speak to the Jesus Castillo incident, I think my head is imploding.

    • bikinginla says:

      Judging by the few statements I’ve heard from Thompson, as well as what others have reported, I think he feels genuine remorse for the injuries he caused. But it also seems that he still feels the riders were as much at fault as he was.

      I still go back to the same metaphor. He used his car as a weapon; regardless of what the cyclists did or didn’t do, his reaction was no different that if he had pulled out a gun and shot them both. The only difference was that he used a car.

      • Oh he definitely feels he’s not culpable. I saw him on the news saying “I’m sorry if I scared you, but you scared me too.”

        Right…you honk at them, pass them frighteningly fast and close, then slam on your brakes in front of them, then call 911 and say they aren’t injured badly…those are ALL actions of someone who is scared.

        Um, if I was scared of someone while driving in my car, I would make a beeline out of the neighborhood and call the police. Not directly confront them. Lovely self-serving statements…

  6. TheTricksterNZ says:

    What’s been amusing and horrifying me in equal measures is some of the comments coming from those purporting to be from the Thompson camp where they clearly have absolutely no idea on what the facts of the case are.

    That lady you cited was particularly bad, also claiming Officer Rodriquez had his evidence ruled inadmissible. Unless I’ve missed something along the lines, it wasn’t.

    But yeah, I think that is atrocious that Castillo is getting less. At least Thompson had the balls to hang around and face the music.

  7. I wanted to repost this from an LAT article:

    As a physician, pedestrian, cyclist and driver, I feel this man got what he deserved. It’s easy to be frustrated when you have to slow down in your car and wait to go around somebody but to me that’s being truly self centered and thoughtless. We are all supposed to be cautious and look for pedestrians, cyclists, people turning in and out of driveways. Drivers- it’s the law to give cyclists room on the road. They are allowed to ride side by side when alone and required to move to single file when traffic approaches (and that takes a few seconds). Drivers should look at a cyclist and think ‘maybe that would be fun’ or ‘good for them staying fit.’ It generally keeps us fit, healthy and happy. And we are a vital part of your community. Perhaps some people are just too caught up in their own selfishness to wake up and see the bright side. I am always for people exercising , enjoying the outdoors and using alternate modes of transportation. Congratulations guys for winning your case!

    Posted by: Allison | January 09, 2010 at 06:48 AM

  8. PublicInquiry says:

    Was Hidalgo sentenced? I’m confused? I’ve read here that his charge(s) was reduced, and that the other two counts against him were dropped? I couldn’t find any concrete evidence proving this? Then another article here says he got two years? Is this fact? Where is this information coming from?

    • bikinginla says:

      As it says above, Alejandro Hidalgo was scheduled to be sentenced this morning; I haven’t heard yet whether or not the sentencing actually took place as scheduled. However, DJ Wheels spoke with one of the principals in the case, who told him that a plea had been reached that would result in a two-year sentence.

  9. [...] Perhaps not.  Here’s one fact that hasn’t truly sunk in for most: Judge Millington revoked Thompson’s driver’s license for life. [...]

  10. [...] Perhaps not.  Here’s one fact that hasn’t truly sunk in for most: Judge Millington revoked Thompson’s driver’s license for life. [...]

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