The bike court beat goes on

March 9, 2010

Christian Stoehr and Ron Peterson speak outside the courthouse following the Thompson conviction last November; at left is Josh Crosby, Patrick Watson is partially visible in back. Photo courtesy of Jared Shier.

Cyclist/Attorney DJ Wheels wrote the other day to provide updates on pending court cases involving cyclists.

First up is the case of an Orange County woman charged with striking and killing a 49-year old Irvine cyclist in an early morning collision on December 9th, then driving off, leaving a 300 yard pattern of debris — yet amazingly, was forgiven by the victim’s family.

Patricia A. Izquieta (Case #09HF2198) – Victim – Don Murphy

A hearing was held February 18 for arraignment, but no plea was entered yet and arraignment was continued to March 19 at the Santa Ana Courthouse.

She is charged with:

1) one felony count of hit and run with permanent and serious injury – CVC 20001(a)(b)(2)

2) a special allegation of inflicting great bodily harm, which is attached to the hit and run – Penal Code 12022.7(a)

3) one misdemeanor count of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence – Penal Code 192(c)(2)

4) one misdemeanor count of driving without a valid driver’s license – CVC 12500(a)

Next is the underage driver with a long list of priors who was charged with killing a Santa Clarita man and injuring three others in a drunken hit-and-run; tests showed that in addition to a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit, he was also high on methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana at the time of the 11 am collision.

Marco Antonio Valencia (Case # PA065011) – Victim – Joeseph Novotny & 3 other injured cyclists

There was a pretrial conference and re-arraignment on January 22. Four separate counts for DUI — two counts of 23153(A) and two counts of 23153(B) — were dropped. I think the charges were initially filed separately for all the various substances that came up in the toxicology report. However, there are still two remaining DUI counts. He plead not guilty to all the charges in the amended complaint. Another pretrial conference is set for March 23 at the San Fernando Courthouse.

1) one felony count of murder with malice aforethought (2nd degree) – PC 187(a)

2) one felony count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence – PC 191.5(a)

3) one felony count of driving under the influence causing bodily injury – CVC 23153(a)

4) one felony count of driving with a BAC over .08 causing bodily injury – CVC 23153(b)

5) four felony counts of hit and run causing serious or permanent injury – CVC 20001(a)

6) one felony count of driving with a suspended or revoked license due to a prior DUI – 14601.2

Then there’s the case of the Malibu driver who fled the scene after running down two riders nearing the end of the L.A. Wheelmen’s 200 mile Grand Tour; killing a father and critically injuring his son. The tragedy was compounded by reports that the driver wasn’t a bad guy, but made a fatal error by driving after drinking, and destroyed two families in the process.

Robert Sam Sanchez (Case # SA071910) – Victim – Rod Armas & Chris Armas injured

A preliminary setting was heard on February 11.  The court ordered a pre plea report pursuant to PC 1203.7.  Sanchez counsel consented to an pre plea interview, but the defendant may not be interviewed about the facts of the case.  The defendant was also ordered to the probation department and also ordered to appear at the next court date, which will be March 11 for another preliminary setting hearing at the Malibu Courthouse.

Charges are still the same as previously reported:

1) one felony count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence – PC 191.5(a)

2) one felony count of driving under the influence causing bodily injury – CVC 23153(a)

3) one felony count of hit and run causing serious or permanent injury – CVC 20001(a)

In another case, the 18-year old driver who hit a cyclist in West Hollywood last December, causing “massive” injuries — including breaks to both hands and extensive facial injuries — fled the scene, but was arrested less than a half mile later; despite her age, she had a small amount of alcohol in her system at the time of her arrest.

Celine Mahdavi (Case #SA073459) – Victim – not named

This is the West Hollywood case, involving a young woman in a luxury SUV who made a left hook, seriously injuring a young male cyclist. Charges were filed in early February by the L.A. D.A.’s office:

1) one felony count of hit and run causing serious or permanent injury – CVC 20001(a)

2) one infraction count of a minor driving with a BAC over .01 – CVC 23136(a)

Mahdavi entered a not guilty plea to both counts on Feb. 25. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for March 22 at the Beverly Hills Courthouse.

