Road rage leads to five years in prison
Original post made
by Dolores Ciardelli, editor of Danville Express,
on Feb 4, 2010
Next time you feel yourself getting impatient with rude bicyclists, consider the case of Christopher Thompson, who acted on his impatience. Yes, I know: Most cyclists follow the rules and are thoughtful to others. But just last weekend I was one of a line of cars that had to swerve around bicyclists riding three abreast on Danville Boulevard in Alamo. It was annoying - so I thought about Thompson, a 60-year-old former emergency room physician.
In Thompson's case, two cyclists were riding side by side on a narrow road near his home in Brentwood in Southern California on July 4, 2008. When he told them to ride single file, they made rude gestures, which apparently so infuriated Thompson that he pulled in front of them and braked hard. They tumbled onto the back of his Infiniti sedan, one smashing through the back window, breaking his nose and front teeth, and the other falling to the pavement and separating his shoulder.
The case inexorably wound its way through the justice system, and in November, Thompson was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. In January, he was sentenced to five years in state prison. He wept when sentenced, in Los Angeles County Superior Court, as well he might. He said at his trial that he was only stopping his car to photograph the cyclists, but a police officer testified that at the scene Thompson had said he hit the brakes to "teach them a lesson."
The one who learned the lesson was Thompson. No matter how angry you might get at rude bicyclists - or rude drivers, or even rude pedestrians, for that matter - you have to remember that you are in a great big car that could really, really hurt somebody.
When I'm the "little guy," that is, walking, I'm only too aware of my vulnerability. It always amazes me to see people step out in front of cars, in parking lots or in the street. I don't care if I have the right of way or not. I'm an unprotected pedestrian and the others are two-ton cars or possibly fast-moving bicycles.
Which is another thing. Shouldn't bicyclists keep a more leisurely pace on Danville Boulevard? That thoroughfare has many, many side streets with many, many vehicles pulling out of them all day and night. When those drivers stop before turning onto the boulevard, they look for other cars, bikes and the occasional pedestrian. But just how visible are the bikes and the pedestrians? Any pedestrians - even runners - will be moving fairly slowly and will able to avoid the car hitting them. But those bikes that go 40 mph are an accident waiting to happen. Aren't they afraid of the cars pulling out from the side streets?
Spring is right around the corner (I hope, I hope), time for the cyclists to enjoy our country roads to an even greater extent than they have been during the last few months. Except they are not quite country roads now, are they? despite the beautiful trees that line most of Danville Boulevard. Surely there are roads in the vicinity where one can zoom along at high speeds to one's heart's content without any danger. But Danville Boulevard is not such a road. Neither is the Iron Horse Trail, except for certain times and places.
So while this is a plea for bicyclists to please be polite as they enjoy getting exercise on streets that were designed for cars, it is also a cautionary tale for the drivers of the cars: Control your road rage; your car is a deadly weapon. Remember Dr. Thompson.
Posted by Tom Young
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2010 at 8:39 pm
The opening editorial had a fairly obvious anti-bike tone and a lot of the responses have picked up on that and chimed in accordingly.
Let's even this out a bit, shall we?
I ride the Danville Blvd. - San Ramon Valley Blvd. route quite a bit. I ride solo, I ride in the bike lane where appropriate, so generally I'm not delaying car drivers except by necessity, for my own safety. Here's a few episodes, off the top of my head and in no particular temporal or other order, that illustrate what it's like riding a bike on this route.
#1) Riding north on Hartz Ave., through the downtown area. Lots of cars parked on both sides of the road, per usual, and traffic is moderate. I'm riding about 20 - 21 mph, (speed limit is 25) positioned outside of the door swing of the parked cars, probably 1/3rd of the way into the roadway. A guy in a pick up comes up behind me - no other cars behind him - and decides I'm going too damn slow. So he guns it to pass me, not seeing that there's a car coming toward him in the opposite lane, and ends up passing me probably at around 35mph and about 1 foot from my handlebars. (As a legal matter, California law requires cars passing bicycles allow a 3 foot gap.) This hotshot wants to turn right on Diablo Road, but get stuck behind the red light and some other cars. I pedal up to him and tell him he passed too close, placing my life at risk. His response? "You shouldn't be on the street!" Then he peels out and runs away.
#2) Riding north on San Ramon Vally Blvd., approaching the Jiffy Lube that's in that area. When I'm about 40 - 50 feet from the driveway that leads into the Jiffy Lube a big white SUV comes rushing past me and, when I'm about 10 feet from the Jiffy Lube driveway, turns right in front of me, intending to pull in the Jiffy lube driveway. I'm yelling and screaming, hitting the brakes and diving to the right and we intersect right at the apron of the Jiffy Lube driveway where it meets the road. My back, just below the left shoulder, is hit by the passenger door and I bounce off, managing to stop myself on the sidewalk, more or less upright. The driver of the SUV stops, and then proceeds to pull around me and drive up to the Jiffy Lube building! A motorcycle cop comes along and, figuring out what happened, stops to investigate. By this time the SUV driver has decided to walk back to where the cop and I are standing and, after hearing my description of the events, he says "I thought he was going to stop!" The cop wants to file an accident report but, macho man that I am, I tell him "it's a long way from my heart" and pedal off. Never got a word of apology from the driver. Found out later I *was* bleeding from the collision with the door.
#3) Riding north on Hartz Ave., approaching the B-Line cleaners. Just as I'm coming up to the driveway into the cleaners a south bound driver does a "left hook" into to cleaner's driveway, very nearly wiping me out. I brake to a stop just in time to avoid getting hit, and he continues into the driveway. I'm standing astride my bike yelling at him and then pedal up to the driver's side door, yelling and screaming all the way. When I dismount and ask him what the hell he was doing his reply was (and I'm not making this up) "I had my (turn) signal on, why didn't you stop?" As it turns out, there was a cop standing up by the front door of the cleaners and comes up to us just as I'm about to (very nicely) explain the this dipstick about right of way. The cop says to the driver, "I was standing right there and watched as you violated his right-of-way." To which the driver lies and says "I didn't see him."
I could give you at least a half-dozen similar examples, all of which involved car drivers in and around the good town of Danville, but that's enough.
What are the common threads here? 1) I was riding my bike legally and appropriately. 2) A driver of a car put my life in danger by an illegal act. 3) Not one driver - ever! - has apologized to me for just about killing or maiming me. The closest thing to an apology I've ever gotten is when a lady driver pulled out of a side street, turning left onto Hartz, but stopped short before hitting me. When we both stopped a few seconds later at a light she rolled down the window and claimed "I wasn't going to hit you!"
I probably ride my bike more miles each year than I drive my car, and I'll admit that I get annoyed when I see bicyclists behaving badly, just like I do when I see other car drivers acting irresponsibly. But honestly, I can't come up with even ONE event where I've been put in mortal danger by a bicyclist while I'm driving my car, but I can come up with DOZENS of such incidents when I'm riding my bike. There's a whole world of difference between being annoyed by a bike rider and being scared to death by the driver of a car.