Killer SF cyclist Chris Bucchere gets slap on wrist — should we be angry?

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know I can get almost apoplectic when a killer driver walks with a relative slap on the wrist.

So how should we respond when it’s a bike rider who gets the benefit of the court’s low valuation of a human life?

San Francisco cyclist Chris Bucchere faced a felony manslaughter charge for running into 71-year old pedestrian Sutchi Hui in a crosswalk while — allegedly — trying to beat his Strava time. Witnesses and security camera footage were unclear on whether he ran the red light, or entered on the yellow as Bucchere claimed.

Bucchere posted online shortly after the incident, defending his actions by saying the crosswalk filled before he could clear the intersection, and, unable to find a clear line, laid down his bike at the least populated area. At least some witnesses said he simply plowed through the crowded crosswalk, killing Hui.

Other witnesses reported that he had been riding recklessly prior to the collision, running at least three red lights prior to arriving at the deadly intersection.

Now the SF Gate reports that he’s accepted a plea deal that will avoid jail time, agreeing to perform 1,000 hours of community service.

Don’t get me wrong.

One thousand hours is a long time, and it gives him an opportunity to benefit society while serving as a warning to other riders.

But if a killer driver got off with just community service, we would be livid. At least, I would be.

Should we be any less so when the killer is one of us?

My first reaction was relief that Bucchere had been held accountable without suffering the heavy handed sentence that had been threatened. After all, he’s one of us, and it’s easy to imagine ourselves in that position.

Or not, on second though.

I never run red lights. As in, never.

I always ride within my capabilities; as thrilling as it can be to push beyond your limits, I’ve learned the hard way that the risks far outweigh the benefits.

And I never, ever ride recklessly around pedestrians. They have the right-of-way when crossing the street. And even when in the wrong, they are the only people on the roadway more vulnerable than we are.

They need, and deserve, our respect and consideration as much as we need that of the motorists we’re forced to share the road with.

So I find myself conflicted.

I’m angry that yet another killer has been let off the hook with a sentence that once again devalues the life of his victim and the consequences of his actions.

And relieved that one of us wasn’t held to a stricter accountability than similarly reckless drivers.

It’s just another slap on the wrist. And a sentence that is only fair in the uniformity of its unfairness.

Thanks to Al Williams for the heads-up.

33 comments

  1. D. D. Syrdal says:

    It’s that attitude of “Well, it could happen to anyone” as one judge used to justify a light sentence awhile back for a driver who had been drinking and killed someone that so infuriates me. Is that a license for us all to behave like irresponsible frat boys? I get just as pissed when I see bicyclists behaving badly (maybe even slightly moreso than at drivers) because we have to work harder just to be considered equal in the eyes of the law (something I know a little about as a woman in a male-dominated society).

  2. Frank Peters says:

    This could become a cycling mantra: I never run a red light!

    • I get what you all are saying about never running red lights, but if that’s true, how do you get out of a situation like this?

      • ladyfleur says:

        Oh, I run those red lights and I believe it’s actually legal. I’ve had some success reporting the bad detectors to the city and getting them fixed. Fortunately, there are fewer and fewer lights that don’t detect my bike these days.

        • In other words, Ted & Frank should never say never :-)

          Around here (i.e. the South Bay) many police departments will say you’re breaking the law, claiming the “defective signal” exception doesn’t apply in this case since the intent of the legislature is a defective signal means one that doesn’t work at all (e.g. no power).

          The bad advice I’ve seen repeated from Mountain View police (or was it Sunnyvale? I forget) is that you should proceed straight across on the green light when safe (which is, incidentally, also a violation of California Vehicle Code) and do a box turn from the opposite corner.

          • bikinginla says:

            To be honest, I’ve never run into that situation. Most left turns lanes here in L.A. don’t have arrows; those that do usually have enough traffic to activate them.

            However, in that situation, I would be most likely to ride back to the right lane, proceed through the intersection, and make a box turn, as you noted. But I would not fault anyone for making a left against the light if it wouldn’t change after a reasonable amount of time.

            Big difference from simply blowing through the light, though.