In a case that largely went under the radar, an Orange County driver was convicted on the same day the Christopher Thompson verdict was announced in the Mandeville Canyon case. He was accused of killing a 14-year old Huntington Beach boy riding to school in the bike lane on the opposite side of the street, while texting and under the influence of prescription drugs.

Jeffrey Francis Woods (Case #08ZF0040) – victim – Danny Oates

Woods was found guilty by a jury after a 16 day trial.  He was sentenced to 6 years state prison, 3 years license revocation and ordered to pay restitution for:

1) one felony count of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated – PC 191.5(a)

However, according to the OC Superior Court website, the status of this case is listed as “APPEAL.”  Woods is still in custody.

He also includes an update on one strange, non-bike-related case involving a 71-year old former state legislator who ran over a USC parking attendant after being denied entry last December because he didn’t have the proper parking permit.

Walter Karabian (Case #0EA00275)

Apparently Karabian was trying to enter a lot for which he didn’t have the appropriate parking permit, and ended up hitting the parking attendant with his car, causing some minor injuries. Sheriff responded and arrested him; he was later released on $30,000 bail.

The D.A. rejected it for felony charges and gave it to the City Attorney, but they recused themselves due to a conflict of interest, and handed it back to the D.A. for misdemeanor consideration. Turns out Karabian has a son who is currently a deputy C.A. at the Metro Traffic Court on Hill St.

A single misdemeanor count for assault with a deadly weapon – PC 245(A)(1) was filed in early January at the East Los Angeles Courthouse by the D.A’s office. A motion was filed last month to have the case removed from the initial judge, Elaine Lu, because she might be prejudiced in this case, and the case is now before Judge Henry Barela in Dept. 7. On Feb. 18, Karabian’s defense attorney entered his plea of not guilty on his behalf; this is allowed in most misdemeanor cases. There is a pretrial hearing set for March 24, 2010.

The elder Karabian is a former deputy district attorney, former State Assemblyman and current named partner of a law firm in Monterey Park.

He concludes with the current status of two recently convicted prisoners — the driver accused of the intoxicated hit-and-run death of a Mexican immigrant in Echo Park last April, and the emergency room physician sentenced to 5 years in prison for intentionally injuring two cyclists in Mandeville Canyon on July 4th, 2008.

Alejandro Hidalgo (Case #BA35559301) – Victim – Jesus Castillo

According to the Sheriff’s Inmate locator page, Hidalgo was transferred to Wasco State Prison on January 26, 2010 after pleading guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence – PC 191.5(b).  The two year state prison sentence he received in his plea bargain is the middle-term sentence available for this charge.

Christopher T. Thompson (Case #SA06829701) – Victim – Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr

According to the Sheriff’s Inmate locator page, Thompson was also transferred to Wasco State Prison on January 28, 2010.

Thanks to DJ Wheels for his amazing efforts to keep us up to date on all these cases — it’s a lot of work, and very much appreciated.

On a personal note, some people have questioned why I focus on negative aspects of cycling like the cases noted above. The answer is simple. I feel there’s a need to shine a spotlight on crimes like these in order to do whatever we can to ensure that they don’t happen again. And I feel we have an obligation to the victims to make sure that justice is done and that they are not forgotten.

……….

Streetsblog plans a fundraiser next month honoring winners of this year’s Streetsie awards. A Sacramento cyclist is killed when he “somehow” gets caught beneath a bus; yeah, like that sort of thing just happens. Three thousand riders take part in a soggy Colnago Gran Fondo in San Diego. A great manifesto on feminist cycling. Trek thinks you might confuse their bikes with their with an unrelated winery. Denver prepares to kick off what they call the nation’s first city-wide bike share program, and uses stimulus funds to close gaps in their bikeway system — and they place sharrows on medium to high volume streets, rather than quiet streets where they aren’t needed. Can private businesses cut the locks of bikes parked in the public right-of-way? 1936 sounds a lot like 2010, at least as far as bikes are concerned. Eight months of riding culminates with a final leg from Guadalajara to Playa Real; the photos alone are worth a look. Cyclelicious covers the prologue of this year’s Paris – Nice race, Boom gets off to a good start while Team Sky’s Henderson takes the first stage. The Scheck brothers may leave Saxo Bank to form their own team — and take Cancellara with them. After being denied a chance to take it, a 10-year old girl with cerebral Palsy passes Britain’s Bikeability test. The first of new bike superhighways sponsored by London’s mayor don’t exactly get glowing reviews. Did Germany send the Hitler Youth as to pre-war Britain as “spyclists?” Evidently, British cycling engineers don’t ride bike routes before they select them, either. Looking at the Japanese love affair with electric bikes. A new Dutch system paces cyclists at the correct speed to avoid red lights.

