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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.

Comments (17)

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Posted by Greg
a resident of Danville
on Feb 5, 2010 at 6:38 am

Thats what they get! They should ride single file like the Dr. said!

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Posted by exbartrider
a resident of Danville
on Feb 5, 2010 at 6:47 am

they should keep them off bart trains when it is raining too..just disgusting what happens to car seatswith dirt ,mud and greasy oil..dont we all pay taxes for clean bart cars? keep bikers offduring commute...bamn diders

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Posted by Marge Jense
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 5, 2010 at 8:25 am

As drivers we have a responsibility to watch for all users of Danville Blvd. whether they be bike riders, pedestrians or even animals running in the road. Bike riders have the same responsibility as cars if they are sharing the road. NO one has the right to assume they are immune to common courtesy and the "rules of the road."

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Posted by Don G.
a resident of Alamo
on Feb 5, 2010 at 8:36 am

Those bikes going 40 mph? Get real! Roads that were designed for cars? Ever heard of a bike lane? Yes, some cyclists are overbearing and rude. There are extremes in every group. People on bikes belong on the road just as much as people in cars. There are appropriate rules for each to live by.

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Posted by Colleen Chadwell
a resident of Danville
on Feb 5, 2010 at 8:46 am

You know what puzzles me is...assuming that most bicyclists are also drivers of autos, why don't they use better sense and ride more carefully? Instead, most of them test the automobiles at every opportunity by NOT following the driving laws and they are the ones who are rude. They ride 3 abreast on Camino Tassajara, don't bother to stop at the red lights, look down at that white line instead of looking at who else is around and they ride as fast as they can as if trying to escape from this life. Do they drive their cars in the same way? In this case of the doctor from Brentwood, if they had all been in cars and he had pulled over in front of them and stopped short, they would have run into him just the same, but he probably wouldn't be going to state prison for five years for an automobile accident. Seems to me that if you are going to risk your life by being rude while riding a bicycle, you are taking on more responsibility for yourself and why should you expect the world to watch out for you under those circumstances? That's what the driving rules are supposed to do...keep everyone safe. To those bike riders who flaunt the driving rules...what changes about you when you get out of your cars and on to your bikes? Do you become four year olds again?

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Posted by Debbie
a resident of Blackhawk
on Feb 5, 2010 at 8:53 am

It terrifies me each time I am behind the many bikers on Blackhawk Road. Why can't they stay on the roads with bike lanes. Better yet why can't they ride on the Iron Hoarse Trail.

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Posted by Debra
a resident of Danville
on Feb 5, 2010 at 8:59 am

Bicycles are considered motor vehicles. They are NOT protected by law like a pedestrian. We must teach our kids this. When crossing the Iron Horse trial or any thoroughfare where cars and bikes are together, the traffic laws apply. If you are ON your bicycle, not walking it, even in a cross walk, you are considered a motor vehicle NOT a pedestrian. You DO NOT have the right of Way. Doesn't seem logical but it is the law. So teach your kids to be very careful. They have a false sense of security when they cross the street in a cross walk. They think people will stop for them. They may not and they do not have to, if you are RIDING your bike.

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Posted by Chuck Jones
a resident of Danville
on Feb 5, 2010 at 9:56 am

Just like some drivers, some cyclists are rude, inconsiderate, and careless. Most are not. Most of us drive as well as ride, and when we ride, we are very aware of the dangers on the streets. We want a safe travel environment for all. That said;

* State law provides cyclists with the same rights as drivers. Ususally, when we're in a lane it's because we have to be. If you are in a car behind cyclists, don't worry; you're going to get to your destination long before we are.

* Most of us do NOT "test the automobiles at every opportunity by NOT following the driving laws " as the poster above said. We ride in bike lanes and ride respectfully. Again, some do not.

* Riders who are careless and thoughtless are putting themselves at risk. But no rider rides Danville Blvd at 40mph. The fast ones go between 20 & 25mph. Only the pro riders ride above 30mph on the flats, and they are not on Dville Blvd.

So cyclists are just like the rest of us: tax paying citizens who mostly follow the laws and mostly treat others with respect. To judge all of us based on the actions of a few is inconsiderate.

Spring IS right around the corner, time for us to enjoy our roads and the beautiful area where we live. These roads belong to us all, and Danville Boulevard IS such a road. Surely we can treat each other with respect, consideration, and tolerance when we travel these roads, no matter the vehicle we're in. We are neighbors, friends, and family. Give us a break.

