Tag Archive for L.A. Weekly

Three years for Swarzman killer, help shape L.A. cycling policy & the L.A. Weekly continues its anti-bike crusade

And just like that, it’s over.

Joseph Ricardo Fernandez was sentenced to three years in state prison today for the hit-and-run death of Encino ultra-distance cyclist Jim Swarzman last April.

As you may recall, Swarzman was riding along Highway 101 in the Leucadia neighborhood of Encinitas with his fiancé and another man when he was hit by a truck driven by Fernandez.

Actually, hit is a mild term; his fiancé, Nicole Honda described the collision as an explosion as she watched Swarzman fly past her through the air, while the driver continued down the highway without even slowing down.

Fernandez turned himself in a day later, reportedly telling police investigators he thought he might have hit something over the weekend.

Though how you manage to hit someone with that much force without knowing it will forever be beyond me.

After Fernandez waived his right to a jury trial, he was convicted of felony hit-and-run causing death in a two-day bench trial conducted by Vista Judge K. Michael Kirkman, facing a possible four years in prison.

Instead, he got three.

Three years for plowing down another human being and leaving him in the street to die.

Oh wait.

Although I suppose we should be grateful the Fernandez got any time at all. I’m glad he was sentenced for his crime, even if he did get less than the maximum sentence.

But this is one time when the time does not fit the crime. Maybe now that the trial is over, we can finally find out why Fernandez only faced charges for hit-and-run, rather than being charged with actually causing Swarzman’s death.

And if the rumors are true about the judge blaming Jim Swarzman for improper lane positioning, in what would seem to be a basic misunderstanding of bike law.

Update: San Diego’s 10News reports that Fernandez was sentenced to just two years in prison, rather than three. No explanation yet on the discrepancy.


If you’re not doing anything tonight, drop by the Pitfire Pizza at 108 W. 2nd Street in Downtown Los Angeles at 7pm. And help set the agenda for cycling in the City of Angels.

Because, as of this month, I’m taking over for Stephen Villavaso as Chair of the LACBC’s Planning Committee.

Don’t get me wrong.

Stephen’s done a great job in chairing the committee. Quite frankly, I would be just as happy, if not happier, if he’d been able to continue in the role. And I want to thank him for all the hard work he’s done as Chair, and hope he’ll continue to offer his invaluable insights as a member of the Planning Committee.

However, any change in leadership provides an ideal opportunity to rethink the role of the committee, as well as the projects and policies we want to pursue.

As a result, the primary topic of this month’s meeting will be a discussion of exactly what the Planning Committee is, and what you’d like to see come under its heading. I hope to conclude the meeting with a clear agreement on the role and future direction of this committee.

In addition, I’d like to begin a discussion of the programs and policies we want to support on a state and local level. This doesn’t have to be limited to anything that is currently under discussion within the LACBC or anywhere else. Use your imagination to come up with solutions that could make bicycling better, safer and/or more enjoyable for bike riders in California, L.A. County, or in your own neighborhood and the areas you ride.

I have my own ideas. But I really want to hear your thoughts as we shape an agenda for the months to come.

I’d like to personally invite everyone to attend. You don’t have to be a member of the Planning committee, or even a member of the LACBC. If you ride a bike in Southern California, or care about those who do, we want to hear from you.

Because the more voices we hear from, the better our work will reflect the attitudes and desires of the local riding community.


Note to Dennis Romero of the L.A. Weekly:

You didn’t encounter a shitstorm of criticism because you expressed your opinion about L.A.’s bicyclist anti-harassment ordinance. You were deservedly taken to task because you blatantly misrepresented the new law.

And continue to do so.

Attorney Bill Blum may or may not make some valid points in his Op-Ed in the L.A. Daily News — though you’d think any lawyer worth his salt would know that neither drivers or cyclists are a protected class under the Equal Protection Clause.

Let alone that the laws regarding cyclists and drivers are not, and were never intended to be, symmetrical in their application to each. The courts have long accepted that drivers can be required to have a license —which can be taken away — because of the threat their vehicles pose to everyone else on the streets. On the other hand, cyclists don’t require a license precisely because we pose so little risk to those around us.

So much for the courts requiring that both be treated equally.

Yes, we may piss you off.

But the biggest risk most drivers face from cyclists is that we may get a little blood on your paint when you run us over.


I’m facing a busy work load this week — the first time in months I’ve had as much, if not more, paying work on my plate as I can handle. So let me offer my apologies in advance if I don’t manage to post as much or as often as usual.

Besides, I’ve got a committee to chair.

On the other hand, that makes it a perfect opportunity to submit a guest post of your own. So if you have anything you’d like to say on any subject directly or indirectly related to bicycling, just drop me a line at bikinginla at hotmail dot com. Whether you agree with me or not.

And yes, that includes Mr. Romero.

LBFD’s John Hines guilty, 3feet2pass passes and L.A. Weekly goes off the deep end

You can now remove “alleged” from any reference to John Hines.

The Long Beach Fire Captain, scion of one of the city’s leading fire fighting families, changed his plea to guilty in Orange County Superior Court on Tuesday.

He was convicted on three felony counts — driving under the influence, driving with a blood alcohol level in excess of .08, and hit-and-run, as well as sentencing enhancements for having a BAC over .20 and causing great bodily injury.

Hines will serve a 90-day diagnostic evaluation in state prison to determine whether he is suitable to serve a sentence in the state penitentiary. After his release, he will be sentenced on December 2nd at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana; potential penalties range from probation to up to six years and eight months behind bars.

