Charge filed in death of bike-riding Cal Poly Pomona student Ivan Aguilar; is the university really at fault?

A bike-riding college student is dead.

The driver who took his life faces a relative slap on the wrist.

And the campus where he was killed appears to be doing little or nothing to protect cyclists on campus.

Instead, Cal Poly Pomona seems to be hiding behind California’s devastating 85th Percentile Law to justify plans to raise speed limits on campus, making it even more dangerous for anyone on foot or two wheels.

Or at least, that was the gist of a Twitter conversation I had with representatives of the school Wednesday morning.

The outpouring of grief that followed the death of Cal Poly Pomona student and cyclist Ivan Aguilar should have spurred immediate action to tame what is reportedly dangerously out of control traffic on campus, where numerous students have reported feeling unsafe walking or biking.

Yet four months later, no changes have been made to protect students and faculty — not even on the street where Aguilar lost his life. And none are currently planned.

In fact, the school’s new 2013 traffic study doesn’t even include the words bicycle, bicyclist or pedestrian, according to a story by Beau Yarbrough in the Daily Bulletin.

Kind of makes it hard to make meaningful improvements when nothing is considered except speeding motor vehicle traffic flow.

Although to be fair, they have talked about bikes.

Key word being, talked.

But traffic plans that don’t even consider non-motorized transportation show just how out of touch campus leaders are. And how far the school has to go to make it safe for anyone, let alone everyone, whether on two feet, two wheels or four.

Apparently, those students are right to be afraid.

Especially when the death of a popular and promising young man leads to nothing more serious than a misdemeanor charge with a maximum penalty of just one year in county jail.

According to the Daily Bulletin, CPP Civil Engineering student Gonzalo Aranguiz Salazar will face a charge of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence.

In other words, pretty much the mildest charge authorities could file under the circumstances, while still holding someone accountable for the death.

Is that justice?

I have no idea.

I’ve yet to see any description from any source of how the collision occurred. No word whatsoever on how fast the driver was going, or if he broke any traffic laws leading up to the impact with Aguilar.

Apparently, it’s on a need to know basis.  And no one with knowledge of the investigation seems to think you or I need to know.

We’re just expected to accept that the charges are fair and appropriate given the top secret circumstances.

Sort of like we’re supposed to trust that campus administrators have the safety of their students at heart, on a campus that does not include a single inch of bicycling infrastructure.

Beverly Hills, meet your collegiate counterpart.

In all honesty, I’m not sure Salazar is the one who should be facing charges.

But you can’t charge a college with living in the auto-centric past and favoring motorists at the expense of every other road user. As much as it may be deserved.

But something tells me Cal Poly Pomona won’t make the list of bicycle-friendly universities anytime soon.

Update: Gottobike forwards a quote from American bike racer Ted King that seems oddly appropriate to this discussion:

It is impossible to find solutions when you’re busy making excuses.

And Boyonabike reminds me of something I let slide from the Daily Bulletin story about the Salazar charge, and shouldn’t have. 

The story quotes Megan Chaney, director of Clinical Programs and Experiential Learning and Associate Professor of Law at the University of La Verne College of Law, explaining why a misdemeanor charge may be appropriate in this case.

“A lot of time when somebody plows into somebody in a crosswalk or an intersection, it’s just an accident,” Chaney said Wednesday. “We put the onus, the responsibility on the driver, not the pedestrian, unless they’ve done something really horrible….”

“You’re allowed to look at the radio; that’s why you’ve got a radio. You drop your water bottle and look down to pick it up,” she said. “You really weren’t acting with any sort of criminal culpability. “

That’s the problem.

As a society, we’ve chosen not to hold drivers responsible for all but the most extreme actions behind the wheel. The collisions that result from carelessness, distraction or relatively minor violations of the law are excused as mere accidents, and left for the insurance companies to deal with, with little or no consequences for the drivers involved.

And that’s why we continue to have 30,000 +/- deaths on American streets each year.

It may be the current legal standard. 

But actions that result in the death or serious injuries of others should never be accepted. Or excused. Motor vehicles are, by their very nature, dangerous machines, and their operators can and should be expected to use the same caution behind the wheel that we expect from those involved in any other hazardous situation.

