Driver arraigned in death of cyclist Carol Schreder; a light charge is better than no charge at all. Right?

Ghost bike installed on Mulholland Highway for cyclist and Hollywood producer Carol Schreder; photo courtesy of Chris Willig.

Maybe we’ll see justice for Carol Schreder after all.

Or some justice, anyway.

After months of being told the cycling death of Hollywood producer and cyclist Carol Schreder was nothing more than an unfortunate accident, I’ve been informed that a charge of misdemeanor vehicular homicide will be filed.

Correction — has already been filed, in apparent secrecy and without the knowledge of her family and friends.

Last week, I received an email telling me that the driver, Stafford Drake Taylor, was scheduled to be arraigned on Monday. Then over the weekend, I got another email from the same source letting me know that the arraignment actually took place last Thursday, with no one close to the case informed of it — even after it was over.

Then again, I’m told they were never officially invited to the planned Monday arraignment, either.

So much for keeping the victim’s family in the loop.

Then there’s the question of why authorities suddenly decided to file charges. And why they settled for a misdemeanor charge when there were numerous reports that Taylor was speeding and driving recklessly in the moments leading up to the collision.

Sources who have seen the CHP collision report tell me the vehicle that killed Schreder was a jacked-up 1989 Ford Econoline van pulling a brakeless, owner modified trailer; one person describes the rig as looking like something out of a Mad Max movie.

The report indicates that Schreder was riding on the right shoulder of Mulholland Highway west of Kanan Road, wearing a helmet and bright colored clothing.

According to the report, Taylor initially told police at the scene he was following about four car lengths behind a green Toyota at about 20 to 30 miles per hour when he saw the car ahead slow for a cyclist riding about three feet to the left of the solid white line. Taylor reported that he jammed on his brakes and cut to the right in an attempt to avoid the car and Schreder’s bike, causing his rig to jackknife and strike Schreder.

The next day, Taylor came into the CHP station to clarify his statement to police. Now, he said, he was traveling at approximately 45 mph, following the car ahead by four car lengths or less, while the cyclist was now riding six feet to the left of the white line.

When the Toyota slowed, he said he had to react quickly so he jammed on his brakes and cut to the right, somehow thinking he could slide past the truck and cyclist on their right. Instead, he claimed Schreder moved back to the right when the Toyota apparently startled her, placing her directly in his path.

According to Taylor, he had slowed to about 30 mph when the trailer jackknifed and he hit Schreder with the left front of his jacked-up van, come to rest on the right curb on top of her bicycle.

The CHP notes that Taylor’s truck left a number of skid marks as long as 106 feet, which would indicate a high rate of speed, despite being just a few hundred feet from a controlled interesection. And despite previous speculation that the collision could have been caused by the windy conditions that day, the report indicates that wind was not a factor.

The traffic collision report indicates that a number of cyclists were stopped at the scene when the officers arrived, including a physician who performed CPR until the paramedics arrived — confirming a comment on the original story.

Yet the CHP didn’t interview any of the riders at the scene, or even take their names for possible follow-up later. And I’ve heard from people who attempted to contact the CHP to tell them they’d seen the van driving dangerously prior to the collision — including a cyclist who was nearly hit by the same van just moments earlier — only to be turned away without being allowed to talk to anyone.

In fact, according to the collision report, the only witness the police spoke to was the driver of the Toyota, who described seeing Taylor’s van approaching from behind at a high rate of speed before watching it hit Schreder’s bike.

Maybe I’m confused.

I understand that police can’t file a misdemeanor charge unless they either witness it themselves or can deduce from the physical evidence just what happened. But doesn’t it make sense to talk to all the witnesses and gather as much information as possible before deciding what charges to file?

If Taylor was driving as recklessly as the witnesses have claimed, shouldn’t that suggest a felony charge, with a possible sentence of two to 10 years in state prison, rather than the relative slap on the wrist of up to one year in county jail for the misdemeanor count?

And why all the apparent secrecy and attempts to keep Schreder’s family and close friends out of the loop? Especially when the families of other victims have complemented the DA’s office for going out of their way to keep them informed and a part of the process.

It makes me wonder if there’s already a plea deal in the works and they don’t want objections from the family to get in the way.

Trust me, I’m pleasantly surprised that charges are finally in the works. Although stunned might be a better word.

But mad as hell that it looks like yet another driver may get off with a minimal sentence, while his innocent victim gets the death penalty.

