Tag Archive for accident investigation

LAPD reportedly dismisses hit-and-run in Pinkyracer case — in the middle of an ongoing investigation

Today we saw a turn of events so credibility straining it would get most Hollywood screenwriters fired.

And that’s not exactly a group known for believability.

An exchange of emails with LAPD Sgt. David Krumer shed light on the investigation into last Friday’s traffic incident that left Susanna Schick, aka Pinkyracer, broken and bruised in the ICU of a local hospital. Yet still raised as many questions as it answered.

And then it got strange.

Sgt. Krumer, the department’s highly respected liaison to the cycling community, had been out of the city through the holiday weekend, returning to his desk Tuesday morning. And was forced to immediately jump into the controversy surrounding the Schick case.

He reported that, contrary to earlier information, the LAPD did respond to the collision, and that a report was taken.

He said that the police were actually on the scene before the paramedics arrived, and that they were the ones who had called for an ambulance. And in fact, the officers were the ones who dropped Schick’s bike off at her home, rather than the paramedics as we had previously been told.

He said that there were conflicting reports that a collision had occurred, so the investigators were looking for video evidence to confirm exactly what had happened.

According to Krumer, the police also tried to interview Schick at the scene; perhaps due to the confusion caused by her injuries, she didn’t say anything about a collision. He said police would try to re-interview her again to clarify the situation.

It’s also possible that Schick doesn’t remember the collision itself due to her concussion; nearly four years later, I still have no memory of the solo fall that put me in the ICU.

He hinted that he had more information that would explain everything, but was prohibited from releasing it due to the ongoing investigation.

If only everyone else had such high standards.

Friends of Schick report that two detectives did in fact stop by to interview her in her hospital room — although interview might not be the best way to describe it. Instead, I’m told they put in at least as much effort trying to convince her she was wrong about the hit-and-run as they did asking what actually happened.

Then Tuesday morning, reports started to leak from police headquarters indicating that Schick wasn’t hit by a car after all; apparently there were witnesses who could discredit her entire story.

Witnesses in blue, no less.

And members of the department wasted no time in releasing the information Sgt. Krumer was prohibited from sharing.

I guess ongoing investigations don’t count when the department’s reputation is at stake.

I first heard rumors that a female detective was leaking information that Schick’s wreck had been witnessed by two officers who reportedly saw the entire event, and that they were the ones who called for the paramedics.

And they denied that any hit-and-run had occurred. Or that there was even another car involved in her fall.

By afternoon, a police spokesman was speaking to Blogdowntown on the record. LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon denied anything illegal had happened.

“There’s a great deal of discrepancy,” Lt. Paul Vernon of the Los Angeles Police Department said. “There is no crime here. She fell down on her bicycle.”

Remarkably, the police claimed that an experienced cyclist simply fell down. And somehow suffered multiple broken bones, as well as a shattered helmet, despite what would have been a relatively slow speed impact.

Blogdowntown reports that there is no dispute that the previously described white Lexus pulled out of a parking garage and swerved into the bike lane Schick was riding in on the opposite side of the street.

According to the report filed by the two officers who claim to have witnessed the events, Schick pedaled up to the car at the next red light, hit the passenger side mirror and started yelling at the people inside; the people in the car responded by rolling up their windows.

The officers said Schick continued riding for another block or two before the car turned right, and she simply began wobbling on her bike before falling over.

This semi-official version of events raises a lot of questions.

Not the least of which is why two police officers would witness a car serving across the entire width of a roadway and into a marked bike lane, jeopardizing the safety of a cyclist riding in it, and do absolutely nothing.

Repeat, nothing.

Which is exactly what they did when allegedly following an ongoing roadway dispute, even after they supposedly witnessed a cyclist striking a motor vehicle in anger.

Call me crazy, but wouldn’t that have been the time to light up the reds and stop both parties before the situation escalated?

Now, it’s entirely possible that Schick did strike the car’s mirror to get the attention of the people inside. I’ve slapped fenders, trunks and windows for the same reason, as it can be almost impossible to get the attention of music blasting, cell phone-using drivers these days.

And so far, no one has mentioned whether the officers had an unobstructed view of the situation. Schick has stated that the car followed her for at least a block, possibly in the bike lane itself —which would be yet another violation the officers failed to address, and which would have obscured the view of anyone following behind.

