Tag Archive for Hector Tobar

Manny Ramirez defense leads to acquittal for Gordon Wray; The Times’ Hector Tobar likes bikes

Evidently, killing a cyclist because you can’t see is nothing more than an accident.

Just say the sun got in your eyes, and walk away.

That’s what happened today, as Gordon Wray was acquitted on a charge of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in the death of Doug Caldwell.

A jury of his peers — though not necessarily the victim’s, since cyclists are usually excluded from bike case juries — took little more than an hour to agree that the prosecution’s case failed to meet the necessary burden of proof.

Never mind that most rational people would agree that the sudden, violent death of another human being should amount to more than just “oops.”

However, Wray’s attorney astutely played the Manny Ramirez defense, claiming the sun was in his client’s eyes at the time of the collision. And rather than pull over until he could see, proceeded to slam into two other people who had the misfortune of sharing the road with him.

At least when Manny used the excuse, he only lost the ball and allowed a few runs to score.

The crux of this case was CVC 22350, which reads:

No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.

Unfortunately, as cyclist and attorney Dj Wheels points out, the problem for the prosecution was determining just what speed was reasonable under the circumstances. They were forced to argue that if Wray was truly blinded by the sun, he should have slowed down to a speed that allowed him to see the two riders, even if that meant coming to a full stop.

The defense countered that Wray understood the risk posed by the sun shining in his eyes, and slowed down to 35 mph in a 50 mph zone as a result.

Except that still wasn’t good enough. And a well-loved man died as a result, while another suffered road rash so severe that he required plastic surgery to repair the damage.

Yet the jury’s reaction was to be expected.

Virtually every driver has found him or herself in that same position at least once. And when they put themselves in Wray’s position, they had to ask what they would have done under the same circumstances.

Which, given the verdict, should serve as a frightening warning to everyone else on the road.

If you want to look on the bright side, it was a victory for cyclists that this trial ever came to court. The case was never strong, and it shows just how seriously authorities took it that charges were ever filed in the first place.

But my heart breaks for Caldwell’s family, who had to watch the man responsible for his death walk away, knowing he’ll never be held accountable in criminal court.

Maybe they’ll have better luck in civil court, where the burden of proof is lower.

Although this acquittal won’t help.


Better news comes from the Orange County Transportation Authority in the form of OCLINK, which they describe as “an innovative and convenient pass that allows riders to hop on trains and buses throughout the county.”

According to their release, the OCLINK pass provides unlimited weekday transfers on a buses and Metrolink trains throughout Orange County for just $7 per person. As a result, OC cyclists can easily hop the bus or train to the riding destination of their choice — even if that happens to be in L.A. or Ventura County — then return home without breaking the bank.

For those of us a little further away, Metrolink is now offering an All-Weekend Pass for just $10 a person, allowing unlimited train rides from 7 pm Friday to midnight Sunday. And anywhere Metrolink travels throughout Orange, L.A., Riverside, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.

Which means you can now take the train to one of those great far-flung riding routes you’ve only heard about, then ride the rails back home without breaking the bank.

The downside is, like the long-despised and recently revoked Metro policy, Metrolink allows only two bikes per passenger car. Although rumor has it they’re considering a prototype bike car that will accommodate up to 20 bikes, making future group tours by bike and train a more viable possibility.

Maybe we should encourage that idea.


LADOT Bike Blog has announced that the city’s long-awaited Bicyclist Anti-Harassment Ordinance is finally ready for final approval, and should come before the full council sometime in the next two weeks.

The groundbreaking ordinance, the first of its kind anywhere in the U.S., would make harassment of a cyclist a civil matter, rather than criminal, allowing riders to take threatening drivers to court themselves. And it contains a provision for legal fees, making it worthwhile for lawyers to take cases that might not otherwise be financially viable for them.

Meanwhile, reader Alejandro Meruelo writes to remind us that L.A. Mayor — and my CicLAvia riding buddy — Antonio Villaraigosa has asked for suggestions on how to make L.A. more bike-friendly.

Meruelo suggests using the Ask the Mayor website to encourage hizzoner to inform law enforcement officers that CVC 21202 allows cyclists full use of the lane under many, if not most, circumstances. While every LAPD officer should be well versed on the subject thanks to the department’s bike training video, it wouldn’t hurt to have a little official support from the mayor’s office. And it could carry a lot of weight with other law enforcement agencies that aren’t nearly as enlightened.


The Times’ Hector Tobar talks with some of L.A.’s Ridazz, and decides that the city needs an attitude adjustment regarding bicyclists — concluding that we’re not only a part of the community, but have as much right to the roadway as anyone else.

And yes, that chill you felt was hell freezing over, as the Times has officially crossed over to our side.


Contrast that with this absurdly biased anti-bike lane piece from New York’s WCBS, which argues that city streets should accommodate the 90% in cars and buses, rather than making space for the 10% who ride bikes — even if those bike riders make more room for everyone else. And suggests the danger posed by theoretical bomb-laden bicyclists, who might conceivably use the new lanes to roll up in front of the Israeli consulate.

