Tag Archive for Peter Swarth

Evil on Trial: Dr. Christopher Thomson’s fate in the hands of the jury

“Get the fuck off the road!”

— Dr. Christopher Thompson to cyclist Patrick Early, as told by Asst. D.A. Mary Stone

After two weeks of testimony, it all came down to this.

Two talented attorneys facing off before the jury, summing up days of impassioned first-hand testimony, complicated technical evidence and the insights of expert witnesses — in some case, highly paid experts — to direct them to a single inescapable verdict.


Or not.

And now the Good Doctor’s freedom, and his career, hangs in the balance.

“This coat can inspire trust”

According to cyclist/attorney DJwheels, the biking community’s eyes and ears in the courtroom, Assistant District Attorney Mary Stone offered an effective closing argument delivered through a series of well-chosen props.

She began by donning a white medical coat, and asked the jurors if they remembered questioning during jury selection about what it means to be a doctor, and if doctors can commit crimes. She then offered a series photos of showing well known TV physicians wearing a similar coat.

“I don’t want you to get confused,” she said. “Because this coat can inspire trust.”

She showed a photo of the Grand Canyon, explaining that there is a big, wide line that you just don’t cross, because “there’s a canyon in between.”

“You don’t use your car to hurt people.”

That was followed by a recap of the testimony offered by Patrick Early, the first cyclist Dr. Christopher Thompson is accused of threatening with his car, though he was not charged with that encounter.

According to Stone, the doctor offered a long list of dates when the incident could not have happened because of work or travel. Yet he left a number of days unaccounted for — days when he could have yelled at Early to get off the road, then slammed on his brakes directly in front of the rider’s bike, just as he is charged with doing twice more in the following months.

She noted that Early worked in the auto industry and had an in-depth knowledge of cars, and so was able to identify the color, make and model of the vehicle that nearly ran him off the road, as well as recalling Thompson’s personalized license plates months later.

“The cry of an honest man”

She moved on then the next incident, which occurred the following March.

Cyclists Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby were riding down Mandeville Canyon, at or near the posted 30 mph speed limit, when Thompson again slammed on his brakes, forcing Watson off the road.

Stone told the jurors that Christopher Thompson chose to break the law. He was already speeding when he encountered the cyclists, she said, and he chose to engage the cyclists even though he had other options. He could have left; he could have kept going.

She noted the beginnings of a pattern. “We now know what enrages him.”

Stone went on to say that the defense will tell you that Watson had a grudge against Thompson, and that the angry emails Watson sent to friends and other cyclists after the incident show he wanted to get even with the doctor.

She played Watson’s 911 call for the jury, pointing out that Watson stayed at the scene waiting for the police for over an hour and a half after the incident, and gave his name and phone number to the operator. If he was a rogue cyclist, as Thompson claimed, why would he identify himself to the police, she asked?

And she described the emails as “the cry of an honest man.”

“Have a good laugh at that”

As for the incident with Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr, she reminded the jurors once again that he could have kept going. If you slam on your brakes in front of two cyclists, she explained, you have to expect that they could hit you. “That’s just common sense.”

“He wants you to believe that he just wanted to take a picture,” she said. “That’s ridiculous. When you get back into the jury room, have a good laugh at that.”

At that, defense attorney Peter Swarth objected — one of three times he defied judicial courtesy by objecting during another attorney’s closing arguments; like the other two times, he was overruled by the judge.

She continued by saying that even if he did want to take a picture of the riders, as he claimed, it was his choice to stop in front of them. He was also “disdainful” of the injuries the riders suffered as a result.

“What if you went to the emergency room and your loved one was bleeding from the face, and the doctor told you it wasn’t serious?”

Because of what had happened to his childhood friend, Stone added — reminding the jurors of Thompson’s earlier testimony about a friend who fell from his bike and was run over by a car — he should have had a heightened sense of the fragility of cyclists.

“He knows what can happen.”