It’s possible, if not likely, that the Lexus could have hit Schick’s bike before or during its turn without the impact being visible to the police officers who supposedly saw everything.

It’s also possible that the car might have caused her fall without ever actually coming into contact with her bike. Which would still qualify as hit-and-run if it could be determined that the driver’s actions directly contributed to the wreck.

And the Department’s version of events fails to explain why, if a police report was filed over the weekend, no one in the department seemed to know anything about it on Monday morning. Or even knew a crash had occurred.

I’m not saying the police are wrong.

I wasn’t there. I don’t know what actually happened.

And they were — even if the information released so far doesn’t exactly add up.

But if the department is going to release information about an ongoing investigation, they need to be a lot more honest and open about it. And explain the apparent discrepancies in what we’ve heard so far, rather than falling over themselves to blame the victim.

Unfortunately, Schick’s bike may not be much help.

As it turns out, the supposedly tacoed rear wheel is actually a relatively minor bend. While it could still offer evidence of an impact, it may take an expert examination to determine exactly how it got that way.

Something else the police have yet to do, despite concluding that no impact occurred.

Meanwhile, the LACBC is calling for the LAPD and the City of Los Angeles to devote more resources halting the epidemic of hit-and-run; even if this turns out not to be one, drivers flee the scene in a full one-third of all L.A. collisions.

And writing on Streetsblog, Damien Newton calls on the LAPD to train a group of officers in the physics of bike and pedestrian crashes, so maybe in the future they can fairly assess blame without resorting to blaming the victims.

I couldn’t agree more.

But let me leave you with one final thought.

The LAPD investigators say they’ve ruled out hit-and-run, even though they’re still in the middle of an ongoing investigation. And despite continuing to look for video evidence or examining other physical that could prove that premature conclusion wrong.

So just how fair, open and honest can we really expect that investigation to be when, they’ve already announced the outcome in advance?

For a department that offers firearm training for all its officers, they certainly seem to have shot themselves in the foot.

Can a driver be at fault if he doesn’t actually hit you?

Let’s say you’re driving your car.

I know, but just go with me here, even if you’re of the car-free persuasion.

You’re approaching an intersection and have the green light. Suddenly, a car blows through the red light on the cross street, forcing you to jam on the brakes and swerve to avoid it, only to collide with the car next to you.

So who’s at fault?

Is it your fault? The car you hit? Or the one who broke the law and caused you both to take evasive action?

I think most reasonable people would conclude that the red light-runner should be held responsible, even though he wasn’t directly involved in the collision. And based on previous cases I’ve been aware of, I think most police officers would agree.

Now consider a similar situation, in which a driver darts out of a driveway directly in front of you, causing you to collide with another car as you react to avoid it. But fortunately, someone was able to chase the driver down and urge him to return to the scene of the accident he caused.

Again, most people would conclude that the driver who broke the law by cutting you off would be responsible for causing the collision. But is it hit-and-run if he didn’t actually hit anyone?

Now let’s use your imagination one more time.

Let’s say you’re on your bike, riding in the bike lane, when that car darts out in front of you. So you try to make a panic stop, and end up flipping over your handlebars and crashing to the street with a broken collarbone, while the driver who caused it calmly drives off.

Fortunately, a witness sees it happen and chases the driver down. But the driver refuses to return to the scene, insisting that it’s not hit-and-run because she didn’t hit anyone.

That’s exactly what happened on Sunset Boulevard in Silverlake yesterday.

As Stephen Box tells the story, the witness flagged down a passing police car, and the driver ultimately returned to the scene. But the police inexplicably concluded that not only did the driver not flee the scene, but that no violation occurred. No report, no crime.

This, despite a clear violation of CVC 21804, as Box points out —

21804. (a) The driver of any vehicle about to enter or cross a highway from any public or private property, or from an alley, shall yield the right-of-way to all traffic, as defined in Section 620, approaching on the highway close enough to constitute an immediate hazard, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that traffic until he or she can proceed with reasonable safety.

And yes, a bicycle is traffic.

As he explains —

1) The motorist violated the cyclist’s right of way.
2) The violation of the cyclist’s right of way caused the cyclist to take evasive action resulting in injury.
3) The motorist left the scene of an “incident” that was her responsibility.

Of course, any cyclist could tell you that the driver was responsible. But two police officers, the division Watch Commander and a traffic division Watch Commander concluded otherwise.

