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.