“This case is just stupid. When people are blocking you, you get mad. This is because they said ‘Fuck you.’ It’s just male aggression. They’re both at fault.”
— Overheard during a break in the Mandeville Canyon trial
Thursday was an interesting day, to say the least.
In a courtroom packed with both cyclists and supporters of the Good Doctor — and yes, there are people who support Christopher Thompson, despite everything — the defendant took the stand in his own defense.
According to Dr. Thompson, it was all just an unfortunate accident. The cyclists were rude and riding dangerously. He pulled over, slowly and carefully taking his place along the curb. And he has no idea why those careless, reckless bikers smashed into the back of his car.
Well, one anyway.
According to his attorney, the other one just fell over on his own.
“I’ve saved a lot of lives.”
Cyclist/attorney DJwheels, who attended the hearing, said testimony began with a recap of the Good Doctor’s career as an ER specialist, including his work as the head of emergency services at Beverly Hospital for the past three years prior to the incident he’s charged with.
According to Thompson, he’s treated over 100,000 patients in his career, including “hundreds” of injured cyclists.
Under questioning by his attorney, Peter Swarth, he explained his understanding of the medical definition of “serious” injuries, in an attempt to address the comment clearly heard on his 911 call, in which he said the cyclists injuries weren’t serious, “but they’ll tell you that.”
He said that by definition, a serious injury requires admission to the hospital in order to stabilize the patient, and can be determined by simple observation. A close examination of the patient isn’t necessary to evaluate them by ABC — Airways, Breathing and Circulation — while a simple neurological exam be performed by observing how the patient responds to questions.
He continued by describing how he moved into his home in Mandeville Canyon on October 1, 1987; memorable as the day of the Whittier Earthquake. And noted that Gov. Schwarzenegger and his family moved to the canyon about 5 years ago.
Swarth asked why Thompson doesn’t live there anymore, and why he no longer works at Beverly Hospital; however, both questions were disallowed as a result of previous rulings by the judge.
Thompson described the canyon in detail, including the length of the roadway, elevation gain and the exact number of speed bumps and stop signs. According to him, it wasn’t necessary to step on the gas to reach the bottom; coasting and braking was enough to maintain the 30 mph speed limit downhill.
Since 2001, however, the canyon has been progressively overrun by cyclists, he said.
“I don’t have a problem with cyclists,” Thompson said. “I just don’t like their behavior.” He even claimed to ride a bike himself, though he couldn’t describe it in any way — by brand, type, color or number of gears.
The Good Doctor explained that he doesn’t like to drive behind cyclists in the canyon because they run stop signs, ride side-by-side and in large groups, and won’t allow drivers to pass. But he doesn’t get mad, he claimed; just frustrated and concerned for their safety, due to their own reckless actions.
He nearly came to tears as he related the story of a childhood friend named Bobby who went for a bike ride, fell over and was run over by the car behind him. That’s why he believes bicycles are inherently unstable, he said.
Thompson went on to explain how he had spoken to other canyon residents, as well as the chairman of the local neighborhood association safety committee, about what could be done to rein in cyclists since they can’t be identified to the police. The conclusion was that the best option was to take pictures and videotape the riders.
“I wasn’t there.”
Thompson explained that he couldn’t have been the driver who had the earlier encounter with Patrick Early, for which he wasn’t charged.
He was too busy with work, he claimed, and frequently out of town on business. He never had such an incident at that time, doesn’t know Early and couldn’t identify him — despite the fact that Early had picked Thompson’s photo out of a lineup and recalled the Good Doctor’s personalized license plate months afterwards.
“Ride single file”
The incident with Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby, for which he is charged, wasn’t so easily explained.
According to DJwheels, Swarth lead him through his testimony, explaining that he came up behind two riders going downhill side-by-side, honking once as a polite warning. When the cyclists failed to respond, he attempted to pass, but was blocked by an oncoming car.
On his second attempt, he crossed over the yellow line and accelerated, passing about three feet from the cyclists. And as he did, he extended his arm and index finger out the passenger side window, saying “Ride single file.”
They responded by yelling “Fuck you asshole!” and “shot him the shaft,” as the doctor put it — explaining that was his preferred way of saying they flipped him off.
Thompson claimed he then came to a normal, controlled stop in order to get their names. By his account, the cyclists rode safely past on either side of the car — he denied that Watson ever left the road, despite the earlier testimony by both riders. When they started to approach the car, he became frightened because the cyclists “were acting crazy,” and so he accelerated in order to get away as quickly as possible.