When life is taken more seriously than simple convenience on our streets, then — and only then — will anyone be safe on our streets.

11 comments

  1. JD says:

    Almost everyone in Cali already ignores the signs and go 10-15 mph over the posted speed limit. Raising it from say; 25 to 35, means speeders going 50 mph oftimes. Campus police might be State Police, ala CHP. Where were they when this happened, on furlough day off or laying about at Winchell’s?

  2. gottobike says:

    The best life saving advice ever: “@ITECPP @lacbc @PVBike @ITEhq Strongly urge you to contact Ryan Snyder Assoc rsa.cc/index.html or Alta Planning. Costs nothing to talk.”

  3. Mike says:

    To be fair for the “killer”, was he speeding or breaking any traffic laws, or was this an accident? The way this article is spinning it makes it seem like he practically killed him out of cold blood.

    • bikinginla says:

      Mike, did you even read this piece? This comment is no more accurate or appropriate than the spam comments I have to delete every morning.

      I say very clearly that I don’t know how the collision occurred or if the charges are appropriate. And the primary focus of this piece is the dangerous conditions on the campus, rather than the actions of the driver.

      Perhaps you could you could point out where I demonize the driver, because I don’t see it and certainly didn’t intend it.

      However, let’s get one thing straight. I do think every driver should be held accountable for their actions on the road, especially when it leads to death or serious injuries.

      Calling a collision an accident is an inappropriate use of the term, because it implies that no one is at fault. And it is exactly that attitude that leads to over 33,000 traffic fatalities every year.

      The simple fact is, it is very difficult to have a collision. It requires that one or more people on the road break the law in some way, or drive in a dangerous, drunken or distracted manner — all of which are also against the law.

      If you drive safely and legally, and I drive safely and legally, it is virtually impossible for our vehicles to come into contact. And in the few cases where no one broke the law, we have to look at whether poor roadway design lead to the collision.

      There is no such thing as an accident on the streets. Period.

      • mib918@hotmail.com says:

        What would your stance be if the person at fault was the bicyclist? For example, what if the bicyclist ran a stop sign or stop light? We don’t know how it happened. I am very curious if we all have the wrong impression of what happened. I DO know that bicyclists tend not to follow the laws there… National studies show bicyclists at fault 50% of the time in bike vs. vehicle accidents. In the article there is some reference to the driver being distracted… could he have been using a cell phone or turning the radio??? What is the consequence if both people were fault? Would the manslaughter charges fit then? I just don’t see enough objective reporting or objective opinions on this tragedy. Everyone is out to lynch the driver and we don’t even know why…

        • bikinginla says:

          I have never hesitated to blame a bike rider when the evidence shows he or she is at fault in a collision. Bike riders have as much responsibility to obey the law and ride safely as drivers do, although the potential consequences are much less.

          I see no attempt to lynch the driver here by anyone. As I’ve stated below, the fact that the victim was reportedly riding against traffic is probably why the driver is only facing a misdemeanor charge, which should answer your question, since it would appear both were at fault to some degree.

          My primary concern has been, and remains, the lack of safe infrastructure on campus that makes biking or walking on campus unsafe.

  4. calwatch says:

    I thought we established what happened from the initial news reports. The bicyclist was going northbound in the western shoulder, adjacent to the southbound lanes. This happens all the time on the Cal Poly campus since there is no good bicyclist pathway from the south side of campus (near the dorms and bus stop) to the north side of campus because of the topography and the barrier created by the campus bookstore. The driver may have been guiulty of just straying out of his lane and into the shoulder.

    • bikinginla says:

      Unfortunately, while it may be accurate, that’s an unofficial version of events. To the best of my knowledge, neither campus police nor university officials have released the results of their investigation.

      The fact that Aguilar was riding salmon is probably a contributing factor in why Salazar was just charged with a misdemeanor. But as you suggest, we don’t know why the driver hit Aguilar’s bike, or whether he was speeding, distracted or just careless.

    • mib918@hotmail.com says:

      So the bicyclist was riding the wrong direction on the roadway? That would make both the bicyclist and the driver at fault I would think. If it’s true then I doubt they’ll even convict the driver….

