LA doctor gets 5 yrs prison for road rage
“A former emergency room doctor who deliberately braked so that two bicyclists rammed into his car in a road rage assault was sentenced Friday to five years in state prison.”
Now, that’s what I’m talking about, actual penalties for drivers who through negligence OR malevolence cause harm to cyclists.
read the article here – http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/01/08/national/a074548S54.DTL
I saw this story on the LA Times website. Here’s the comment I posted there. I’ll see how much trouble I get into by posting it here.
“Let me start by saying that I’ve biked for 30 years – local riding, urban riding and long distance touring.
He should have gotten some time. Five years — I don’t know. That
seems a little too much. 1-3 would have done it; he loses his license to
practice anyway, which is the real punishment. It was the prior incident
that did him in.
That said, I will lay some fault on the cyclists. It’s a busy, narrow road.
They shouldn’t have been riding two abreast on that kind of road — common
sense. Granted they pulled into a single file when he came up. But they
really shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place in those
Cyclists have to realize there are two cardinal rules they have to practice
for their own safety. (1) You should ride your bike whenever possible on
roads that motorists expect to see cyclists (true here); and (2) you have to
ride a bicycle the way you drive a car. That forces the car drivers to think
of you as a car, and you become predictable.
I cannot tell you over the years how many people — bicyclists especially —
that I have told rule #2 to, and they look at me in complete revelation.
In this case, you wouldn’t drive a car two abreast down a busy, winding,
narrow road like this. So why would you do it just because you’re on a bike?
You take up less width, so you can do it? Yeah, but look what happened
The judge is right. The municipality needs to get off its duff, get with
the cyclists and a traffic engineer and figure out a way to share the road
since the cyclists are in the habit of using the road and that will be hard
to change, or at the very least find a safer feasible alternative route for
This doesn’t sound like a road that lends itself to bike lanes, but sharrows – shared lanes – instead. Put up signage about sharing the raod, put down sharrow stencils or decals, and tell both the drivers and the cyclists that since they are both there for good, thet both need to grow up and be responsible adults who show common sense and courtesy toward each other.”
The only thing I would add is that both cars and drivers obey the rules of the road and both get cited when they don’t. No exceptions. Everyone is supposed to be equal under the law, ya’ know.
(1) You should ride your bike whenever possible on roads that motorists expect to see cyclists
I’m not sure what this means. Try to ride only on roads where, in the past, people have ridden?
(2) you have to ride a bicycle the way you drive a car. That forces the car drivers to think of you as a car, and you become predictable.
First of all, many people riding bikes do not have cars, so “the way [they] drive a car” would be not at all.
In any case, I’m not sure a style of riding will “force” any motorist to think of a cyclist “as a car,” and I don’t know that this would even be a good thing if it were possible.
I try to be a predictable rider, without reference to how I do or don’t drive a car.
In this case, you wouldn’t drive a car two abreast down a busy, winding, narrow road like this. So why would you do it just because you’re on a bike? You take up less width, so you can do it? Yeah, but look what happened here….
There’s a lengthy discussion of the complexities of California law on riding two abreast at Streetsblog. This may be an instance of “can” versus “should,” but that argument, taken to an extreme, would say that just because I legally “can” ride a bike on city streets, I never “should” do so because I might end up like the victims in this case.
since the cyclists are in the habit of using the road and that will be hard to change, or at the very least find a safer feasible alternative route for the bikers.
Why is it the bikers who have to find a safer alternative route? Cyclists invented paved roads. Let the cars take Interstate 405, which is about a mile to the east of and runs more or less parallel to the road where this happened.
Sorry, but cyclists, whether they have cars or not, need to understand the rules of the road. A little sloppiness in the post does not change that; change the sentence to “You have to ride a bicycle the way you would drive a car if you were to drive one.” Now you can stop being melodramatic. I’m glad you try to be predictable — I just hope you are predictable in ways that cars would be predictable, i.e., riding according to the rules of the road.
In Pennsylvania (unlike most states), the law makes an explicit allowance for cyclists riding two abreast. Section 3301(b):
Upon all roadways, any vehicles proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place under the conditions than existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into an alley, private road or driveway.
So riders have the option of merely remaining within the rightmost lane. They don’t have to keep to the right within that lane. (It’s courteous to other road users to stay to the right in appropriate situations, but the law doesn’t require it.)