She added that the doctor can’t escape the fact that he was driving recklessly. And reminded them about the testimony of LAPD Officer Rodriguez, who said Thompson’s admission that he slammed on his brakes to teach the cyclists a lesson was “burned into his brain.” Who is more believable, she asked, an experienced LAPD officer or the doctor who had just injured two cyclists?

Thompson knew exactly what was going to happen, Stone said. She finished by showing photos of the injuries suffered by Peterson and Stone, ticking off a list of the charges, and asking the jury to find the doctor guilty on all counts.

“No crime occurred”

DJwheels didn’t consider defense attorney Peter Swarth’s closing argument nearly as engaging or effective as Stone’s.

Swarth began by projecting a single word — “Accident” — onto the screen, explaining that this may have been an unfortunate event, but, he insisted, it was not a crime.

“The prosecution says my client is full of rage, but there’s no evidence of that,” he said, adding that only Patrick Early claimed to see an enraged Thompson behind the wheel — and he only saw Thompson through the car’s rear view mirror.

And that event never happened, according to the defense; no charges were ever filed “because no crime occurred.” The other riders never saw the doctor’s face until he exited the car, thanks to the tinted windows on his Lexus.

He also claimed that Early’s identification of Thompson was tainted. According to Swarth, the LAPD detective investigating the case showed Early an old DMV photo of the Good Doctor, part of a photo lineup designed to get the result the police wanted.

Early’s credibility was also strained, Swarth said, since he couldn’t even remember if the incident occurred in December 2007 or January 2008. And while Early testified that he didn’t know any of the other riders who testified in this case, he had worked at the Ground Zero advertising agency in 2001, at the same time Christian Stoehr was there.

“Their actions belie their testimony”

Watson and Crosby weren’t credible, Swarth claimed, noting that they testified they had moved over once they became aware of the car behind them.

“Why would my client tell them to ride single file if they were already riding single file?”

“They say ‘This guy tried to kill me.’ But why would they stand in front of the car of someone who had just tried to kill them?” He added that it just didn’t make sense to ask someone to get out of his car if he had just tried to kill you. They were mad, he said. “Their actions belie their testimony.”

And he insisted that the speeds recorded by Watson’s Garmin proved that he never left the roadway and bunny hopped onto the grass as Watson and Crosby had testified.

According to DJwheels, however, that argument didn’t seem to make any sense.

“How can a horn be angry?

Swarth then moved on to the incident with Watson and Stoehr, asking where the evidence was that proved the intent necessary to support the criminal charges.

He reminded the jury they had testified that Thompson honked his horn in an angry and aggressive manner. “How can a horn be angry? It’s just not true.” He also noted the gruesome photos of their injuries, asking the jury not to convict his client based on those photos alone.

He then attempted to discredit various aspects of the rider’s testimony.

Swarth said that Stoehr had testified that when Thompson slammed on his brakes, he clipped the back wheel of Peterson’s bike, hit the back of the car, flipped over it and landed in the street in front of the vehicle. “That just did not happen,” he said.

According to Swarth, what really happed was that Stoehr looked back after passing the car, saw what had happened to Peterson, then lost his balance and simply fell over.

He said that Thompson told the riders to get their bikes out of the street because emergency vehicles were on their way. And he asked what kind of cycling coach — referring to Peterson — teaches his student to respond in an angry manner, reminding them that Peterson had said “I’m going to fuck you up” immediately following the collision.

If Thompson was so enraged, as the riders claimed, why did he call 911 to get them help? Maybe he just used the wrong words in claiming that the injuries weren’t serious, Swarth suggested. “He was just trying to get the right help to arrive.”

“How can 30 years of trying to help people just disappear in a moment?”

He displayed a photo showing Thompson’s Lexus next to the curb. “Doesn’t it look like he was just trying to park his car?”

Then he turned his attention to the third rider on the road that day, asking why Chris Parker wasn’t injured. The answer, he claimed, was that Parker was simply more careful.