          • Ralph says:

            I’ve heard you can go if you wait a full cycle. Most cops say you should get into the crosswalk and walk to the corner so you can ride the way you need to go. Essentially square the corner but you can choose the route to make it as fast as possible. I’ve asked them what I’m supposed to do when my car isn’t detected, which has occurred, Being a pedestrian doesn’t work as well… They have no answer…

      • Looks to me like that stencil is in the wrong place relative to the actual sensor loop wires on the ground, should be a bit further forward for maximum sensitivity. If the sensor is working properly but the stencil is in the wrong place, the intersection is defective, not the sensor.

  3. ladyfleur says:

    I don’t run reds or race through intersections and I don’t like urban riders that do.But realize that the intersections on Market in this neighborhood are huge: seven lanes of traffic and an oblique angle = 100 feet between the crosswalks. http://goo.gl/maps/jHTNX

    I had an incident where I was probably going 12 mph and signal turned yellow as I entered. At that speed I was crossing the last lane on a red light and the pedestrians has entered the crosswalk. I was just lucky that it wasn’t rush hour so I was able to get through.

    • bikinginla says:

      I’d call that a completely different circumstance than simply blowing through the light.

      It’s a common problem that yellow lights at wide intersections often don’t last long enough for bike riders to get across. In fact, I suspect at least a couple of the bike riders killed down here recently who were blamed for crossing against the red actually entered on the green or yellow and couldn’t get across in time.

      • John Murphy says:

        That’s what the defense is claiming happened to Bucchere. Which makes the situation even more less clear, because there is a 2-3 second delay from when the cross traffic gets a red, and when the walk signal activates.

        http://holierthanyou.blogspot.com/2012/04/chris-bucchere-accident.html

      • Not a completely different circumstance at all. Although the current Chron article says video footage is “inconclusive,” earlier reporting says video shows the pedestrians entering the crossing against the red light. I’m convinced Bucchere entered legally on the yellow and pedestrians stepped into the crosswalk before he cleared the intersection.

        • Jym Dyer says:

          Ellen Huet’s original story about the preliminary hearing didn’t even mention the yellow light. The story was updated a few times during the day and eventually barely mentioned it, definitely burying the lede.

          Most San Franciscans found out about it a week later in a _Forbes_ story about Google Glass.

  4. […] Ted @ Biking In LA feels somewhat conflicted about Bucchere’s sentence. He […]

  5. John Murphy says:

    while — allegedly — trying to beat his Strava time

    I saw the original straval log before it was scrubbed. There were peaks and troughs in his speed while on Castro, because he had stopped or at least slowed for a couple of the stop signs. At that point, you aren’t going to “beat” any “record”. He definitely let the brakes go for that last section, but the segment started well up the hill from his last decelleration.

    The strava argument is a complete red herring, that gets a life of its own amongst people who don’t exactly know what strava is but just “know” that whatever it is, it must be bad. Because you know, “cyclists”.

    What Bucchere is guilty of is not evaluating the conditions on the roadway and operating his vehicle in that context. That’s a matter of skill, not intent. We mitigate the fact that a lot of people don’t have skill by imposing rules (which we don’t tend to enforce).

    Whether Bucchere was in violation of any of those rules is unclear. There has been no publically released evidence that can be independently analyzed to show that he was in violation. I saw the strava log and the final data point was above the speed limit, but as someone who uses a GPS device I can attest to the fact that the devices have error, especially over short distances with rapid accelleration. The track showed a speed increase from zero to 35.2 in 4 data points. Aside from an indication that he was (close to) stopped “somewhere” on the descent down, it is an indication of the inherent inaccuracy of the data.

    His plea doesn’t indicate that he was in violation, once he was indicted the primary goal of his defense team was to keep him out of jail. 1000 hours of community service is a lot but maybe all of us should do some community service.

    • A matter of skill, not intent? I suppose only people skilled at drinking and driving should be speeding, exceeding their brakes, and not slowing for intersections known to be full of pedestrians during commuting hours next to a public transit station? The Stanford grad deserves to go to jail. How much do you be his “community service” will be promoting bicycling instead of cleaning sewers or picking up dog poop?