PA law also explicitly says that riding more than two abreast is prohibited (except on bike-only paths) in section 3505e. That strongly implies that riding two abreast is generally legal.
The law in California is less clear. There’s an argument to be made that it’s legal, but it requires a rather tortured reading of the statutes, one that CA law enforcement rejects. You could make a case that those cyclists were riding legally, but it would be tough. Had they been riding in PA, though, they would have been legal, no question. (As far as the doctor’s sentence, though, trying to kill cyclists riding illegally hardly seems a lesser offense than trying to kill cyclists riding legally but discourteously.)
I disagree that you should always ride a bike the way you’d drive a car. Many times you should, but sometimes you shouldn’t. There are times when it’s safer to ride in the shoulder (prohibited for cars). There are even a few rare instances where riding on the sidewalk is the safest option. Good judgment beats blanket rules. But I’d agree that “like a car” is a good starting point, and “predictable” is very important.
I think the ‘predictable’ part is most important. Imagine that you are the driver of the car who hasn’t been on a bike in twenty years. If you come up behind two bikes side by side it may tick you off, but you can slow down and then pass when it’s safe (they may be slowing you down, but you know what they’re doing). But even a well intentioned driver becomes deadly when a bike darts across lanes without the biker looking or signaling. Also, I always assume the driver of the car is clueless – even when I’m driving in another car.
As for the doctor, I think the sentence is about right. Just because he used the ‘back’ of his car as his weapon instead of the front makes no difference.
At first glance, the sentence seems harsh.
But given the Doc’s history of similar behavior, given strong evidence that his causing the accident was deliberate and malicious, and given permanent damage to one of the victims? I think it is about right.
I’m working on assumptions that a “5 year sentence” will mean about 2 years behind bars and that a former doctor will not get maximum security stretch with gang menbers and (in Arlo Guthrie’s words) “father-rapers”.
But then, I would be happy with anything that would take away his guaranteed-rich-man’s medical licence and keeps him in jail a few months to meditate on his failures.
I would even be happy with him keeping his (007) doctor’s license – if he got a few hundred (or maybe 1000) hours of commmunity service work on top of the months in meditation.
Most of the time, I ride my bike just how I walk as a pedestrian and drive my car: as if every other driver is a moron, distracted, and cannot see me at all. Therefore, I ride as carefully and as predictably as possible. As soon as I start assuming the competence of any other driver in a complex road situation, the more at-risk I become.
As far as the doctor, people are people no matter what they encase (or don’t encase) themselves in while on the road. (pedestrians, drivers, truckers, motorcyclists, and cyclists.) If the person had a right to be in the road, and he was attacked, there needs to be consequences.
If the person had a right to be in the road, and he was attacked, there needs to be consequences.
If a person had a right to be on the road, and he was accidentally hit out of negligence or something, there need to be consequences.
If a person was doing anything peaceful (legal or not), and he was attacked, there need to be consequences.
Let’s not forget here that this was a malicious assault and not just a sad accident. It shouldn’t matter how much of a right the cyclists had to the road, although that was the cause of the doc’s rage.
if i’m going to ride my bike like a drive a car, then i am going to take the lane. does this change the frustration the doctor was feeling or the actions he would have taken? i doubt it.
i think the most important thing here is to remember that the people behind the wheel, or behind the handlebars, or in the crosswalks, or on the sidewalks are all PEOPLE and it is not cool–and it is against the law– to act violently towards them, no matter how justified you think it is.
Any intelligent individual can argue a case from more than one angle. While I’m happy to see that you’ve given the doc’s case some thought, I can not agree with your conclusions.
The man hurt people on purpose. He used a 2000 lb vehicle as his weapon(not an accurate #, obviously). I don’t give a flying fart what the cyclists were doing. There is no valid and true argument in favor the dude.
I would equate your fault finding with the cyclists, to fault finding with children who get the crap beat out of them. ‘Well you know, the kids were misbehaving.’ To imply that people deserve to be harmed is kind of psycho.
You wrote, “Everyone is supposed to be equal under the law, ya’ know.”
A splendid myth that is, indeed, and a moot point.
Your “cardinal rules” are also meaningless, frankly. Whether cyclists are following laws or not, vehicle drivers are to be aware of everything around them. If a child, who may or may not be aware of vehicle code, is riding a bicycle through a crosswalk a fraction of a second after the light has changed and is killed by a negligent driver, then is the driver not a fault? Accident my arse! The driver must be held accountable.