He finished by asking about Officer Rodriguez’s testimony, in which he said the Good Doctor admitted he did it intentionally. Rodriguez never asked the follow-up question, Swarth claimed.

“What do you mean you wanted to teach them a lesson?”

He added that maybe someone else in the crowd had said that, and Rodriguez mistakenly attributed it to Thompson.

It was all a tragic accident, Swarth concluded.

“Sometimes the thing that you seek to avoid becomes the thing you can’t avoid.”

“This is exactly what happens”

Stone then followed up with a powerful rebuttal, holding a baseball bat in front of the jury.

Let’s say you go into a grocery store, she suggested, and someone is blocking the aisle you need. So you threaten them with the bat, and say “Get the fuck out of my way.”

Then the next time you go in, it happens again. But this time, the people blocking your way say “Fuck you.” So you swing your bat at them. You miss, but they get out of the way. Then it happens a third time — and this time, you connect with the bat.

“That’s what happened here,” she said.

She paused to put on the white doctor’s coat she’d worn earlier, suggesting that the Good Doctor had wrapped himself in that afterwards to deflect responsibility.

Then she concluded by picking up Peterson’s shattered bike and holding it in front of the jury. “This”, she said, “is exactly what happens when you slam on the brakes in front of someone.”

According to DJwheels, one of the doctor’s supporters could clearly be heard responding in the gallery.


Jury deliberations resume this morning at 9:30 am. DJwheels says he doesn’t expect a verdict until sometime Tuesday, or late today at the earliest. I’ll post it on here as soon as I’m able to get it online. VeloNews has a well-written summary of closing arguments, and the L.A. Times offers an overview of the trial, saying cyclists have a lot riding on the case.

I’ll post my usual links to articles later this afternoon.

Evil on Trial: Dr. Christopher Thomson denies all in the Mandeville Canyon case

“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.

No, really.

“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.”

Read more about Thompson’s testimony in the L.A. Times and VeloNews.

Click here for a full report on Thursday’s closing arguments; click hereherehere, and here for previous reports on the trial.

The jury began deliberations late Thursday, and will resume on Monday morning; the courthouse was closed on Friday.

Evil on trial: Mandeville driver may testify Wednesday

Attorneys will tell you than no defense lawyer wants to put his client on the stand in a criminal trial.

It’s usually considered the last resort, in hopes that the defendant and his story will appear sympathetic to the jury, despite the inherent risks in exposing the defendant to cross-examination.

And it looks like that’s exactly what will happen Wednesday in the Mandeville Canyon case. On both counts.

Dr. Christopher Thompson and his attorney may take the stand to try and spin the events of July 4, 2008 in his favor. If they do, the prosecutor has shown every indication of being willing to go after him as aggressively as necessary.

According to cyclist/attorney DJwheels, who was in the courtroom again yesterday afternoon, it looks like the trial will go to the jury late Wednesday or Thursday morning. Meanwhile, the testimony presented on Monday appears to be setting up an appearance by the defendant himself.

Since any good lawyer will want to end with a bang, that means Thompson is likely to be the defense’s final witness, unless scheduling issues force Peter Swarth, the Good Doctor’s lawyer, to follow with someone else.

It’s just a guess. But it’s an informed guess, from a lawyer who’s been closely following the Mandeville Canyon case.

So mark your calendar.

It could be the perfect opportunity to kick off your Halloween weekend with something truly horrifying.

“The laws of physics just don’t allow it.”

Unfortunately, DJwheels had to tend to his own legal practice on Monday.

As a result, he missed the first hour of defense testimony, and wasn’t sure about the exact name of the first witness called by Swarth — a highly paid expert witness specializing in accident reconstruction.

He presented two animations offering a 2-dimensional bird’s eye view showing how the accident could have happened. The first was based on statements provided by Chris Roberts, the cyclist Peterson and Stoehr had just passed prior to their encounter with Thompson; Swarth claimed he had the best perspective of the events. The second was based on Dr. Thompson’s version of events, setting up his potential testimony.