He was surprised to receive a call from a police detective about two weeks later asking about the incident, after Watson had reported it to the police.
“Here we go again”
Last year’s 4th of July started out a good day, as far as Dr. Thompson was concerned. He was expecting a normal, if busy, day because of the holiday, and said he wasn’t angry or in a hurry.
That lasted until he encountered three cyclists riding side-by-side as he made his way down the canyon.
They were about 50 feet ahead when he tapped gently on the horn; the center rider looked back at him and dropped slightly behind the other riders. So he honked again, and the outside rider “shot him the shaft.”
“Here we go again,” he thought, briefly accelerating up to 45 mph and crossing the yellow line in an arc-like pass. He called out “Single file please,” and was met with “a hail of ‘fuck you, asshole!’”
Again, he claimed that he braked to a controlled stop, this time in order to take photos of the cyclists as he had discussed with other residents. By his account, he had time to come to a full stop, set the parking brake, take off his seat belt and open the door before he felt an impact at the rear of the car.
As he stepped out, he saw one of the cyclists removing himself from the glass of the rear windshield.
Thompson said he identified himself as a physician and offered to help. The response he got was “Fuck you, asshole.” So from a distance, he began assessing their condition, concluding that their injuries were not life-threatening, and therefore, not medically serious.
The third rider approached, telling him to turn off the engine.
“I didn’t slam on the brakes”
The Good Doctor continued, explaining that he then called 911 for assistance.
Swarth stopped him at that point to ask about the 911 recording in which he said he “slammed on the brakes.” Thompson answered that he braked, then increased his pressure on the brakes, but never “slammed” on the brakes.
Another person soon stopped and tried to control Peterson’s bleeding using his own shirt; Thompson said he offered medical advice before the other man identified himself as a physician. He tried to flag down a paramedic unit that was coming down the canyon with cyclist injured in a previous accident. After pausing to assess the situation, they decline to stop and help; Thompson explained that they would have stayed if they thought the situation was serious.
Once the police, fire and paramedics arrived, he tried to give his statement to the investigating officer. However, Officer Rodriguez seemed distracted, and simply walked away as he was finishing his statement.
Thompson said he never told the officer that he wanted to teach the cyclists a lesson. Yet shortly later, more police arrived and another officer patted him down and cuffed him.
Again he got emotional, saying he didn’t try to hurt anyone, and didn’t think he’d stopped in an unsafe manner. “I thought I had a reasonable plan, but obviously I didn’t execute it effectively.”
And now he wakes up every night upset about what happened. “I don’t hurt people,” he said, “I help people.”
“I didn’t think it through”
The prosecution then took over for cross examination.
Assistant District Attorney Mary Stone didn’t waste any time with her cross, finishing just 15 minutes after she started.
She began by confirming that the Good Doctor was the only driver of the car in question. And that he doesn’t know Patrick Early, owe him money or is owed money by him — clearly attempting to establish that Early had no reason to lie or get even with Thompson.
He then agreed that because of what had happened to his friend as a child, he is even more aware of cyclists on the road, and that he had treated many cyclists as an ER doctor. He also agreed with her that cyclists are fragile and, unlike drivers, have nothing around them to protect them.
“You know the speed limit,” she continued, “and know it’s not just a suggestion?”
“Yes,” Thompson responded.
“You could have kept going if you wanted to?”
Thompson admitted that he was annoyed by the confrontation with the riders, but denied being angry. He also said he knew more or less where the cyclists were, even though he lost sight of them for a few moments when passing.
Stone then played the portion of the 911 tape where the doctor told the operator he’d “slammed on the brakes,” asking if he now denied that. “That’s correct,” he said, “I did not slam on the brakes.”
Her next question hit hard, even though the judge sustained the defense’s objection to it. “You got teary eyed when you talked about how you felt about this. Is that something you worked on with your attorney before you testified?”
She continued, “Do you have experience taking pictures of cyclists riding at 30 miles per hour using a cell phone?”
“I guess I didn’t think it through,” he answered.
She also asked if he seriously expected Watson and Crosby to give him their names after they “shot him the shaft.”
She then went through the testimony provided by LAPD Officer Rodriguez line by line; Thompson agreed he had said everything that Rodriguez reported about the incident with Peterson and Stoehr, with the single exception that he never said he wanted to teach them a lesson.
And she concluded by saying once again, “You could have kept going, but you didn’t.”
The jury began deliberations late Thursday, and will resume on Monday morning; the courthouse was closed on Friday.