I’m totally in support of harsh punishment for people who harm/maim/kill people with their automobiles, because rarely is there a situation in which the vehicle driver is not to blame.
if he had used a gun, and not his car, we wouldn’t even be having this debate.
it’s just that once you’re behind the wheel, you usually get some sort of immunity that’s called “an accident.”
but erok…. someone in NC had a gun and fired it at a cyclist, and then didn’t even go to jail did they?
i will try to find that one…
for some reason harming cyclists is justified once you are behind the wheel
yah that’s true too. but his light sentence even shocked anti-bike people.
Someone on a crime board mentioned that the doc failed to say “the magic words”. Those words being something along the line of “A cat was in front of my car,” for this case or in general, “I didn’t know they were there,” or some other “It wasn’t may fault” statment in most cases with a bicyclist.
Cars are so inherently dangerous that juries will not convict for anything that is even plausibly an innocent accident. Correctly so, with “beyond a reasonable doubt” and all.
All the more reason that there should be zero tolerance for moving violations in an automobiles. Accidents happen, but speeding and reckless driving are crimes.
In this case, the driver was violating what is explicit in PA law and implicit anywhere: you have to avoid causing an accident if you can.
Caitlin, did you mean the Asheville firefighter case in NC? We discussed it at length here.
I might bump it – I stayed at a motel on Tunnel Rd over New Years.
Not a good road for biking, but little in the way of other routes. Imagine if you had no alternatives to Saw Mill Run and you get the picture.
“i think the most important thing here is to remember that the people… are all PEOPLE and it is not cool–and it is against the law– to act violently towards them, no matter how justified you think it is.”
Good point caitlin. I think the nasty doc got what he deserved.
That being said, how in the world did he cause these 2 cyclists to hit the back of his car? I mean they should have been able to avoid him. Unless his car took up the entire roadway and both shoulders were steep ditches, full of tombstones, or overgrown vegetation, the cyclists should have known to keep a safe distance from the back of his car. From what I remember about this incident there were 2 factors which could have helped to avoid this situation entirely.
The doc and the cyclists exchanged words before the attack. This leads me to beleive that instead of chalking it up to another a-hole driver and getting on with their lives, the cyclists were pursuing the vehicle, shouting at the driver, causing them to ignore the safe distance it would have required for them to stop or swerve to avoid the back of his car.
No one can predict when a driver will explode with road-rage, that’s why 99% of the time when a driver yells at you it’s best to either “kill ’em with kindness” or ignore them altogether. Then avoid them if you can, give them lots of space.
Also, the cyclists were obviously riding beyond their skill level and safety threshold. Even if no words at all had been exchanged before the collision it would have been impossible for the cyclists to stop or swerve to avoid it, they were riding too close. But words were exchanged and therefore the cyclists knew the doc was aggressive and should have known to back off, figuratively and literally.
So before this board has me drawn and quartered, let me say I’m definitely no angel. I’ve engaged in verbal salvos with drivers from time to time, and I’ve ridden at a not too safe distance from cars. Fortunately I didn’t have to be permanently maimed to realize the danger this behavior can manifest.
The doc was wrong, wrong, wrong! But riding safely and not letting your emotions override your brain can save your life.
From the SFGate article:
The bicyclists, however, said Thompson had aggressively honked and driven past them, then pulled in front and suddenly braked. A police officer testified that Thompson said he hit the brakes to “teach them a lesson.”
If this is accurate, it’s not an avoidable accident. You can’t leave a safe distance between you and something that is cutting in front of you. Put another way, I’m pretty sure anyone in a car could take you (chefjohn) out if they really wanted.
One rider did swerve and avoid the car but then wiped out on the shoulder (and separated his own shoulder). In a previous article (no link, sorry) the rider who swerved credited his miss to having just taken emergency braking lessons from the other rider–the one who went through the back window. I think the cyclists were plenty experienced.
The attitude about cars killing people in general is pretty unbelievable to me. People driving cars kill 40k people per year including ~5k peds and 500-1000 cyclists. Aside from nutjobs like this guy and drunks, the vast majority get written off as “accidents”. It’s an absolute joke and I’d imagine the vast majority of people don’t give it a second thought.
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