However, the witness conceded under cross-examination that the Thompson animation was based on information provided by Swarth, rather than actual police statements or interviews with the doctor.

He testified that Roberts had said Thompson was traveling at about 40 mph — 10 miles over the posted speed limit — when the Good Doctor passed him before encountering the other two riders. (So much for Thompson’s claim that the cyclists were riding “three abreast.”)

By his estimation, that allowed about 2.3 seconds between the time the brakes were applied and the moment of impact with the rear of Thompson’s car. The second animation allowed even more time, 3.4 seconds, due to Thompson’s estimate that he’d been traveling at 45 mph.

In his opinion, either estimate provided enough time for both riders to see the brake lights and respond in time to avoid collision — making the collision their fault, rather than that of the doctor who told police he did it to “teach them a lesson.”

Evidently, he’s never tried to stop a bike going downhill at 30 mph.

Asked why he didn’t prepare a 3rd animation based on Peterson and Stoehr’s statements, he said the way they described the events couldn’t have happened. “The laws of physics just don’t allow it,” he said, adding “it would have been a cartoon.”

Under cross-examination by assistant D.A. Mary Stone, he was asked if he discounted the fact that Thompson had made an “abrupt and aggressive” move in front of the cyclists before slamming on his brakes. According to DJwheels, he tried to evade the question before conceding, “I can’t show aggression in an animation.”

Stone pressed him further, showing him the infamous photo of the back of the Good Doctor’s Lexus, and asking if he agreed that Thompson had “slammed” on the brakes, causing the damage seen in the photo. Again, he tried to evade the question, but eventually conceded the point. “I’m denying that it was the sole cause, not that it was any cause.”

He also admitted that he would receive about $40,000 for his testimony and preparation for trial — with the clear implication that he would not have been paid to testify if his conclusions didn’t support the defense.

“They both slapped the car as they passed”

The next witness was Jody Fitz, who was a passenger in the car when the Good Doctor had the earlier encounter with Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby.

According to Fitz, they were headed down the canyon when they came up behind two cyclists riding side-by-side on Mandeville Canyon. Thompson tried to pass them, but couldn’t due to oncoming traffic.

However, a second attempt was more successful; Fitz said Thompson rolled down the passenger window as they passed, extended his arm and index finger, and yell out “Ride single file!”

The cyclists responded by flipping the bird and yelling something he couldn’t make out. According to Fitz, when Thompson made a “normal, controlled stop,” the cyclists passed on either side, both slapping the car as they passed. He contradicted Watson’s earlier testimony that he bunny hopped the curb, saying neither rider ever left the roadway.

He said both riders dismounted and began to approach the car; he thought there would be a fight until Thompson stepped on the gas and took off.

Under cross, Stone was able to point out a number of contradictions between his testimony and the statement he had give to the police. For instance, he told a police detective that the car hadn’t passed close to the cyclists, claiming the distance was great enough that the riders wouldn’t have been able to touch the car — despite his claim that both slapped the vehicle after it braked to a stop.

He also testified that, following the confrontation, neither he nor Thompson said anything about it until later that evening; however, he told police that Thompson had been muttering angrily afterwards, saying something like “those son of a bitches flipped me off.” And he denied saying that Thompson had stopped at the next stop sign to “see what he could do about them.”

Two witnesses with nothing much to say

The day ended with brief testimony from two other witnesses.

Dr. John Uphold, the Good Doctor’s former partner/employer, was asked about the period between December 2007 and January 2008 when Thompson is suspected to braking in front of Patrick Early, who had been riding up Mandeville Canyon when a car matching Thompson’s slammed on the brakes in front of him.

He testified that the Good Doctor had often been out of town on business or visiting family during that period, implying that it couldn’t have been his car. However, he was forced to admit that he wasn’t in the car on those days when Thompson was in town, so he had no way of knowing what might have happened then.