Finally, L.A’s Downtown News reports on the efforts of bike messengers to fight back again bike thieves, including the infamous — and now confirmed — report of stripping two teenaged alleged rim thieves to their underwear and donating their clothes to a homeless shelter.


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

November 2, 2009

“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.

Guilty.

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.

“Bullshit.”

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

October 30, 2009

“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?”

“Yes.”

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: UPDATE — Mandeville Canyon case goes to jury, adjourns until Monday

October 30, 2009

Testimony in the Mandeville Canyon case concluded on Wednesday, with the Good Doctor, Christopher Thompson taking the stand for the full day. Closing arguments were held on Thursday, including a powerful presentation from Asst. D.A. Mary Stone in which she employed a baseball bat, doctor’s lab coat and Ron Peterson’s shattered bike — can’t wait to get details on that one.

The case went to the jury about an hour before court adjourned on Thursday; the courthouse is closed today, so deliberations will resume on Monday.

DJwheels was in the courtroom for both days and has promised to provide a full update today; check back later today for more details.

He also reports that there’s a phone chain in place, so I’ll post the verdict as soon as it comes in. Then again, the weather is supposed to be great on Monday and Tuesday, so if the verdict comes in when I’m out riding, it will go up as soon as I get back.

I know, I know. Damn cyclists.

One other note: There’s a lot of anger over this case in the cycling community, and the verdict could go either way. So please, no matter how this case comes out, keep cool — and try to channel that anger productively, where it will do some good.

We have a bad enough reputation as it is.

You can read about Thompson’s testimony in the L.A. Times and VeloNews.


Evil on trial: UPDATE — Christopher Thompson takes the stand

October 27, 2009

According to cyclist/attorney DJwheels, Dr. Christopher Thompson took the stand for the final 10 minutes of testimony this afternoon.

The defendant in the Mandeville Canyon case is accused of intentionally slamming on the his brakes in front of two cyclists on July 4, 2008, resulting in significant injuries to both riders, as well as another incident in which the riders escaped injury. So far, the only questions have been about his medical background; the judge has urged the defense attorney to keep questions relevant to the case.

Thompson will resume testimony at 10:30 am tomorrow; it’s expected to take approximately 2 hours, with cross examination projected to last an additional 2 hours. Court will recess at noon, and resume from 2 pm to 4:30 pm. Closing arguments will most likely begin Thursday morning; the case should go to the jury by Thursday afternoon.

The trial is open to the public, at Department C of the Airport Courthouse, 11701 South La Cienega Blvd just below Imperial Highway; click here for map.

Scroll down or click here for an earlier an earlier update, with more details from yesterday’s testimony.

Final arguments have concluded and the trial has gone to the jury; court is closed today, with deliberations scheduled to resume on Monday. You can read about Thompson’s testimony in the L.A. Times and VeloNews. I should have a detailed warp-up by Friday evening.

More coverage of the previous two days’ testimony on VeloNews.


Evil on trial: Mandeville driver may testify Wednesday

October 27, 2009

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: will CVC 21202 be the key to the trial?

October 26, 2009

It’s probably the most misunderstood traffic law on the books.

Ask just about any driver, and they’ll tell you that bicyclists are required to ride as closely as possible to the right side of the road. Even motorists who ride bikes are often convinced that we have to hew to the curb — if not the sidewalk.

They’ll also tell you that cyclists are required to ride single file.

It’s not true.

Section 21202 of the California Vehicle Code only requires cyclists to ride as closely to the curb as practicable — and then only when riding at less than the normal speed of traffic.