Which is why police officers need better training, not only in bike rights and law, but in bicycle accident investigation. Because a driver making a panic stop without hitting anyone isn’t likely to result in any injuries. But a cyclist responding to a careless, law-breaking driver can.

And did.

It’s also one more reason why we need to change the law in California to ensure that any cyclist riding legally in a bike lane enjoys the same level of liability protection as a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Because the mere presence of a bike lane — or sharrows, for that matter — should be adequate notice to any driver to anticipate cyclists, just as a crosswalk suggests the presence of pedestrians.

And you should have a right to be safe when you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, exactly where you’re supposed to be.

………

I’ve received an unconfirmed report that the cyclist involved in the hit-and-run on Oxnard Street April 16th has died. If anyone has more information, let me know.

………

This time, a drunken hit-and-run driver kills a teenage pedestrian and seriously injures her friend.

………

Josef Bray-Ali writes in the Los Angeles Business Journal that L.A. needs to change its parking policies to allow bike parking instead of cars.Will hears, and witnesses the aftermath, of a dooring (even though the cyclist didn’t want to involve the police, the driver could still face hit-and-run charges later if she fails to report it). Altadenablog covers the Mt. Wilson Bicycling Association’s pancake breakfast over the weekend. Courtesy of The Source, Grist’s look at what a car-free metro L.A. could look like; as The Source says, “The point is to show how much space is taken up by roadways and how little that leaves behind for those things known as pedestrians and cyclists.” A 57-year old cyclist dies of a heart attack in San Jose during the Mt. Hamilton Challenge. It seems pretty obvious that if you hit a cyclist, you didn’t observe the three-foot passing law. A Miami cyclist rear-ends a bus parked in the bike lane. A 70-year old Indiana driver turns directly into two cyclists, and swears she didn’t hit anyone. After people in a passing car throw a full drink at him, a South Bend cyclist thanks all those drivers who don’t, Experienced cyclists need to encourage less experienced riders. An Arizona woman says local drivers — and the police — just don’t understand cyclists. Tucson hands out free lights to ninja cyclists. A DC court rules it’s still drunk driving, even if you’re on a bike. The NY Times looks at the two-wheeled tribes of New York. Master framebuilder Dave Moulton writes about a 1940 Campy derailleur — which required reaching backwards and ratcheting the rear wheel. Vinokourov bounces back from a two-year doping ban with victory in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège; evidently, not everyone is pleased. Evidently, there are no fixie-riding hipsters in China. Brit bike thieves may just be joyriding, which could be why bike theft is up 8% while other crimes are down. London’s Guardian defends a new bike lane, noting that it’s standard width even if the resulting vehicle lane isn’t. An Ottawa rider gets goosed on the bike trail, literally. A Canadian widow wants to know why no ticket was written for the parked truck that killed her husband. A Vancouver cyclist turns outlaw by defying the mandatory helmet law.

Finally, after a cyclist is killed during his first bike race, his heart lives on in another rider, while a cyclist rides to promote blood donations three decades after receiving 110 pints to save his life. A reminder that, with a little forethought, some good can come from even the worst situations.

Who is at fault in cycling collisions? And who decides?

Let’s go back to that buzzing incident with the garbage truck, in which the driver honked loudly as he passed me with only about a foot’s clearance.

What if I hadn’t managed to maintain control over my bike when the horn startled me? As I noted yesterday, I could have swerved to the left, which could have meant going under his wheels. Or I might have swerved right, where I would have bounced off the parked cars, and possibly been thrown back underneath him.

So who would be at fault when the police filed their report?

Would it be the driver who passed too closely, honking his horn in a threatening manner, or the cyclist who responded by losing control and colliding with the truck?

Or would they decide it was just one of those things, and no one was really to blame?

Or take today’s ride, when I was nearly right-hooked by a truck driver who passed me on the left, then made a right turn directly across my path — while I was still beside him.

Fortunately, I try to anticipate such things. So I grabbed my brakes, dropped behind him, then passed him on his left before he could even finish his turn.

But what if I hadn’t?

What if I’d collided with the truck? Would he be at fault because he turned into my path? Or would it be my fault because I hit him?