He was followed by LAPD Detective Phillip Enbody, the senior lead officer in the Brentwood area. He was asked if he was aware of any tension between cyclists and residents in Mandeville Canyon, and if he had advised residents to use cameras to document any problems with cyclists.

“Not exactly,” he said, adding that he made that suggestion in response to complaints about people walking their dogs off leash.

Testimony continues today with the woman to whom Det. Enbody supposedly made that suggestion, along with another expert witness and a second police officer.


Dr. Alex urges cyclists to attend this weekend’s DIY bike plan session with the Bike Working Group, while Enci explains why she hates L.A. bike lanes. The Times reports on an off-road fat tire fest in the hills above L.A. In a refreshing change, a Folsom driver apologizes to the cyclist he didn’t see on his way to work. As usual, WA police hope to keep cyclists safe by targeting riders, rather than the people who hit them. Eugene celebrates its new Gold Bike-Friendly award. The widow of the New Zealand rider killed by a hat-trick drunk driver demands changes in the law to keep drunks off the road. Town Mouse says this is what Scottish cyclists need instead of bike lanes. Finally, Newt Gingrich, the student cyclist’s friend? Really?

Evil on trial: testimony begins in the Mandeville Canyon case

The defense strategy is starting to come in focus.

Based on his cross examination, Peter Swarth, attorney for Dr. Christopher Thompson, intends to paint a picture of a canyon plagued by angry, out of control cyclists. And portray the Good Doctor as their unfortunate, and innocent, victim — three times, no less.

That message is reinforced by the noticeable presence of two large bodyguards in the courtroom, suggesting that Thompson is the one who is in danger from cyclists, rather than the other way around.

As both the Times and VeloNews reported, testimony began with Christian Stoehr, one of the two cyclists seriously injured on the 4th of July last year when the Good Doctor pulled in front of them and slammed on his brakes.

Stoehr described how he hit the back of Thompson’s car when the doctor cut in front of them and slammed on his brakes, rolling over the top of the car and falling into the street. But when he had trouble explaining exactly how that occurred, Swarth suggested that maybe he simply fell over.

You know, ‘cause experienced cyclists do that a lot.

According to cyclist/attorney DJwheels, the other rider, Ron Peterson, went into more detail, describing how they had passed a slower rider shortly before they heard a car approach from behind. When Stoehr called out “Car back!,” Peterson responded by taking single file position in front.

The driver, later identified as a Thompson, yelled out “Ride single file;” Peterson responded with “Fuck you!” He said Thompson then cut over and braked to a stop about five feet in front of them. Because of their downhill speed, a collision was unavoidable; after striking the car, Peterson flew forward into the car’s rear windshield.

“My face did that,” he said, pointing to a large hole in the glass in a photo of the scene. “And that’s my blood.”

Under cross examination, Peterson admitted that after extricating himself from the glass, he told Thompson to “Get the fuck away from me,” adding “I’m going to fuck you up!”

“I said it,” Peterson admitted. “I’m not proud.”

That exchange is important, both because it points to the anger Swarth suggests, as well as supporting the defense claim that Thompson never refused to help the cyclists, as has been reported, but rather, it was the cyclists who refused his aid.

Swarth continued to pressure Peterson, accusing him of anger before the collision, and still being furious and desperate for revenge. Peterson calmly insisted that he was angry at first, “but it’s been awhile.” He continued by saying “I just want justice. That’s why I’m here.”

Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone then called LAPD Traffic Accident Investigator Robert Rodriguez.

Rodriguez testified that shortly after arriving, he took a statement from the Good Doctor, who said the cyclists were riding “three abreast,” blocking the roadway. VeloNews quotes him as saying “They flipped me off. I stopped in front of them. I wanted to teach them a lesson. I’m tired of them.”

Rodriguez, a veteran officer and former Marine, said that meant this needed to be investigated as an assault with a deadly weapon, rather than a traffic accident. He immediately stopped his investigation and called for backup.