Hines reportedly spent the morning of April 1st drinking at the Schooner or Later bar in Long Beach before getting behind the wheel of his truck. Around 1:20 pm, he swerved into the bike lane on Westminster Ave in Seal Beach and plowed into the bike ridden by 47-year old Jeffrey Gordon.

Gordon was thrown over 70 feet, suffering critical injuries including severe lacerations, spinal injuries and head trauma; according to the Orange County Register, he was hospitalized for two weeks, and continues to suffer from limited physical mobility, as well as speech and memory loss.

Meanwhile, Hines fled the scene without slowing down; witnesses followed him to his home where he was arrested with a BAC of 0.24.

I have no idea why he needs to be evaluated for suitability for state prison; most inmates are simply sentenced without any say in the matter.

But we can only hope the judge imposes the maximum sentence.

Anyone who is trained to save lives, yet is so drunk and heartless as to leave a man laying broken and bleeding in the street does not deserve to walk free.

Or ever drive again.

Thanks to Rex Reese, Jim Lyle and an anonymous source for the heads-up.


California cyclists may now enjoy a little cushion from passing vehicles, as the State Assembly passed SB 910, the 3feet2pass bill, by a margin of 41-20.

Do I really need to point out that 16 of the no votes came from the Republican side of the aisle, as the California GOP has swung so far to the right they feel a kneejerk need to oppose virtually everything?

However, six Republicans retained sufficient common sense to vote for the bill, while four Democrats felt California drivers still deserve the right to buzz cyclists as long as they don’t actually make contact.

What still remains to be determined is whether the dangerous exception allowing drivers to pass at less than three feet, as long as they slow to 15 miles above the speed of the ride, remained in the bill or was removed in amendments as we have been repeatedly promised.

In other words, if you were riding at 20 mph, a driver moving at up to 35 mph could pass you as close as they wanted as long at they didn’t actually hit you; yeah, good luck with that. And yes, that exception would be every bit as confusing and unenforceable as it sounds, forcing both drivers and police to guess how fast you’re riding.

And yes, it was still in the most recent draft of the law posted online on August 30th.

Let’s hope it really was removed.

Or this will be nothing but feel-good legislation that could actually make it more dangerous for California riders.

Update: Eric B and billsd wrote to correct my reading of the most recent draft of SB 910. The law has in fact been revised to remove the 15 mph passing exemption; it now allows drivers to pass at less than three feet only at speeds of 15 mph or less. Thanks to both for the correction.


I’ve heard from a number of cyclists who are concerned about a rumor in the case of Joseph Fernandez, the driver convicted of killing Encino endurance cyclist Jim Swarzman.

They’re worried that judge K. Michael Kirkman may have found that Swarzman contributed to his own death though improper lane positioning by failing to ride far enough to the right. As the comment linked to above points out, that would suggest a basic misunderstanding of both state law and commonly taught safe riding practices.

As a result, I reached out to cyclist and attorney Dj Wheels, who looked into the question for me.

According to Wheels, it’s unlikely that the judge would have made a ruling like that, since it’s unrelated to the charges against Fernandez. He’s been found guilty of hit-and-run causing serious injury or death, rather than the death itself.

In other words, Fernandez was convicted of leaving the scene, not killing Swarzman — which makes where Swarzman was positioned  in the lane, and whether he contributed to his own death, irrelevant to this case.

As Wheels points out, that may be a matter that will be addressed in the civil case.

However, if anyone who was actually in the courtroom when Fernandez was found guilty has other information, please let me know.

Fernandez is scheduled to be sentenced on September 12th in San Diego Superior Court in Vista; he faces up to four years in prison, case #CN290834.


Finally, did the L.A. Weekly deliberately lie about L.A.’s new cyclist anti-harassment ordinance? Or was it a case of journalistic incompetence and failure to fact check?

A blog post by Dennis Romero suggests that the new law will clog the courts with cyclists retaliating for the slightest insult.

Really. The law goes into effect today. (Ed. Actually, it was Monday, but who’s counting?) We can just imagine the court testimony:

Bicyclist: He called me an asshole.

Driver: Your honor, I would like to submit that he is an asshole, and that free speech is protected, especially when one speaks the truth.

And he concludes with a reminder abut First Amendment rights:

Added: Interestingly, we recall that court rulings over the years have held that even swearing at police is protected speech. Guess the bicycle gets more respect than the badge at L.A. City Hall.

Of course, as virtually every commenter on the story has pointed out, he is completely and totally wrong. (I particularly enjoyed the comment from local bikewear manufacturer swrve.)

Mere insults aren’t addressed by this law. In fact, as LAPD Sgt. Krumer pointed out, you can call a cyclist any damn thing you want and be perfectly within your rights. Although at this point, calling someone an L.A. Weekly reader could be particularly hurtful.

What you can’t do is threaten the life or safety of a cyclist, either through words or actions.

That’s it.

Don’t say “I’m going to kill you,” or attempt to run a rider off the road — or imply you intend to — and this law will never apply to you.

And for his suggestion in the comments that most cyclists will never read the law, so they’ll file countless worthless cases anyway, no lawyer is going to take a case unless he or she thinks they have a reasonable chance of winning.

Which means there has to be evidence and/or witnesses to support it. And even if a lawyer did take such a case, the courts wouldn’t hesitate to throw it out.

Which takes us back to the Weekly’s false and inflammatory story, which can only put cyclists at greater risk of actual harassment from angry drivers who might believe their load of crap.

So I demand — yes, demand — a complete and full retraction from the Weekly, as well as a public apology from the author.

And I hope you’ll join me in doing the same.

Thanks to Evan G. for the tip.