The law suggests the driver should be at fault. Yet when a Baltimore cyclist was killed recently in collision just like that, the police determined that he was at fault — evidently they felt it was his responsibility to somehow avoid the truck that cut him off.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Bay Area cyclists are responsible for twice as many bike vs. motor vehicle collisions as drivers are. The same article quotes statistics from the California Highway Patrol, which found cyclists responsible for nearly 60% of all statewide cycling fatalities.

Yet a recent study by a Toronto physician found that cyclists were only responsible for less than 10% of local collisions.

So are Canadian cyclists really that much better than California riders? Or does the problem actually rest with who is analyzing the data — and investigating the accidents?

Do you really have to ask?

The problem isn’t that police hate cyclists, despite common perceptions in the cycling community. It’s that most officers receive little or no training in bike law — and none in the mechanics of cycling or investigation of bike accidents.

That’s not just my opinion. Consider this recent quote from a retired police officer:

In virtually every state, bicycles have most of the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle operators. Many officers don’t seem to know, or care, that they do. Training in bicycle traffic law is virtually nonexistent in police academies and crash investigation courses.

Unfortunately, many serious road cyclists know and understand traffic laws regulating bicycles far better than most street cops. Officers who have received quality bike patrol training, such as the IPMBA Police Cyclist™ Course, have been trained in the legal status of bicycles in traffic, proper and legal lane use, and other pertinent provisions.

When investigating a bicycle-vehicle crash, it may be a good idea to involve a trained bike patrol officer to help get a comprehensive perspective as to the bicycle-related factors and conditions involved. Criminal charges may be warranted. An officer knowledgeable in bike law could be a victim cyclist’s best advocate, or a legal opponent, providing the details for fair prosecution.

The simple fact is that the operation and mechanics of bicycles are different from that of motor vehicles. And unless the investigating officer understands that, he or she won’t be able to accurately determine how the collision occurred and who is actually at fault.

Like the infamous downtown Hummer incident, in which the investigating officer concluded that the cyclist hit the SUV, even though the rear of the bike was damaged and the rider was thrown forward — suggesting that he somehow backed into the other vehicle.

Or my own case, when I was struck by a road-raging driver while stopped at a stop sign. Yet the investigating officer chose to accept the driver’s explanation that I had run the stop sign and fallen while making a right hand turn, even though that would have meant falling to the left while leaning into a right turn — something an officer who rides, or who was at least trained in cycling, would have understood was virtually impossible.

Then there’s the fact that in a car/bike collision, the driver is usually unhurt, while the cyclist can be seriously injured or worse. Which means that the police often hear just one side of the story.

Maybe that’s why, in virtually any repot of a collision at a controlled intersection, you’ll hear that the cyclist ran the red light or stop sign — never that the driver ignored the rider’s right of way or ran the signal themselves.

That also could explain why so many drivers involved in hit-from-behind collisions claim that the cyclist darted out in front of them without warning. Never that the driver was distracted or failed to see the rider in the first place.

In fact, many cyclists refer to that type of collision as an SWSS — Single Witness Suicide Swerve — because the frequency of such collisions would suggest that there must be a lot of death-wish cyclists out there.

That’s not to say cyclists are never at fault. I’ve seen enough riders attempt to pull off stupid life-risking stunts — myself included — to know that’s not true.

But the simple fact is, every cyclist is, and will remain, a 2nd class citizen on the streets until all police officers are trained in bike law.

And every bicycle-involved collision is investigated by an officer who understands the physics and realities of cycling.

………

Next year’s LA Bike Tour won’t be held in conjunction with the new Stadium to the Sea L.A. Marathon. Efforts are underway to ban cars from the annual bike-banning Festival of Lights instead. Where do I sign up? Streetsblog notes the anger over new bike lanes in Santa Clarita, where some residents feel ambushed, while others fault the design. Bike thefts are up across the country, including Downtown L.A.; some victims are using social media to get them back, Lance included. Even with the current budget cuts, Elk Grove gets state funding for a new bike overpass. Minnesota artists create bike racks that salute their Scandinavian heritage. Lebron James leads local kids and cyclists in a charity bike ride; so when can we expect the first annual Kobe Bryant Bike Classic? Even bike-friendly Portland suffers from the fatal hit-and-run plague. Cyclists roll by in a Chinatown bike lane as a NY politician holds a press conference to claim no one ever uses it. Finally, an 81-year old Welsh paperboy has his bike stolen while one of his customers thanks him with a piano recital.

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