Injuring A Pedestrian With A Bicycle Is Assault With A Deadly Weapon, But Killing A Cyclist With A Car Is Not

Just when I thought I had seen it all, something astounding came along to make me wonder about the sanity of the world we live in. As we all know, life is not fair. Injustice rears its hideous head around the world each day. But, it’s during the times when justice appears to be within our control, and it is misused anyway that life seems most unfair.

It could have been bias, or it could have been hatred, or it could have been stupidity, but it was definitely an example of the uneven distribution of punishment. I am referring to a case reported in Los Angeles, California a couple of days ago.

A cyclist there was sentenced for assault with a deadly weapon for hitting and badly injuring a pedestrian near Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. According to a report on NBC Southern California’s website, the Third Street Promenade is an outdoor mall with a lot of foot traffic.

Although this sounds like a place where cyclists should be riding with caution, it’s hard to imagine a bicycle crashing into a pedestrian as an “assault with a deadly weapon.” This could only be true if the cyclist ran into the pedestrian with the intent of injuring or killing her. Such was not the case.

The written report gave sketchy details. It said that the cyclist pedaled through a red light and struck a pedestrian who was already in the crosswalk. Of course, everyone can agree that he should not have run the red light.

It wasn’t until I watched the article’s accompanying video that a somewhat more clear explanation for the charge became clear. The police officer who was interviewed described a scene whereby a cyclist was trying to catch up with a group he was riding with.

In order to do so, he began to weave in an out of the pedestrians in the crosswalk. This is how he ended up hitting a woman, causing her serious injury, which, fortunately, she managed to survive.

The District Attorney, who decided to press charges against the cyclist for assault with a deadly weapon admitted that the cyclist did not intend to harm the woman. He drew this charge because his behavior was determined to be “reckless.”

Reckless? This is very troubling. No doubt, the cyclist was irresponsible in his actions. He might even have been described as negligent in his failure to control his bike and ride in a safe manner.

But does weaving in and out of pedestrian traffic to catch up to your friends constitute recklessness? Apparently, it only does if you’re a cyclist.

As most cyclists know, drivers injure and kill cyclists, with their cars, on a daily basis. Rarely is a driver charged with anything — not even so much as a traffic violation.

How can it be that someone can kill a cyclist with a car and not be considered “reckless,” if running into a pedestrian with a bicycle is? What is the difference between these two acts?

Those who enforce the law seem to think that only a bicyclist is required to keep his or her vehicle under control at all times. Any action which could be construed as outside the boundaries of caution is deemed as “reckless.”

However, when driving a car, no amount of irresponsible, careless or distracted driving is deemed to be the driver’s fault in any way. If you’re behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle, you can kill people with impunity, be they pedestrians or cyclists, and it isn’t your fault. It’s just an “accident.”

On this blog alone, I’ve written about several cyclists who were killed by negligent drivers. Only in one case was the driver charged with a serious crime, vehicular homicide. This exception was probably made because the cyclist was a prominent local physician. Had he been anyone else, the driver would have walked away scot-free as the vast majority of drivers do.

Within the past year, in the town of Wellesley, Massachusetts, a 41 year old cyclist was struck and killed by a truck. Despite overwhelming evidence against the driver, including a video of the truck driving near the cyclist, a grand jury decided not to indict the truck driver.

A couple of years ago, a young woman was leading a charity bicycle ride in Alabama when a car struck her from behind, killing her instantly. Only after a lot of complaining from bloggers like myself and local Alabama cyclists, did the DA make any effort to consider charging the driver in the young woman’s death.

In the end, he was charged with a  minor violation, not with negligently killing a cyclist. So, despite the fact that she was riding along the road with a large group of cyclists, and he plowed into the group, his behavior was not deemed to be “reckless.” And, he was certainly not charged with anything even approximating “assault with a dangerous weapon.”

The driver who killed this young woman was charged with Criminally Negligent Homicide, a misdemeanor. If convicted, he would face up to a year in jail and a $6,000 fine.

The cyclist who injured the pedestrian, on the other hand, was slapped with a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon. A felony is a much more serious charge then a misdemeanor. And, in California, the DA has a choice of whether to make an assault with a deadly weapon charge a felony or a misdemeanor. In this case, he chose a felony charge.

It’s inexplicable why the DA chose to charge the cyclist with a felony when he admitted that the cyclist did not deliberately strike the pedestrian. His act was one of carelessness, in which an innocent pedestrian was harmed. Surely, if killing a cyclist with a car is a misdemeanor, injuring a pedestrian with a bicycle should be a misdemeanor too.

Even though he did not face jail time, the cyclist was given three years of felony probation and 30 days of community service. This is a longer sentence than what the driver was facing, and he didn’t kill anyone.

The cyclist pleaded guilty to the charge, possibly because he had no way to beat it. The DA had already “convicted” him of a serious wrongdoing by the severity of the charge, and since juries are biased against cyclists, his lawyer may have been unable to mount a defense.

