Driver arraigned in death of cyclist Carol Schreder; a light charge is better than no charge at all. Right?

April 30, 2012

Ghost bike installed on Mulholland Highway for cyclist and Hollywood producer Carol Schreder; photo courtesy of Chris Willig.

Maybe we’ll see justice for Carol Schreder after all.

Or some justice, anyway.

After months of being told the cycling death of Hollywood producer and cyclist Carol Schreder was nothing more than an unfortunate accident, I’ve been informed that a charge of misdemeanor vehicular homicide will be filed.

Correction — has already been filed, in apparent secrecy and without the knowledge of her family and friends.

Last week, I received an email telling me that the driver, Stafford Drake Taylor, was scheduled to be arraigned on Monday. Then over the weekend, I got another email from the same source letting me know that the arraignment actually took place last Thursday, with no one close to the case informed of it — even after it was over.

Then again, I’m told they were never officially invited to the planned Monday arraignment, either.

So much for keeping the victim’s family in the loop.

Then there’s the question of why authorities suddenly decided to file charges. And why they settled for a misdemeanor charge when there were numerous reports that Taylor was speeding and driving recklessly in the moments leading up to the collision.

Sources who have seen the CHP collision report tell me the vehicle that killed Schreder was a jacked-up 1989 Ford Econoline van pulling a brakeless, owner modified trailer; one person describes the rig as looking like something out of a Mad Max movie.

The report indicates that Schreder was riding on the right shoulder of Mulholland Highway west of Kanan Road, wearing a helmet and bright colored clothing.

According to the report, Taylor initially told police at the scene he was following about four car lengths behind a green Toyota at about 20 to 30 miles per hour when he saw the car ahead slow for a cyclist riding about three feet to the left of the solid white line. Taylor reported that he jammed on his brakes and cut to the right in an attempt to avoid the car and Schreder’s bike, causing his rig to jackknife and strike Schreder.

The next day, Taylor came into the CHP station to clarify his statement to police. Now, he said, he was traveling at approximately 45 mph, following the car ahead by four car lengths or less, while the cyclist was now riding six feet to the left of the white line.

When the Toyota slowed, he said he had to react quickly so he jammed on his brakes and cut to the right, somehow thinking he could slide past the truck and cyclist on their right. Instead, he claimed Schreder moved back to the right when the Toyota apparently startled her, placing her directly in his path.

According to Taylor, he had slowed to about 30 mph when the trailer jackknifed and he hit Schreder with the left front of his jacked-up van, come to rest on the right curb on top of her bicycle.

The CHP notes that Taylor’s truck left a number of skid marks as long as 106 feet, which would indicate a high rate of speed, despite being just a few hundred feet from a controlled interesection. And despite previous speculation that the collision could have been caused by the windy conditions that day, the report indicates that wind was not a factor.

The traffic collision report indicates that a number of cyclists were stopped at the scene when the officers arrived, including a physician who performed CPR until the paramedics arrived — confirming a comment on the original story.

Yet the CHP didn’t interview any of the riders at the scene, or even take their names for possible follow-up later. And I’ve heard from people who attempted to contact the CHP to tell them they’d seen the van driving dangerously prior to the collision — including a cyclist who was nearly hit by the same van just moments earlier — only to be turned away without being allowed to talk to anyone.

In fact, according to the collision report, the only witness the police spoke to was the driver of the Toyota, who described seeing Taylor’s van approaching from behind at a high rate of speed before watching it hit Schreder’s bike.

Maybe I’m confused.

I understand that police can’t file a misdemeanor charge unless they either witness it themselves or can deduce from the physical evidence just what happened. But doesn’t it make sense to talk to all the witnesses and gather as much information as possible before deciding what charges to file?

If Taylor was driving as recklessly as the witnesses have claimed, shouldn’t that suggest a felony charge, with a possible sentence of two to 10 years in state prison, rather than the relative slap on the wrist of up to one year in county jail for the misdemeanor count?