Yes, a slap on the wrist is better than nothing at all.

But cyclists are going to keep on dying if authorities don’t start taking dangerous killer drivers seriously.

8 comments

  1. We need to start insisting on separation of traffic from bicycling by both a barrier and buffer zone on busy streets. Human beings make mistakes and drivers are no exception, so why not reduce the potential conflict points?

    I just don’t understand why the major of the U.S insists on giving pedestrians a barrier, a separate sidewalk and their own intersection signal to protect them from traffic, but the no less vulnerable cyclist only needs paint treatment on a street for safety. This will never create as safe or attractive an enviornment for cycling compared to a protected bike path.

    Motorcyclists are also very vulnerable, but it would be difficult to create a separate road away from other traffic for them. The Netherlands does allow low powered motor scooters to use cycle paths to reduce injuries.

    The U.S has 30 times the injury rate per mile of bicycle travel compared to the Dutch and the great majority of the riders in the Netherlands do not wear helmets or safety clothing.

    • Biker395 says:

      You answered your own question.

      “Motorcyclists are also very vulnerable, but it would be difficult to create a separate road away from other traffic for them.”

      The same is true for cyclists, particularly on a road where this crash occurred, where it would be well nigh impossible.

      Assuming your statistic re the US and Netherlands injury rate is correct, I think you’re mistaken in attributing that solely to traffic separation. From what I’ve seen of European cycling, at least in urban areas, they travel at much lower speeds, on poorer roads that have lower speed limits, and among other road users who are generally more aware that cyclists are likely to be about. There could be any number of reasons for a lower injury rate per mile.

      And any analogy to the Netherlands is misplaced here. This happened on a mountain road unlike anything seen in the Netherlands. Cyclists regularly reach speeds of 30+MPH on the downhill stretches. Pretty hard to have a separate road for those kind of speeds, unless you’re willing to spend an awful lot of money.

      I don’t object to separate bike paths for cyclists as a general matter. But too often, they are designed for low speeds, to be shared with pedestrians (putting both at significant risks) and they subject cyclists to *greater* risk at intersections. And for many of their advocates, bike paths are just a convenient subterfuge to keep cyclists off of “their roads”.

      From what I’ve read of the facts, this wasn’t caused by a lack of infrastructure. It was was caused by a reckless driver foolishly driving an illegal trailer too fast down a mountain road.

      • Erik G. says:

        I’ll take that risk at the intersections that your VC friends always harp about. Better to have a collision I can see coming (never had one when I lived in Holland) than be struck down from behind by some irresponsible gearhead.

        • Biker395 says:

          That’s what rear-view mirrors are for. As for me, I’d rather have infrastructures and habits that reduce my probability of injury or death, whatever the source or direction.

          As I said, I do not object to separate bike paths. As a matter of fact, I ride about 5000 miles a year on one. It is the poorly thought out bike paths I object to, and for me at least, that includes those that subject riders to greater risk, including those from pedestrians and vehicles at intersections, where the majority of collisions take place.

          And regardless, even if you’re a avid proponent of bike paths, the region where Carol Schreder was killed is hardly the place for them.

  2. TQ says:

    If Schreder’s family requested to be notified of any proceedings (not charges, but actual court dates such as an arraignment), but were not informed, then their Constitutional rights have been violated. Per the California State Constitution and CPC 679.02, the decedent’s family is guaranteed this right among others.

    It seems a call to the local victim assistance program is in order; the family can reach the County office at (626) 978-2097.

  3. It sours the stomach more than a little to compare this with the case of Chris Bucchere. He is the cyclist who hit and killed the pedestrian in San Francisco a month ago. Mr. Bucchere is supposedly awaiting felony charges, supported by evidence he was riding his bicycle recklessly just prior to the collision.

    Discussing the pending charges, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon told the San Jose Mercury News (online, 4/26/12): “Based on the evidence that has been presented to us…it shows that the level of negligence here was very high. It was not simply being late through an intersection. There’s evidence to support that there were multiple violations of the vehicle code for several blocks.”

  4. Mike says:

    Another bicycle-pedestrian accident on the bike path in Elysian Valley creates the usual heated back and forth on the issue – http://www.theeastsiderla.com/2012/04/cyclist-and-volunteer-collide-during-l-a-river-clean-up/

  5. Yes, more safe bike lanes are needed. A clip which joyously advocates cycling for all ages, mostly recorded in Amsterdam where seperate lanes make it so much safer, “why cycle!” is here

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