  6. friscofreddy says:

    Bucchere said the crosswalk was full of pedestrians. Whether a person is operating a motor vehicle or a bike, he/she simply cannot be traveling so fast that he/she cannot stop ahead of a crosswalk like that when it is remotely close to the time pedestrians cross.

    There are even specific driving laws pertaining to crowed areas, for this very purpose – to protect pedestrians.

    For example, and many didn’t know this, an automobile cannot make a U-Turn in areas classified for apartments, retail, schools, and similar.

    The subject intersection had it all, including a train station (Bart), as well as trolly stops.

    Basically, he made a choice. Fly down that hill and hope it stays green long enough. Can’t be caught stopping in the middle of that intersection. I.E. it’s him or some other poor sucker pedestrian.

    The plea bargain result does seem like a slap on the wrist considering the victim died due to the reckless behavior .of Bucchere.

    I think the DA,, and perhaps the powers in S.F., was satisfied with the “felony” conviction as opposed to a misdemeanor.

    I assume they traded that for no jail time. Perhaps they reasoned that Bucchere is a convicted felon as a result, which usually has a life-long impact.

    Nevertheless, I think it’s quite natural to feel upset about the lack of jail time.

    • John Murphy says:

      “Bucchere said the crosswalk was full of pedestrians. Whether a person is operating a motor vehicle or a bike, he/she simply cannot be traveling so fast that he/she cannot stop ahead of a crosswalk like that when it is remotely close to the time pedestrians cross.”

      –> Agreed, but if he entered on the yellow, pedestrians should not be in the intersection when he entered it, and they should be checking for oncoming traffic. That intersection has a 2-3 second delay between the time cross traffic gets a red and when the walk sign goes on. It’s notorious for pedestrians jumping the intersection early. Which is exactly why the proper decision for Bucchere would be to ride down that hill more slowly – but the proper decision isn’t always covered by the legal implication.

      I think the DA,, and perhaps the powers in S.F., was satisfied with the “felony” conviction as opposed to a misdemeanor.

      –> Or, they didn’t think they could win at trial, and if they did, they wouldn’t get a stiffer sentence.

      I assume they traded that for no jail time. Perhaps they reasoned that Bucchere is a convicted felon as a result, which usually has a life-long impact.

      –> “Also, Collins could reduce Bucchere’s conviction to a misdemeanor after six months if he complies with terms of his sentence.” – I’ve never heard of such a thing, but that’s what the article says.

      • bikinginla says:

        That last part is not uncommon in cases I’ve read about. Sentences can sometimes be reduced, or sometimes expunged, following successful completion of the probation or community service.

  7. Khal Spencer says:

    Same old story. Kill with a vehicle and get off easy.

    It doesn’t matter to me if it is a bicycle, motorcycle, or car. Its the lack of taking one’s self seriously and respecting the safety of others that is the root cause of over 30k deaths per year in the U.S. If a motorist should get a heavier sentence, so should Mr. Bucchere. Its the same basic narcissism that kills, whether its using a car or a bike.

    • Jym Dyer says:

      You couldn’t be more wrong. The sickening truth is that 1000 hours of community service is an unusually high penalty. A motorist in the same circumstance is in fact usually not likely to face charges at all, certainly not felony charges.

  8. d2 says:

    As cyclists, we can’t have it both ways. Period.

  9. A felony conviction is not a slap on the wrist. The only way you can get a felony conviction behind the wheel of a car is if you’re intoxicated.

  10. Anthony Moy says:

    According to the SFGate.com site, the family of the man that Bucchere hit and killed was consulted by the SF City DA and they did not want Bucchere to serve jail time. You can read it here:
    http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Family-of-bicyclist-s-victim-didn-t-want-jail-time-4682335.php

    In other words the DA at least went to the trouble to consult the family and they apparently felt that Bucchere doing time wasn’t going to serve the community. You may disagree with that opinion but the DA took the family’s opinion under advisement.

    In a perverse way one could argue that actually justice was served: many car drivers kill cyclists (and pedestrians) and get off with serving no jail time. So, maybe it’s parity with car drivers!