And why all the apparent secrecy and attempts to keep Schreder’s family and close friends out of the loop? Especially when the families of other victims have complemented the DA’s office for going out of their way to keep them informed and a part of the process.

It makes me wonder if there’s already a plea deal in the works and they don’t want objections from the family to get in the way.

Trust me, I’m pleasantly surprised that charges are finally in the works. Although stunned might be a better word.

But mad as hell that it looks like yet another driver may get off with a minimal sentence, while his innocent victim gets the death penalty.

Yes, a slap on the wrist is better than nothing at all.

But cyclists are going to keep on dying if authorities don’t start taking dangerous killer drivers seriously.

Breaking news — Stephanie Segal sentenced to 9 years for DUI death of cyclist James Laing

March 14, 2012

I’ve just received word that Stephanie Segal was sentenced today to nine years in state prison for the drunken hit-and-run death of popular cyclist James Laing.

Laing was riding in a designated bike lane on Agoura Hills Road on October 23rd, 2010, when a car driven by Segal drifted into his lane and hit him from behind before speeding off. Witnesses followed her car to a nearby parking lot where she was arrested with a blood alcohol level of .26 — over three times the legal limit.

According to an attorney who was in the Malibu courtroom, Segal was sentenced to four years for vehicular manslaughter, with a five year enhancement for leaving the scene.

From what I’ve been told, Segal never accepted responsibility for her actions; that, along with the heinous nature of her crime, may have contributed to the unusually stiff sentence.

Finally, a judge has treated the death of a cyclist with the seriousness it deserves. Judge Mira deserves our thanks for sending a strong message that fleeing the scene after killing another human being — especially when drunk — cannot and will not be tolerated by a civil society.

Now if only a few other judges would get the message.

If she serves her full term, Segal will be 53 years old when she gets out of prison.

Maybe by then she’ll finally grasp the needless heartache and loss she caused Laing’s widow, his brothers and sisters, and all those who knew him.

She is scheduled to begin her sentence on April 16th.

Update: The Ventura County Star offers a few more details, including word that Laing’s widow received a substantial settlement prior to the sentencing, according to her attorney, Oxnard-based Mark Hiepler.

“It is our hope that today’s nine-year sentence, as well as the civil accountability, will send a message to the community about the real life consequences of drunk driving,” he said. “The death of James Laing continues to produce an ongoing ripple effect in the lives of his wife, their families, the cycling community, and in the lives of each of his students who admired him.

“It also is our hope that this criminal sentence will force people to be more respectful of the rights of law-abiding bicyclists and cyclists,” Hiepler said.

Stephanie Segal pleads No Contest in last year’s Agoura Hills death of cyclist James Laing

December 22, 2011

Jim Laing, photo courtesy of his sister Peggy Laing-Krause

It looks like the Laing family may get closure for Christmas.

I heard from a reliable source Wednesday afternoon that Stephanie Segal has entered a plea of No Contest to both counts in the drunken hit-and-run death of cyclist James Laing in Agoura Hills last year.

That means she is not admitting guilt in the case, but won’t fight the charges, and will accept the court’s judgment in the case.

The judge has already indicated that he intends to impose a sentence of at least nine years in state prison, with formal sentencing to take place in late January of next year.

Laing was riding on in the bike lane on Agoura Hills Road on the afternoon of Saturday, October 23rd of last year, when he was run down from behind by Segal’s car and died at the scene. She fled the scene, and was followed by witnesses to a nearby parking lot, where she was arrested with a blood alcohol content of .26 — over three times the legal limit.

She almost immediately entered a rehab facility, where she spent much of the past year, whether in a genuine attempt to get help, or a callous — and failed — attempt to get leniency from the court.

By all accounts, Segal has refused to take any responsibility for getting drunk and climbing behind the wheel, let alone needlessly taking the life of an innocent human being.