While he waited for help to arrive, Rodriguez took measurements of the crime scene — including one showing the roadway was 20 feet wide at that point.

Again, this could prove important, since standard lane width in California is 12 feet; section 21202 of the California Vehicle Code allows cyclists to take the lane if it’s “too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.” A substandard lane width would justify taking a position within the lane, rather than hugging the curb to the right.

Stone played a recording of Thompson speaking with the 911 operator. The court could clearly hear him tell the injured cyclists to get their bikes out of the road; he told the operator they weren’t seriously injured, “But they’ll tell you that.”

Swarth suggested that to an ER doctor such as Thompson, “serious” means something different than it does to a layman — setting up an argument to combat the doctor’s lack of remorse. However, considering that he hadn’t examined either victim, it may be hard to support a medical determination.

The next witness was another Mandeville resident, Dr. Bruce Rogen, who was returning home with his family when they came upon the crime scene. He was the first person to offer medical care to the cyclists, saying it was “primitive” due to the lack of medical equipment. Peterson was still bleeding profusely, so he took off his own shirt to use as a bandage to staunch the bleeding.

It was at about that point when the trial paused because one of the jurors felt faint — attributing it to her squeamishness around blood. Somehow, the descriptions of blood got to her, even though the previous day’s bloody photos hadn’t.

When testimony continued, Swarth pressed Rogen on whether Thompson had offered assistance. After repeated questioning, Rogen recalled Thompson saying the cyclists had refused his help; however, he did not remember Thompson attempting to assist him or offer advice.

Geoffrey Keyes, M.D. took the stand next. President of both the L.A. and California Society of Plastic Surgeons, he described the surgery he performed on Peterson, citing significant internal and external injuries to the nose, which required both nasal and septal reconstruction.

The day’s final witness was Patrick Watson of Team Helens, who recalled a similar experience in March, 2008, with a car and license plate number matching that of the Good Doctor’s.

According to Watson, Thompson ran him off the road, forcing him to bunny hop over a curb onto the lawn of a house. His riding partner, Josh Crosby, was forced onto the opposite side of the road; Crosby responded by yelling at Thompson and striking the side of his car.

Meanwhile, Watson hopped back onto the roadway, finding himself one again in front of Thompson’s car; the car charged towards him — forcing him to bunny hop onto the yard once again — before swerving off and driving away.

Watson said Crosby’s punch may have left a dent in Thompson’s Lexus, which they thought could be used as evidence in a hit-and-run charge. Swarth jumped on that, accusing Watson of threatening to file a false police report, since it was Crosby who struck Thompson’s car, rather than the other way around. However, he was forced to back down when Watson said that the police had told him that.

Then again, Swarth was also forced to back down when Judge Scott Millington sternly reprimanded him for repeatedly interrupting witnesses, as well as the judge himself.

According to VeloNews, there was a third, eerily similar incident in Mandeville Canyon that preceded the other two. In the winter of 2008, Patrick Early narrowly escaped injury when a car resembling Thompson’s buzzed his bike and the driver yelled “Get off the road!” Like the riders in this case, he responded by yelling back “Fuck you!,” only to have the driver cut in front of him and slam on the brakes; fortunately, he was riding uphill, so he was able to stop in time to avoid a collision.

Watson’s testimony continues today, followed by Josh Crosby and additional police witnesses; Friday’s witness list includes medical experts, as well as possible testimony from an expert witness about information downloaded from Watson’s Garmin.

“I hope Crosby is composed,” DJwheels said, “because it’s clear that Swarth is going to go after him.”

Defense testimony may begin on Friday or Monday, though Swarth has expressed concern about the availability of witnesses on the first part of the week. Closing arguments are expected on or about October 28.

I’ve done my best to confirm all the names in this story; however, if I have misspelled or gotten anyone’s name or title wrong, let me know and I will be happy to correct it. For more information, see the Times coverage of opening testimony, and the excellent coverage from VeloNews, here and here, as well as today’s story on Streetsblog L.A.