  5. Karl says:

    Giving all of the words here much more attention is very high on my to be done agenda but for now I’ll just chime in to say until a few years ago almost no campus banned even Cigars from being smoked. Still rare is the place that you don’t see our best and brightest polluting freely in front of visiting minor’s etc. despite there conduct being venal in just about every way and also like doing nothing while someone’s toddler is molested right in front of you, just inches or feet away. In my life the answer to this riddle for cars is that usually there is a fondling in progress, as little as uniforms to as much as all the loot worse then embezzled being promissed to replenish endowments lost recklessly as from from the dealers of far more then actual infamy but the machines of it themselves. The medical school turns away ‘free’ cheesecakes but the football stadium gets it’s mortgage forgiven, as long as garages are built with proceeds from guaranteed to plague especially graduates most lives beyond the grave or if paid last only a few decades at most- I did not, these garages are engineered to fail, warranted to insure demolition and another one being purchased even if identical in everyway aroudn the time the bonds are paid so the animal cheerleaders pushing the disposable as well thousands of pounds per potential victim succumbing as you point out to being the executioner for tens of thousands a year- or are they?

    Does the five year old given the rifle deserve an early death just for failing to not kill a sibling with that loaded weapon placed in there hands? Are these places not the early warning, the bird, that if not kept asleep, will spare so many from having to sleep? Of course they are. The realty is that if you admit smokers without adjusting all there scores and achievements to compensate for the admited use of ‘performance’ (not really) enhancing drugs, you/they are worse then blessing the vice, they are requiring in essence use of the spice to get in. This rather is purest sin. All other things being equal, the less needed most to be enlightened end up towering over of future of less Ivy and real holocaust being the not nice price, the cost about which how can so many of us be so lost? Coincidentally the luxury aspect had me attend where no ability to lend was not just a game of pretend- Financial aid was not given if owning a car was admitted, it was a complete bar. They I went home, and my highschool instead of demilishing or better the neighboring homes to roam took out classrooms and spend more then those homes cost for each highrise without walls to, knowing no limit to there galls, encourage minor’s to take there fall’s.

    We let kids enlist before there 18, and worse or not drive themselves, like enslaved dwelves, without sufficient maturity to make that insane decision for themselves. Any child killed or killing should have there parents sued widely. Especially if bright- for in that case surely given a chance they would of seen the light? Felt the fright? Done what they could of to instead curtailed this blight? There are cities, which by definition are places cars are worse then useless in, and then there are campus’s, where if possible, and it always is, operating them on worse then whim is without even flim or z in the “everyone is doing it why not me?”

    But at the memorial service the mom will be mum. She will act as if she’s far more dumb. Feigning in essence being actually glum, she will dance if not seen to prance- ignore the war, encourage all to continue to patronise the grinning horror store’s. Mother’s don’t let there children drive! Unless rural, or otherwise towards the positive somehow in helping even just them SOMEHOW thrive. I’ve said this before, but you can’t wash away the gore, steep yourself in fraudulent lore, owning and operating gets not real license- it’s American perhaps, but certainly far too lethal across far too few laps. Laws should be passed- preventing them from being resold when confiscated for mere drug dealing or whatever’s old that enough of us step up to scold. A swimming pool in your basement, a gattling gun in the toychest, these are both less routine and far less evil, no real university provides student parking or off campus residing mainly snarking. Those are trade schools- filled with tools, ambitious perhaps but mainly fools, over which serving GM is there central rules. The point of college is liberty- liberty from being so much a part of the problem is where they must start, even if the number of hearts in ending there beating we need not part is but a minor part of what could instead be fresh and fun and wondrous by there spared ton.

    It is more shocking to see public university smoking then indoor toking, coed gang showers- but the point of this post is that just because k-12 is so numb, is no excuse for this dean to fumble and not against local stealershipsoflivesnotjustsouls understand that they are the real imposers of life drowning coals in there profit seeking reeking of blasphemy ‘roles.’ Let the private market outside the gates provide for those who come from far- who need a place to put there ‘car.’ Don’t force us all to subsidise and suffer lies about why surviving peers are getting trained to ignore there own cries. Zebra’s don’t drive, and yet thrive- we must be like and unlike them, worship more then whim, learn actually, earn factually, burn less tactfully.

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