I’m told that her testimony — against the advice of both the court and her own attorney — in the preliminary hearing was contradictory and confusing, backpedalling repeatedly as she attempted to shift the blame and explain away her actions.

Her attorney seemed to be making the case that she hadn’t attempted to flee, but merely continued driving until reaching a safe place to stop.


Laing’s sister Carolyn also reports that she tried to blame Laing for kicking her Mercedes Benz, which appears to have been a last-ditch effort to push away from her car in a failed attempt to save his own life.

In other words, he saw it coming. And there was nothing he could do.

Somehow, kicking a car in self defense seems to pale when compared to the drunken murder of another person. But Segal still doesn’t seem to get that.

By all accounts, she came off as arrogant and argumentative during her ill-advised testimony; I suspect her attorney strongly advised her to plead guilty to the charges to avoid digging herself in any deeper.

As one person put it to me, failure to do so after her dramatic failure on the stand probably would have been legal malpractice.

Of course, she’s not likely to spend the full term behind bars. The current prison overcrowding problems mean she’s likely to be released long before the nine years are up. And as a non-violent offender, she may even do her time in county jail.

But I wouldn’t count on getting time off for good behavior, either.

We can only hope that she’ll finally grasp the consequences of her actions as she sits in her cell, for however long that may end up being.

But at least the loved ones Jim Laing left behind can finally end this year with the light of a very long and tragic tunnel firmly in sight.

Update: An anonymous comment below indicates that Segal will be required to spend at least 85% of her sentence behind bars due to the nature and severity of her crime, and that the sentencing will take place on January 26th in the Malibu courthouse.

No wonder we continue to die on California streets, when CHP says killing a cyclist is just an accident

December 6, 2011

This morning I received the following email from Chris Willig regarding the tragic death of Hollywood writer/producer Carol Schreder while riding on Mulholland Hwy last Saturday.

A public spokesperson for the CHP West Valley station stated in a phone call Monday that no citation has been issued nor is there likely to be one in the December 3rd death of cyclist Carol Schreder in a tragic traffic incident on Mulholland Highway in Malibu.

He indicated that it was a “unfortunate accident” caused when a possibly inexperienced driver of a van towing a trailer applied the brakes too hard. This caused the trailer to force the van to the right in a jack-knife. The rear end of the van caught Carol who was riding on the right of the fog line severely injuring her. She later died in hospital. Because there was no “criminal intent”, charges against the van’s driver are not being considered.

Wait a minute.

Since when has “criminal intent” been a required element for a traffic infraction?

Under that standard, no one would ever be held accountable for any traffic violation in California. No tickets for running red lights. No violations for driving drunk, since it would be impossible to ever prove intent.

Not even a ticket for distracted driving, since drivers could claim they just broke the law without thinking, and didn’t really mean to do it.

You know, just one of those things.

Like killing a cyclist.

And that, in a nutshell, is why you can count the number of knowledgeable cyclists who still have faith in the CHP on one hand, and have enough fingers left over for a well-deserved gesture.

After all, this is the same organization that said cyclists are responsible for the overwhelming majority of bike-involved collisions — based strictly on their own auto-centric investigations, as well as their pronounced lack of training in the rights and responsibilities of of cyclists and the physics of bicycling collisions.

Let alone that this is the same organization that advised Governor Brown to veto the state’s three-foot passing law.

And despite the fact that it only takes a quick scan of the California Vehicle Code to find a number of violations for which the driver could, and perhaps should, have been cited.

Like the California Basic Speed Law, for instance.

CVC 22350.  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.

Even if strong crosswinds contributed to this collision, as some have suggested, the driver would have been in violation of the requirement mandating due regard for weather. And at least one other cyclist reports that the van was seen traveling at an excessive rate of speed just prior to the collision.

Then there’s the requirement to follow at a safe distance; the fact that the driver had to brake sharply to avoid the vehicle ahead offers prima facie evidence that the driver was in violation — let alone that there was a stop sign just 260 feet ahead of the point of impact.