Because terrorists evidently aren’t brave enough to take the lane in New York traffic.


Bike friendly ad agency Colle+McVoy — the people behind my all-time favorite bike-to-work ad (scroll to the bottom) — has created a Facebook app to let the world know you’re out on your bike. Just download the app, and it will replace your profile photo with the Out Biking image when you ride.

Although I’m not sure I want my clients — or my wife — to know I’m out riding when I should be working.


Finally, thanks to George Wolfberg for forwarding this photo from Jonathon Weiss, showing the new bike-friendly ads on the back of Santa Monica’s Big Blue Buses. I was pleasantly surprised to see that one myself the other day, but was a little too busy trying to survive the obstacles blocking the Ocean Ave bike lanes to grab a photo myself.

Evidently, Santa Monica drivers assume that if we can use their lanes, they can use ours.

Empowering L.A.’s invisible cyclists

There was a time when I described myself as a “serious” cyclist.

In my pedal-addled mind, that distinguished me as a spandex-clad, 50 mile a day rider who lived and breathed bikes. As opposed to someone who might pull the clunker out of the garage on the weekend for a leisurely roll through the park or along the beach, for instance.

Or someone who would ride in sneakers and street clothes.

It wasn’t that I looked down on the spandex-challenged. It’s just that, as I saw it at the time, they didn’t have the skills and commitment of a serious rider such as myself.

And clearly, I wasn’t the only one.

As another spandexed rider I know jokingly put it, “I don’t trust cyclists who don’t shave their legs.”

But slowly over the years, it penetrated my thick helmet-covered skull that other kinds of riders might be just as devoted to riding as I was, but just do it a little differently. And that there were equally valid reasons to ride that had nothing to do with improving speed, skills or fitness.

Maybe it was the first time a blue jean clad fixie rider dropped me, much to my shame. Or maybe when the bike lanes appeared on Santa Monica Boulevard, and I started seeing countless commuters roll past my home every day.

It could have been a growing awareness that all those women on Dutch bikes and beach cruisers were actually going places, even if they weren’t going as fast — or sweating as much — as spandex speedsters such as myself.

Then there was the humbling realization that there were people who rode, not because they chose to, or to stay in shape or because it was hip or fashionable. But because it was their most viable — or perhaps only — form of transportation.

And that the needs and safety of those riders were just as legitimate as mine.

Fortunately, not everyone is as slow on the uptake as I am. The local bike co-ops — Bicycle Kitchen, Bike Oven, Bikerowave and Valley Bikery — have long helped riders of all types repair their own bikes at little cost.

The LACBC has gone a step further, forming the City of Lights program to reach out to cyclists in the immigrant community; primarily — but not exclusively — Spanish speaking immigrants.

As relatively recent arrivals in the country, many of these cyclists may not know how and where to ride safely, or how to map out a route that can get them to and from various parts of the city. Or have the money to invest in the lights and reflectors that could help keep them safe on the streets of L.A.

So a small program to pass out lights, maps and safety information didn’t seem like a bad idea.

What few anticipated, however, was that it would grow to become a significant outreach to the immigrant community.

That initial free light program was followed by a study of how to increase bike parking facilities in low income areas, resulting in the city’s first ever guide to surmounting the countless technical and regulatory requirements to placing racks on the streets, available for download in English and Spanish.

Soon the program will be releasing a Spanish language resource guide — including information on safe riding techniques and equipment, basic maintenance, and advocacy and legal rights — which will be distributed for free and made available online.

In addition, I recently sat in on a report from the LACBC’s Allison Manos, in which she discussed a new program to train immigrants in bike repair, whether to maintain their own bikes or to give them the skills to find work in bicycle repair shops. And several program members have responded by becoming bike safety advocates themselves.

So in just a few short years, what started as a small safety outreach has turned into a program that empowers people to make changes in their own lives, and in their community.

You can’t ask for any more than that.

The Times’ Hector Tobar writes about it today — though he somehow neglects to mention City of Lights by name — focusing on one of the program’s participants, Jose Guzman, as well as Ramon Martinez of the LACBC and Bike Oven.

“In L.A. we have thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people on bikes that mainstream cyclists never see,” Martinez told me. He called them “invisible cyclists” but then corrected himself because really, if you pay attention, you’ll almost always see them on the streets.

I’ve seen the cyclists in the garment district, Koreatown and Pasadena, often in the uniforms of cooks or kitchen workers. They don’t wear spandex and they don’t bike to lower their cholesterol or to reduce their “carbon footprint.”

They don’t bike because it’s a cool lifestyle choice. Mostly they bike out of necessity.

“My bike is my salvation,” Guzman told me.

“I see it as part of me. It’s my vehicle. I carry bags, backpacks, groceries on it. Everything.”

It’s a good story. And a great program — one definitely worth supporting.

Maybe it will help keep a few more riders safe, change a few lives and make this city a better place for riders of all types.

