Details on the August death of cyclist and scientist Doug Caldwell; driver walks with no ticket or charges

For months, it’s been one of the mysteries of L.A. cycling.

Late last August, word slowly broke that a popular cyclist and leading scientist had been killed while riding to work, and his companion injured.

Then nothing.

No news coverage. No additional information. Not one single mention in the local media. And nothing about what happened, or why.

For weeks afterwards, Google’s seemingly infinite well of information came up dry, returning only the story I’d written myself. Had it not been for a brief Facebook comment from the man who’d been riding with him, I might have questioned whether it actually happened.

However, I received confirmation from a number of sources, publicly and privately, that the information I’d reported was true. I held back one piece of information I’d received privately, though; I was told that Caldwell was married to KCRW host Chery Glaser, but because the family had not come forward, I left that out to respect their privacy.

Since then, people have come to my site almost every day looking for more information about what happened, and every few weeks I’d get an email asking for details.

And every time, I’d have to send my apologies, because I didn’t know any more than I did before.

Last weekend, though, I received an email from LAPD Sgt. David Krumer, who’d been asked to look into the matter by Colin Bogart, LACBC PLACE Grant Coordinator in the City of Glendale; evidently, he’d been getting the same requests for information that I had.

And after answering them, he forwarded the information to me, as well.

The driver of the vehicle was traveling eastbound on Foothill Blvd at approx 7:10 a.m. on 08/20/2010  He rear-ended Doug and another cyclist.  It appears he was going the speed limit but too fast for given conditions.  The driver indicated that he had the sun in his eyes and did not see the cyclists.  If glare was an issue then even if he was going the speed limit he was traveling at an unsafe speed and therefore he was in violation of 22350 VC (Basic Speed Law).  The driver was not cited because we can not write a ticket for a violation we did not observe.  The driver was not arrested as there was no evidence that a crime occurred.  Doug died the following day from massive head trauma.  The other cyclist had scrapes and abrasions with the most serious injury being the loss of some front teeth.

Right there, amid the dry details of the tragedy, you’ll find one of the biggest problems cyclists face on our streets.

There’s no shortage of laws already in place to protect us on the roads. But most are unenforceable unless a police officer actually witnesses the infraction. And while they can clearly conclude after the fact what violations occurred, there’s not a damn thing they can do about it unless the infraction rises to the level of a crime.

Sgt. Krumer goes on to note that the collision occurred on a clear day, and the riders were properly positioned in the right-hand lane. And while the driver failed to see two adult cyclists, he had not been drinking and wasn’t using a cell phone at the time of the collision.

And yes, they verified that.

And while it’s commonly assumed that a driver who hits someone else from behind is almost always at fault, that refers to civil liability, rather than criminal culpability. So even though the family may have a wrongful death case, the driver won’t face any criminal action.

It seems beyond comprehension that someone can continue driving — without slowing down — despite being unable to see what’s directly in front of him. And as a result, kill one cyclist and injure another, yet face no criminal charges. Or even a traffic ticket.

But that’s the way our laws are written.

And that’s something that has to change.

.………

In another horrible tragedy, seven cyclists were killed in Southern Italy on Sunday — early reports indicated eight deaths — when a driver hit the riders head-on as he was attempting to pass another vehicle.

Reports indicate that the driver was speeding; he also tested positive for marijuana and had been banned from driving just seven months earlier. Two additional riders were injured, one very seriously, as well as the 21-year old driver and his 8-year old nephew, who was also in the car (earlier reports indicated the injured passenger was the driver’s 10-year old son, which seemed unlikely given the age of both).

Road.cc quoted the one of the paramedics on the scene:

“What we found on our arrival this morning was a terrible scene. Indescribable,” said Silvio Rocco, one of the first paramedics on the scene. “Not even a bomb could have caused something like this.”

He continued: “We were had been alerted about an incident in which, according to initial reports, only one cyclist was involved. Arriving on the scene, however, we saw that we were dealing with a massacre. They were all people whom we knew personally, so the blow was even more distressing. We alerted other emergency staff and the helicopter. It’s something that is truly disturbing.”

Meanwhile, two brothers were killed Sunday in Britain’s Cumbria region when their bikes were run down from behind by a bus, on what is considered the most dangerous road in the country.

And a North Carolina woman remembers her late husband, killed while bicycling last October, by endowing a chair in his honor at the local symphony.

.………

The Elysian Valley segment of the L.A. River Bike Path is now open; Will suggests that we should all cooperate in not being an impediment to other peoples enjoyment on shared-use bike paths, while Bicycle Fixation points out the plusses and minuses of bike paths along the water.

.………

Fourth Street gets sharrows from Hoover to Cochran, while York Blvd gets new bike lanes from Eagle Rock to Highland Park. The UCLA Bicycle Academy revives to stir campus bike advocacy; next meeting is July 7th. Altadenablog looks at the kickoff of Saturday’s Tour of Altadena. Turning your trainer into an Epic Ride. Santa Monica’s Cynergy Cycles hosts Red Bull Pro Rebecca Rusch, the Queen of Endurance Cycling, on Wednesday the 8th at 7 pm. The Inland Empire Women Cyclists will hold a toy ride on Sunday, December 12th. A writer says a planned tunnel to complete a key Marin County bike route makes sense, just not right now.