CVC 21703.  The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the roadway.

And most damning of all is the requirement for drivers towing a trailer to maintain control of both vehicles.

CVC 41104.  In any case, involving an accident or otherwise, where any rear component of a train of vehicles fails to follow substantially in the path of the towing vehicle while moving upon a highway, the vehicle shall be presumed to have been operated in violation of Section 21711.

CVC 21711.  No person shall operate a train of vehicles when any vehicle being towed whips or swerves from side to side or fails to follow substantially in the path of the towing vehicle.

According to the standard set forth in CVC 41104, the simple fact that the collision occurred in the way it did is demonstrates a clear violation that the driver should have been held accountable for, regardless of a possible lack of experience.

And proof that the driver should have been found at fault for the collision, and the death that resulted.

By failing to hold a killer driver responsible for his actions, the CHP has not only failed Carol Schreder, her family and loved ones, but the entire cycling community.

Because we will continue to die on California roadways as long as authorities allow drivers to break the law with impunity.

And just drive away, regardless of the consequences.

If you’re not pissed off yet, maybe you should go back and read this again.

Anyone with information on this case is urged to contact the CHP West Valley Station 5825 De Soto Ave, Woodland Hills 91367-5297; 818-888-0980; maybe if they hear from enough witnesses they’ll reverse this outrageous decision.

Breaking news — cyclist killed on Mulholland Hwy

December 4, 2011

Photo of crash scene by Chris Willig

I received word late Sunday afternoon that a cyclist was killed in the hills above Malibu on Saturday morning.

According to an email from Chris Willig, she was riding east on Mulholland Highway at Kanan Road around 9:30 am Saturday when she was hit from behind by a white van.

The victim was reportedly riding on the shoulder of the road, to the right of the fog line, when the van ran off the road. The bicycle was crushed underneath the van; unconfirmed reports indicate the driver may have been speeding and tailgating another vehicle.

Reading between the lines, it’s possible that the driver may have been trying to get around the slower car on the right when he or she hit the rider; however, that’s pure speculation on my part.

CHP reports confirm the collision, and indicate that the rider was transported to UCLA Medical Center at 2 pm in extremely critical condition.

The Flickr account identifies the victim as Carol Schreder, a regular Saturday rider, and reports that she passed away in the ICU around 10:45 pm.

As Willig put it, this is madding in its senselessness. Schreder appears to have been doing everything right, but died anyway due to a driver’s carelessness and/or impatience.

My prayers for Carol, and all her family and loved ones.

This is the 65th confirmed traffic-related bike fatality in Southern California this year, and the 21st in Los Angeles County.

While the SoCal total is well above the 55 cycling fatalities for each of the last two years on record, it is far below the horrific total of 89 bicycling deaths recorded in 2006. The Los Angeles figure is one below the total of 22 in 2009, the last year on record, as well as below the five-year average of 24.2 fatalities in L.A. County each year.

And please note that the totals for this year are only the fatalities that I am aware of and have been able to confirm in some way. It’s entirely possible there may have been others that I don’t know about.

Photo by Chris Willig

Update: IMDB lists Carol Schreder as a writer and producer on a number of titles, including Mama Flora’s Family, In Love and War, Call to Glory, the Burning Bed and Calendar Girl Murders; there’s also a Carol Schreder listed as owner of the Carol Schreder Company in Topanga, and as a finisher in a number of marathons and triathlons, as well as the Mulholland Challenge century.

Then there’s this piece written five years ago, almost to the day, extolling the virtues — and risks — of riding Topanga Canyon, not far from where this collision occurred.

Update 2: I just received the following comment from Heidi Christensen, who came along the scene shortly after the collision:

My husband and I rode up on the scene about 10 minutes after it happened. Carol was hit by a van pulling a trailer; the driver stopped. From what we heard, the driver said the car in front of him hit the brakes suddenly, then he hit his brakes, jack-knifed, and lost control. It’s hard to figure out, though, because it happened maybe 50 yards from the Mulholland/Kanan intersection (between the Calamigos Ranch driveway and Kanan)….the cars should have already been braking and not carrying much speed. Very tragic and just horribly sad. Judy, our thoughts and prayers are with you, Carol’s family, and all those dear to her.