    However, the disturbing fact is that if the judge signs off on this plea deal and Bucchere stays out of trouble for six months, he will be eligible to ask that his felony be converted to a misdemeanor. WTF?? That seems to contravene the explanation the DA gave for it being so significant that Bucchere, even though he would get no jail time, would have a felony on his record. Well, maybe not after all!

    • John Murphy says:

      This deal was made by Gascon so he could stand up on TV and say “I got a Felony Conviction”, and made by Bucchere so he would not have to go to jail or be a lifelong felon.

      Had Gascon asked for more, this case goes to trial. Gascon was on TV saying it was not clear if the light was red or not. “Not clear” does not meet the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”. However, Bucchere was clearly not going to be a sympathetic defendant so he took the deal.

  11. Opus the Poet says:

    And the SF DA is still 100% prosecution against cyclists that kill pedestrians and less than 5% prosecution and 2% convictions against drivers that kill. Tell me there isn’t some bias going on there. If swapped “blacks” for “cyclists” and “whites” for “drivers” the difference in prosecution rates alone would have the DoJ so hard on his ass that he would have to give a deposition every time he went to the bathroom. Not that I don’t think Bucherre might have earned it (not so sure on the first guy that hit a jaywalker), it’s just that so many drivers kill and never even get a ticket for violating the basic speed law when they run over a ped crossing with the light…

  12. Joe B says:

    Should we be angry about the slap on the wrist? I don’t know. I don’t really care what the answer is; it’s the wrong question.

    Why was Bucchere riding like a maniac? Answer: Because lots of people drive/ride like maniacs. Dangerous driving has become a de-facto normal method of travel. Is there any possible punishment for Bucchere that would deter future dangerous/aggressive driving? No. (Bucchiere is presumably already scared out of his mind; and everybody else thinks “It can’t happen to me, I’ve got SKILLS!”) So what’s the point of hemming and hawing about what his punishment should be?

    The problem is not that B. got unlucky at one point during his reckless ride. The problem is that he — and many others around him — are riding/driving recklessly in the first place. And they’re doing so because they know that, unless they get unlucky by having a pedestrian step out in front of them, they’ll get away with it scot-free.

    The solution is not to crack down on aggressive drivers who kill. The solution is to crack down on aggressive drivers, BEFORE they kill. The solution is to stigmatize dangerous driving the way we have stigmatized drunk driving. The solution is to build our streets to make dangerous driving inconvenient. The solution is a wholesale change of our driving culture.

    Let’s not let that solution get lost amidst the details of how much a particular high-profile unlucky dangerous user should be punished.

    • Well reasoned. Drunk driving, like bike messenger riding both deserve to be socially unacceptable instead of glorified in movies. How would you make dangerous riding inconvenient? Put up badly timed traffic lights so they have to slow and stop frequently? Ban cyclists from roads? How about erecting gates to block bike paths/lanes where they approach stop signs/lights, forcing riders to greatly slow and go around them?

      • John Murphy says:

        How do you make drunk driving inconvenient?

        • The technology already exists and the companies making it want ALL cars to have breathalyzers built in and not start if readings are too high. Its already required some places for those convicted of drunk driving. If bicycles had license plates, traffic camera enforcement has a better chance of working with cyclists.

    • bikinginla says:

      Well said, Joe.

    • Joe, you overestimate how many people drive like maniacs. Do drivers drag race in racing cars on racing tires every day during busy commuting hours, blowing through red lights and stop signs unable to stop quick enough if needed, like cyclists do? Not so much.

      Perhaps the juvenile behavior of many American cyclists compared to European counterparts is the newness of bicycling culture here. European cyclists are more socially responsible and ride at reasonable speeds, not racing during their commutes. Do they make as many reckless You Tube videos as Americans? No.

      Americans also suffer from a culture of media promotion of movies like Jackass, Premium Rush, and Fast & Furious along with every sport or sporting competition trying to outdo each other for most extreme or the most grueling Ironman type event. Also juvenile is disassociation from reality, like riding/driving is just a video game.

      BTW, divide 1,000 hours by 24 and the result is 41 days, 16 hours of punishment.

  13. […] written about Bucchere’s sentence here. And KPCC’s Larry Mantle recently devoted a segment to discussing the case on his AirTalk […]

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