As if this wasn’t enough, the Santa Monica police have made it known that they intend to crack down on cyclists who don’t obey the rules of the road. So this probably won’t be the last cyclist we’ll see charged with a serious crime.

This situation represents prejudice at its worst. No one disagrees with the idea of enforcing the traffic laws. But, they should be enforced equally.

If injuring a pedestrian with a bike is assault with a deadly weapon, then so is injuring or killing a cyclist with your car. There can be no two ways about it.

I expect to see the police charge the next California driver who kills a cyclist with vehicular homicide. To do otherwise would be tantamount to preferential application of the law, which would make a mockery of the U.S. legal system.

[The limitations of this blog (which I have no control over) will not allow me to embed the accompanying video. It can be viewed here.]

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4 Responses to Injuring A Pedestrian With A Bicycle Is Assault With A Deadly Weapon, But Killing A Cyclist With A Car Is Not

  1. Pingback: Bike lawyer Bob Mionske weighs in on Santa Monica cyclist convicted of assault with a deadly weapon | BikingInLA

  2. cliff says:

    I don’t have a problem with the punishment for the cyclist. He was reckless.
    But, the Alabama driver was more then reckless. At the very, very least he
    should had been charged with manslaughter.
    No matter the reason, the driver who killed the doctor was properly charged.
    As for the Wellesley crash I read, reread, and studied the police reports. I
    viewed the area on google maps. I even downloaded a photo of the crash site
    from a local newspaper. Everything shows that it is most likely that either
    the drain or the cyclist’s reaction to it caused him to fall in to the side of the
    trailer. Therefore, the grand jury did the only thing it could.

    It is time we stop playing the victim card. In three of your examples the
    courts got it right. I think the one in Alabama had less to do with “anti-
    cycling” and more “good ole boys”. He was one of theirs and I believe
    the reaction would had been the same if he had hit a parked car, motorcycle,
    or even a nun crossing the road.

    • Cliff,

      You are certainly entitled to your opinion. However, I do not agree that “the courts got it right in three examples.” I think that they only got it right one time, in one example, when a prominent doctor was killed. Many other cyclists have been killed in Massachusetts under similar circumstances, and no charges were filed against the drivers in any of those cases. Therefore, the courts did not get it right. This particular driver was charged because of public outrage over the death of a well-respected physician.

      Also, I do not agree that cyclists are playing the “victim card” by pointing out that drivers are rarely held accountable for injuring and killing cyclists. Learn to use Google (or another search engine) so that you can find out why, on your own, rather than asking me to spend my time explaining it to you.

      With respect to the Alabama case, I know that there was anti-cyclist sentiment involved because I was contacted by Alabama cyclists who told me that they had a problem with harassment from drivers. They were working towards strengthening the laws to help protect cyclists. Alabama has some of the weakest laws in the nation in terms of protecting cyclists.

      As far as the case in Wellesley goes, I did not reply to your comment on this previously because your argument is weak and makes no sense. I do not intend to spend a lot of time refuting it; I will simply make a few points for your consideration.

      1. Why do you believe that you know better than the Wellesley police officers, some of whom have been on the force for decades, and who patrol that road 24/7, what traffic patterns are seen there and what the likely causes of an accident are?

      2. Why do you think that no one involved in the investigation thought that the drain had anything to do with the cyclist’s death?

      3. Why would you rely on Google maps to investigate the death of a cyclist? The photos are outdated. A couple of years ago they redesigned that road (including the storm drain) and it looks very different now.

      4. The cyclist lived on the road where he was killed. Why would you think that he would be “caught by surprise” by a drain on the road where he lives and rides his bike every day?

      5. I have ridden on the exact spot where the cyclist was killed. I have never had any problem steering around that drain — and I don’t live on that road.

      6. Massachusetts law requires a driver to allow a cyclist sufficient room to steer around a drain or other debris in the road. Why did you decide that the truck driver was not obligated to do this and that if he forced the cyclist onto the drain, causing his death, that “the grand jury got it right” by letting him off the hook?

      7. There was video footage showing the exact position of the cyclist and the truck prior to the accident. Accident reconstruction experts used that information, along with detailed data about the road to reconstruct what had happened. They did not think that the drain had anything to do with the the cyclist’s death.

      8. Accident reconstruction reports, eyewitness testimony, video footage and traffic data are never contained in police reports. That’s why you can’t find the things I was referring to by reading the police reports. You may be able to find some of the witness statements online because witnesses spoke to local newspapers about the accident. As for the other items, if you are really interested in “proving” that the Wellesley police, accident reconstruction experts and local cyclists are all wrong about what happened and who was at fault, contact the Town of Wellesley, Massachusetts (hint: they have a website containing e-mail addresses and phone numbers) for assistance in obtaining the information the prosecutors used to build a case against the truck driver.

      There is really much more to this, but I don’t intend to spend any more time explaining it. After you’ve obtained legitimate facts about the case, if you find legal proof (something that would stand up in a court of law – not just your opinion) that the drain was the cause, please share it with the rest of us.

  3. Pingback: A Cycling Blogger Becomes Perplexed By A Reader | IsolateCyclist

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