Oh, and by the way, the EMTs identified her by her Road ID.

Breaking News — Charges filed against Stephanie Segal in the death of cyclist James Laing

February 1, 2011

Somehow, this one slipped past us.

Along with a number of other cyclists, I’ve been carefully following the case of Stephanie Segal, the driver accused of killing James Laing in a drunken Agoura Hills hit-and-run last October. And wondering why it was taking the DA so long to file charges in a case that seemed so open and shut.

Wonder no more.

The question isn’t when charges will be filed, but why no announcement was made.

After doing a little digging — okay, a lot of digging — cyclist and attorney Dj Wheels discovered that charges were filed on December 27, and Segal was formally arraigned last Thursday. She pleaded not guilty to one count of felony gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, PC 191.5(a); and one count of felony hit-and-run with injury, CVC 20001(a), and is scheduled to appear for a Preliminary Hearing Setting on March 3rd.

More interesting, perhaps, is that the case is being heard at the same Malibu Courthouse where Robert Sam Sanchez was convicted in the hit-and-run death of Rod Armas — and by the same judge that sentenced Sanchez to 4 years after he pleaded no contest to hit-and-run with injury and vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

Although I doubt there are very many people in cycling community who would be satisfied with four years in this case.

Wheels also notes that the judge has ordered Segal not to consume alcohol or controlled substances without a valid prescription, and that she has entered a residential drug and alcohol treatment facility, and was ordered not to leave without the permission of the court or program director.

In other words, she seems to be playing the same Get Out of Jail Free card favored by countless celebrities, entering rehab in hopes of leniency from the court.

The problem is, she may — or may not — sober up. But James Laing will still be dead simply because she chose to get drunk and get behind the wheel — then fled the scene, leaving a husband, son and brother to die in the street.

So let’s hope the judge is too smart to fall for that one.

But let’s make sure they know we’re watching, just in case.


In other news, the LA Bicycle Advisory Committee offers up a very full agenda for their meeting Tuesday night at the Community Room of the Hollywood Neighborhood City Hall, 6501 Fountain Avenue. The meeting is open to the public and cyclists are encouraged to attend.


The sister of fallen cyclist James Laing pauses to say thank you

December 1, 2010

Jim Laing, photo courtesy of his sister Peggy Laing-Krause

Chances are, you didn’t notice it.

It was just a comment that appeared on here Monday, on a story I wrote a couple weeks ago. But who wrote it, and what she had to say, speaks volumes.

It seems like such small and insignificant gestures to install a ghost bike or hold a ride in memory of a fallen cyclist. Not nearly enough to ease our overwhelming sadness and anger, or bring comfort to the families of the victims.

Let alone result in real change on our roads to keep it from happening again.

Then I read this comment from Peggy Laing-Krause, the sister of James Laing — the cyclist killed by an alleged drunk driver in Agoura Hills last month:

What a beautiful tribute to my brother to ride in his honor and visit the accident site.  I have come down from Sacramento 3 times since Jim’s death and each time I visit the site, it has grown larger than the last. So touching to me, and to my family who live in So. Cal., to see the compassion from all the riders.  Being an avid cyclist myself, I know of the close unity that exists in the bicycling community… no matter where you live.  Thank you for your tremendous support and thoughtful coverage of Jim’s accident.  You ARE making a difference.

I must have read that a dozen times over the past couple days. And it’s brought a tear to my eye every time.

And yes, it makes me feel even more guilty that I wasn’t able to be there for the memorial ride.

So to the San Fernando Valley Bicycle Club, who sponsored the ride in memory of James Laing, and the Bicycle Johns Agoura Hills, who went out of their way to accommodate the riders and make it happen — thank you.

