As mentioned in the previous post, it is important to stand up against calls for harassment and violence against cyclists. Even seemingly innocuous Facebook groups help spread the incorrect notion that cyclists don’t belong on and/or have no rights to the road. Even if meant to be tongue-in-cheek, some motorists take this message to heart.
Most of you probably read or heard about one the most egregious cases of cyclist harassment in recent memory- when Dr. Christopher Thompson used his car to assault two cyclists along Mandeville Canyon Road in Brentwood, Calif. The Los Angeles Times just reported the Thompson was sentence to 5 years in prison for mayhem, assault with deadly weapon, battery with serious injury and reckless driving causing injury.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott T. Millington called the case a “wake-up call” to motorists and cyclists and urged local government to provide riders with more bike lanes. He said he believed that Thompson had shown a lack of remorse during the case and that the victims were particularly vulnerable while riding their bicycles. (LA Times)
The League recognizes the courage of the L.A. County Police, District Attorney Mary Stone and Judge Scott T. Millington for doing the right thing and seeing that justice prevailed. We echo the judges sentiment in hoping this serves as a wake-up call to cyclists, motorists and law enforcement alike that this behavior is unacceptable. While we hope the notoriety of this case and its outcome helps prevent futures incidents, should they occur the precedent has been set in how police and the courts should respond.
While the police and the court got this case right, the same can not be said in all circumstances. We responded to USA Today Drive On blog after it was suggested that cyclist Curtis Andrew Leymeister was to blame when a motorist struck and killed him in while riding in St. Mary’s County, Md.
From the onset, the local media and even early statements from the Maryland Highway Patrol also blamed the victim. What didn’t make the auto blog’s headlines were the charges brought against the driver and the admonishment of Maryland State Patrol for their clear windshield-perspective bias. Twenty-year-old Kathy May Lee was charged with Negligent Driving. We learn from WashCycle Blog (via Baltimore Spokes):
After the collision, the driver made a statement to Maryland State Police that she had just left home and had cleared a portion of the left windshield of morning dew but left the fogged up right side to be cleared by the car’s heater. The windshield had not yet cleared and she was busy searching for a cigarette lighter in her purse (the car’s lighter didn’t work) when she ran into the cyclist. “I just didn’t see him.”
The judge found her guilty of negligent driving. When the driver asked for a reduction in the amount of the fine because of lack of personal funds, the judge rolled his eyes and said, “Your negligence has caused the death of a human being. I’m going to require the maximum fine plus costs.”
While the judge’s findings were correct, and he handed down the maximum penalty, the charges brought forth by the state police and county prosecutor were woefully inadequate. Too often police don’t bring forth the most appropriate charge because they don’t understand the law as they relate to cyclists, don’t think they’ll get a conviction for a more serious charge, or there isn’t an appropriate charge for death or serious injury caused by “mere” negligence (not gross negligence). The League has long been proponents of tougher penalties for motorists who severely injure or kill cyclists and other vulnerable road users.
Maryland advocates are looking to change that. One Less Car will be re-introducing their Manslaughter by Motorvehicle (was HB 97) bill this year. They’ll also be working on legislation to overturn the mandatory shoulder law that was misinterpreted in the Leymeister case and limit cyclists rights to the roads. If you live or bike in Maryland contact One Less Car to find out how to help this effort.
Jeff PeelPeel joined the League in March 2008 as a Program Specialist for the Bicycle Friendly Communities program. Peel has a BA in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi.
State and Local Advocacy Coordinator