These days, many cyclists understand the first part, even if motorists don’t. They know the law doesn’t require them to ride through potholes and broken glass on the far right. Or confine themselves to the door zone, where they’re at risk from every inattentive driver who flings open a door or pulls out of a parking space without looking.

They know they’re allowed to ride far enough from the curb as necessary in order to ride in a safe and prudent manner — with the knowledge that the exact distance can vary from one road to another, at various times and under different road and traffic conditions.

But even cyclists are often unaware of the second part of that sentence.

The simple fact is, if you can keep up with traffic, you are legally allowed to ride anywhere you want on the road, as long as you follow the lane markings and ride with the flow of traffic.

If congestion causes traffic to slow down to 15 mph, you have every right to move over and take the full lane, until speeds increase to where you can no longer keep up.

Or when the speed limit holds traffic down to 20 or 25 mph, you’re free to take the full right lane — or the left, for that matter — if you have the skill to keep up. And nothing requires that you ride on the shoulder if you’re bombing down a mountain pass at highway speeds.

As long as you can keep up, you have the legal right to ride wherever you feel most comfortable.

It’s not just the law in California, either; section 11-1205 of the Uniform Vehicle Code says almost exactly the same thing. And to the best of my knowledge, it’s the law in every state of the U.S.

There is also no restriction about riding side-by-side in this state.

Section 11-1206 of the UVC says that cyclists may not ride more than two abreast, as long as they stay within a single lane and don’t impede the “normal and reasonable movement of traffic.” And I challenge you to find a single line in the California Vehicle Code which prohibits it.

And that brings us to this recent exchange of comments in last week’s discussion of the Mandeville Canyon case.

Dave Lewis noted that when riding down Mandeville, he often found himself riding at or above the posted 30 mph speed limit, without pedaling — which meant that he could take the full lane without violating CVC21202. And asked if anyone had raised that issue in court.

According to DJwheels, the cycling community’s eyes and ears in the courtroom, the speed of various cyclists on the road has been brought up several times during the trial.

The latest article from VeloNews says that data from their GPS units shows Watson was riding at 29.2 mph just prior to the incident, and Stoehr was traveling at 28.1 mph. Which means they were entitled to full use of the lane, and the Good Doctor would have had to have been traveling at significantly over the speed limit for the incident to have occurred the way both sides have described it.

The same article also notes that testimony from Patrick Early, who had an earlier, similar encounter with Dr. Thompson, estimated that the car approached him from behind at 40 – 50 mph.

Nothing in California law gives speeding vehicles priority over cyclists, or anyone else, using the road in a safe and legal manner. And as previously noted, riding two abreast is not prohibited by any statute in this state.

Which means that the cyclists were well within their rights, and this incident could not have occurred if Thompson hadn’t already — and evidently, repeatedly — broken the law.

As an attorney as well as a cyclist, DJwheels said he hopes the prosecution will ask for a simplified version of CVC 21202 to be included in the jury instructions so they can consider it during deliberations.

Meanwhile, a comment from another attorney, Jim Gallo, says it looks like the D.A. is doing all the right things in this case.

We’ll soon find out.

The prosecution rested its case on Friday; the defense begins today.

Read VeloNews coverage of the trial here, here and here. L.A. Times coverage here and here. DJwheels comments on the trial in L.A. Streetsblog coverage here.

………

Debate over the proposed new L.A. bike plan goes on; Enci Box explains why non-cyclists should care, and Joe Linton covers the first meeting on the bike plan. Twenty-eight percent of L.A. commuters rely on something other than driving alone. Slower traffic should stay to the right, even on a bike path. The Interior Department says no to a Yosemite start in next year’s Tour of California. A D.C. writer takes U.S.A. Today to task for a badly misguided rant about two-wheeled trouble makers — including a misapplication of the Mandeville case. More riders are commuting to work; even New York magazine editors and people in Colorado ski areas. A Baltimore councilwoman suggests moving the bike lane out of the door zone. A Massachusetts writer observes that 79% of local cyclists obey the law. Finally, evidently California as a problem with elderly scofflaw cyclists, as an 82-year old Lompoc man was seriously injured, and an 80-year old Placentia man was killed — both after supposedly running red lights. I’d certainly like to know if there were any witnesses other than the drivers who hit them.


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