And to everyone who has taken the time to remember James, Danny Marin, Michael Nine or any of the far too many other riders who’ve fallen on SoCal streets in recent months, in whatever way, take just a moment to take Peggy’s comment in.

You are making a difference.

For the families of the victims. And for all of us.


After his eponymous bike team imploded in a disastrous year with the death of team member Jorge Alvarado and the very public confession of Floyd Landis, who was hired to join the team this year, Compton’s own national criterium champion Rahsaan Bahati rebounds by joining the SoCal-based SKLZ-Pista Palace team.

Meanwhile, Fabian Cancellara joins the Schleck brothers in the new Luxembourg-based team. And UCI president Pat McQuaid calls Landis a liar; after Floyd denied doping for so long before finally coming clean — and pointing a finger at virtually the entire peloton — doesn’t that go without saying?


LACBC helps put more bike racks in Pico Union, and offers advice on how to find the right frame size. Metro’s bike program is now under new management. The 4th Street Bike Boulevard comes another step closer to reality as LADOT doubles the sharrows on the street and adjusts signal detectors to recognize bikes. CicLAvia invites you to help bring the event to South L.A. Gary reminds everyone about the open house for the Santa Monica bike action plan, and as he reported last week, riding on the sidewalk in Santa Monica will now be an infraction rather than a misdemeanor. A call for better buses and bikes in L.A. instead of expensive trains. GT takes a shine to his trainer. UCLA will screen The Triplets of Bellevue on Friday. Long Beach’s Hub co-op invites you to recycle your bicycle. Claremont Cyclist looks at the Gene Galindo Memorial Turkey Trot Cross; so does the Glendale News-Press.

San Jose is just the latest California city to drop bike licensing. Is there really a conflict between lycra and tweed? Cyclelicious offers his own bike routing map, so see if it works better for you than Google’s bike directions — it did for me. A Redding cyclist dies after a Monday hit-and-run (3rd item), and police identify the victim by his keys; another reminder to always, always carry ID when you ride.

People for Bikes reaches 150,000. NPR looks at the bike commuting phenomenon. Unlike our counterparts overseas, Americans aren’t stealing and trashing bike share bikes. Turning campaign signs into bike fenders, among other things. A 72-year old Missoula woman rides 3,000 miles this year alone. Madison WI police arrest the city’s notorious Bike Path Flasher. A 71-year old cyclist is found dead from a bullet wound in a deer hunting area near Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette looks at ghost bikes. An Op Ed in the NY Daily News examines why New York needs to make room for cyclists, while the city passes a law forcing the NYDOT to explain why streets are chosen for “rampant” bike lanes and pedestrian plazas. A cyclist breaks her collar bone, and questions why cycling accidents are different from other injuries; thanks to Stanley for the heads-up. Residents fight a bike bridge because it could bring outsiders and crime from the other side of the river. A Louisiana sheriff continues a two-decade tradition of giving donated bikes to area children.

An Ontario hockey team honors their teammate killed while riding his bike. A Toronto cyclist says drivers must love bike lanes, since they use them so often to pick up their cleaning or make a call. In a case of the rich getting richer, the Dutch government commits to spending €80 million on new bike routes. How to avoid buying a stolen bike. offers a gift list for discerning cyclists. The London Assembly questions the safety and value of the city’s new cycle superhighways. Danny MacAskill rides the streets of London as only he can. Someone is causing flats by spreading metal screws on the streets of a UK town. A New Zealand teen accepts the blame after a riding collision leaves him “broken.” Presenting the hubless, belt-drive bike of the future. Now that’s what I call a bike calendar.

Finally, Commute by Bike examines four myths about helmets and safety, and discovers that the subject is more controversial than they thought. And bike lawyer Bob Mionske nails it when he says people who ask if a cyclist was wearing a helmet in a collision might as well ask if he was wearing a magic talisman.

Happy Chanukah!


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