Cycle chic circa 1945; raise your right hand, and repeat the Cycle Chic Manifesto. The Alliance for Biking & Walking opens nominations for their 2011 Advocacy Awards. People for Bikes says it’s time to make biking contagious, too. Learning to ride just below the sweat threshold. Evidently, human beings just look better on a bike. A planned Mississippi River Bike Route could take riders from the Minnesota headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico. Bike riders must rank below dogs in the moral zeitgeist. An OpEd in the Daily News says New Yorkers should learn to love their bike lanes, but the paper editorializes that NYDOT commissioner Janette Sadik Khan needs to back up bike lanes with facts; what, a 40% reduction in serious injuries and death isn’t good enough for them? In a classic example of government in action, a Boston neighborhood paints — then removes — bike lanes. Thanks to the efforts of local businesses, a sheriff’s supervisor and inmates at a county work farm, a six-year old girl with cerebral palsy will get a custom-made bike for Christmas.

Peter Gabriel rides a bike. How to stay safe on winter rides. Copenhagenize lists the world’s most bicycle-friendly cities based on usage; the only American city on the list is Davis, CA. Bike lane snow removal in Copenhagen. Auckland cyclists say they’re in an undeclared war, as a motorist is charged with careless driving in the deaths of three cyclists last month, and a widowed husband says the driver is a victim, too. A 19-year old Indian woman was killed for not bringing a bicycle as her dowry.

Finally, just a slight boo boo in London, as someone forgot to order the track for the 2012 Olympic velodrome. And a Tennessee PSA says you better be pimpin’ with that helmet on tight.

No really, I think they’re serious.

14 comments

  1. [...] are gaining adherents in rural communities in upstate New York, according to Mobilizing the Region. Biking in L.A. ponders the legal environment that allows a motorist who kills a cyclist to walk away without so [...]

  2. [...] Driver Kills Cyclist after Slamming Into Him.  No Charges Files. (Biking In L.A.) [...]

  3. Erik G. says:

    Add to the above that California does not inspect vehicles annually, so there is no way to know if the vehicle used to kill Caldwell had adequate tires, brakes, shocks and struts. And, lemmee guess, the driver was allowed to drive the vehicle “home” from the killing and the vehicle was not impounded, even though that would be the case if you or I killed someone with any other implement.

  4. [...] Biking in L.A. and Commute By Bike discover a P.S.A. on bike safety that actually includes the line, “You [...]

  5. KateNonymous says:

    Since the sun rises and sets every day, an awful lot of us have to deal with the issue of glare. Personally, I slow down and pay even more careful attention to the road in front of me, as I would in, say, fog. But maybe that’s just me.

    • bikinginla says:

      You’re right, Kate. I think the most basic rule of driving is if you can’t see what’s right in front of you, don’t drive. Anyone can be blinded by the sun or weather conditions; when it happens, slow down or pull over to the side of the road until conditions improve.

  6. Brent says:

    I’m curious how one would go about writing a law that would hold the driver here criminally liable. It’s a delicate issue to separate out a run-of-the-mill “rear-ender” from one that’s intentional. I do hope, however, that the victim’s family files a fat lawsuit for wrongful death.

    I do think our infrastructure isn’t right for the traffic mix demanded of it.

  7. Kevin says:

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around the sentence, “There was no evidence that a crime occurred” which is then followed by: “Doug died the following day…”

  8. Another Kevin says:

    In which city was this ? What cross street ? Foothill goes almost entirely south east, and in August the Sun rises directly east, well to the side of his point of view. Check it out in Google Earth. (I’m not even certain the Sun had crested the San Gabriels by 7:10am.) The Sun wasn’t in his eyes. The pretty girl on the sidewalk was. Get some rope…

  9. Truth says:

    You have your facts wrong! Let me ask you this as well if you accidentally killed some one do you think you would walk away happy and carefree?

    • bikinginla says:

      Actually, I think I’d be devastated, and spend every moment of every day wishing I could undo it. However, that wouldn’t bring the victim back, and it won’t bring Doug Caldwell back.

      You see, no amount of remorse can ever make up for a moment of carelessness.

      As for the facts, if you have information that contradicts anything I’ve written, then by all means, share it.

  10. Truth says:

    Legally I cannot tell you the facts at this point but I will when I can.

  11. Daccordi says:

    I was there that morning going on my own ride.I came upon the accident about the same time as the paramedics. Being intimately familiar with that stretch of Foothill Blvd. I can tell you that there is no bike lane or shoulder. I also talked to the driver extensively at the accident scene. The bottom line is that this was a horrible accident. Preventable? Definitely.

  12. [...] A close friend told me about a close friend of his – Doug Caldwell.  Doug was truly a rocket scientist.  He designed the cameras for the space shuttle.  He was working with LADWP to try to set standards for new homes that would usher in a new era in energy efficiency.  My friend told me that Doug Caldwell was killed while riding a bicycle on August 20, 2010.  Doug’s story reminds me that bike safety isn’t just a policy, it’s about real people.  Background: http://bikinginla.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/details-on-the-august-death-of-cyclist-and-scientist-dou… [...]

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