And help make those invisible riders just a little easier to see.


Austin’s Yellow Bike Project, in which abandoned bikes are fixed-up, painted yellow and donated to the needy, has spread east to Augusta, Georgia; evidently, Portland has a similar program. Maybe it’s time the project moved a little northwest.

It could be a great complement to the work being done by City of Lights.


The schmuck Swedish Rapper who beat a Hollywood pedestrian senseless, then ran over him as an off-duty police officer begged him to stop — and had the audacity to claim self-defense — is sentenced to 15 years to life for 2nd degree murder.

Personally, I vote for the latter.


I’ve got more links — too many, actually. So come back later tonight or over the weekend after you’ve had a chance to limber up your link-clicking finger.

Keeping bad drivers off the roads

You don’t have to follow the news very closely to hear frequent stories about people who continue to drive — and have or cause wrecks — long after their driver’s licenses have been taken away.

So how do you keep bad drivers off the street, when losing the privilege to drive seems meaningless? That’s something I’ve been struggling with lately, when I came across this column by Hector Tobar in yesterday’s Times.

As Tobar tells the story, a woman drove to a dental appointment, then called her boyfriend to come get her when the effects of sedation kept her from driving home.

Only problem was, she didn’t know that his license had been suspended. So he had a cousin drive her home, then attempted to drive her car home so it wouldn’t be towed from the parking garage where she had left it. But only made it a few blocks before the police stopped him.

Allowing someone with a suspended license to drive her car meant it could be impounded for 30 days under the Safe Streets Act, and eventually cost her nearly $1400 to get it back. She was lucky, though. A second offense would have allowed her car to be seized and sold by the state.

To Tobar, that seemed unduly harsh.

As he pointed out, the original offense was just running a stop sign; something countless L.A. drivers — and yes, cyclists — do on a daily basis. He argues that she should have been shown leniency because of her limited finances and that fact that it wasn’t her intent to put an unlicensed driver behind the wheel. And suggest that maybe the law should be changed, so it doesn’t apply to people convicted of relatively minor offenses.

He has a point.

On the other hand, let’s say the police hadn’t stopped her boyfriend. Maybe he would have made it back home with no problem. Or just maybe, he would have run another stop sign on the way home. And this time, killed someone.

Would we still be discussing whether the law is too harsh? Or would we want to know why someone with a suspended license was still on the streets?

Only a few weeks after her boyfriend was stopped by police, another driver was on the streets north of Los Angeles — despite having his license suspended for two previous DUI convictions. And despite the fact that he was underage, he was already drunk at 10:30 in the morning.

Somehow, the Safe Streets Act failed in this case.

Maybe his license hadn’t been suspended at the time of his previous arrests. Maybe he just fell through the cracks, or maybe the truck wasn’t even his. But somehow, he was still had access to a vehicle that morning.

As a result, a popular cyclist is dead, leaving his wife to somehow find a way to go on without him, and his friends and family confront a hole in their lives that can never be filled. And let’s not forget the other 4 riders injured in the same incident, two of them seriously.

My heart goes out the woman Tobar wrote about. She was an unfortunate victim of circumstances, and of a well-meaning boyfriend who hadn’t honest with her, and tried to do the right thing in entirely the wrong way.

According to Tobar, California’s Safe Streets Act is one of the strictest in the nation when it comes to unlicensed drivers. And maybe she deserved leniency that she didn’t get.

But as long as drivers continue to drive long after their licenses have been suspended, there is no enforcement. And without enforcement, the traffic laws meant to keep us all safe are meaningless.

And innocent people can die.

So compassion, yes. Leniency, maybe. But weaken the law?

Hell no.

If anything, it should be expanded to include all drunk drivers, whether or not they’ve been stopped for driving without a license. As well as other dangerous drivers, including those aggressive, high-speed drivers who weave in and out of traffic, often causing more accidents than they have themselves.

Because drunks aren’t the only dangerous drivers on the road.


Culver City wants your input on their Bicycle and Pedestrian Initiative. Cynergy offers a free lecture on Nutrition, Hydration & Recovery Techniques tonight. Streetsblog examines Metro’s dedicated bike space, and questions how much cyclists really slow down drivers. Metblogs suggests exploring the San Gabriel River Bike Trail while there’s actually water flowing through the riverbed. As part of their continued efforts to Amsterdam L.A., Flying Pigeon presents the Royal Gazelle. Riverside commuters are reducing their wheels from four to two. A Missouri rider discovers Alpacas on his evening ride. A long-time Colorado rider is killed after “straying” into traffic. In another hit-and-run north of the border, five Ottawa cyclists were run down despite riding single file in a bike lane; there was nothing the riders could have done to avoid it. A Detroit writer analyzes the official crash analysis, and find that both cycling and pedestrian deaths were under reported. Finally, a cyclist from Down Under documents his daily commute; clearly, they have as much trouble keeping cars out of the bike lanes as we do.

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