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Posted by Brian Mack
a resident of Danville
on Feb 5, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Cyclists have certain rights relative to road use. On occasion cyclists and automobiles will end up sharing a lane. There is no question that some cyclists act irresponsibly. The same holds true for operators of motor vehicles. I have been a cyclist for over thirty years. In that time I have had trash thrown at me from moving vehicles, aggressive teen drivers buzz by me while honking the vehicle horn in order to frighten me, drivers cut in front of me or run me off the road while they are driving and using their cell phones simultaneously and worst of all, I was hit from behind by a drunk driver traveling at 60 miles an hour in a Cadillac. I have endured two broken legs, a fractured elbow, a separated shoulder, a fractured skull and countless other bruises, abrasions and lacerations as a result of irresponsible motor vehicle drivers. I am not aware of any motor vehicle operator who has been seriously injured due to a cyclists use of the road. Most cyclists are aware of the risks they face on the road. All I ask is that drivers recognize that their actions, however justified they feel they are, can kill or maim a cyclist. I am aware of numerous incidents where cyclist have been killed by dangerous operation of motor vehicles.

As it relates to Christopher Thompson I was disappointed that Dolores failed to point out in her article that there was testimony at the trial illustrating that this was not the first time Dr. Thompson had used his vehicle to threaten a cyclist. He had run cyclists off the road previously. If he had not had a history as a menace he likely would not have faced a five year prison term.

It is not realistic for us to expect that every driver and every cyclist will always act responsibly or even intelligently. I do think it is reasonable for cyclists to expect that drivers will not use their vehicles as weapons.

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Posted by OutdoorPursuits
a resident of Danville
on Feb 5, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Why are all the fat and out of shape car driving complainers who exercise but a few ankle and calf muscles to propel themselves in vehicles that have killed millions of people since their invention, picking on, able bodied, able minded fit cyclists WHO HAVE AN EQUAL RIGHT TO THE ROAD as do the sloth who abuse it in cars...

How does it feel to be stereotyped, as did the other posters about cyclists??? Objectionable isn't it. Well here is one for you...

FACT: There are far more rude and distracted drivers on the road then there are rude cyclists.

There is a reason cyclists are not on freeways. Get it? The two don't mix well. On the street it is a different story. They have the right to the road, as much as the slow moving concrete truck, the underpowered moped, the school bus that stops, you get the gist.

The huge majority of bikers have a clear idea of what being considerate means. And it doesn't necessarily mean pulling over and stopping for a car. It might mean riding at 20 mph as a car has to follow at 20mph until the road conditions allow a safe pass. Unbelievable what righteousness becomes car drivers when they have to slow down for several seconds to a minute to pass. Oh poor distracted harried driver who gets annoyed at the such minor slow downs...

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Posted by Jim
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 5, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Yes there are rude bicyclists. When I'm on my bike and stopped at a light or stop sign I am disgusted by the other bikers that blow by me through the intersection. They will eventually get ticketed or run over. The speed limit for bikes on the Iron Horse trail is 15 MPH. There are times when I go a little faster if the trail is clear. I'm always aware of the walkers with their kids and dogs off leash. I do call out and even slow down or stop for the occasional group of people on the trail behind Peet's in Danville. Those people are just inconsiderate. So, yes, bicyclists are the same people that drive cars, walk on the trail and even jog in the bike lanes. We are just like everyone else. Some rude, some considerate and even some that make really stupid choices. And one more thing; there is no "safe" way for a cyclist to get to Mt Diablo on Diablo Road from either direction. Please be patient and wait for us to make our turn. Running over a cyclist will bring you bad karma for the rest of your life. Just ask the woman from Cupertino who ran over the guy on Tassajara Road last year or the one that killed the man on McEwen Road in Martinez how they are going to forget that one moment when they heard the crunch of the bike and person under their two ton vehicle.

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Posted by Greg
a resident of Danville
on Feb 6, 2010 at 8:46 am

I am glad to see that we are all in agreement......most cyclist are rude and obnoxious and think they are above the law. I see it getting worse and worse. There are a few responsible ones out there.
I think that the state should start to license all cyclist like $150 a year to help pay for all the bike lanes etc. This could generate a lot of money for the state! I am going to e-mail my idea to our state rep. and see if we can get this idea rolling. The police should be ticketing them more often as well!

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Posted by Jim
a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 6, 2010 at 8:45 pm

I may have missed something here but I don't think most cyclists are rude and obnoxious. Greg seems to be reading only the words that agree with his views. He's probably a Rush Limbaugh dittohead too. I already pay taxes and would like to see more of that tax money used for bike lanes. Maybe drivers should pay more to have the roads widened for more space to share with cyclists.

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Posted by Greg
a resident of Danville
on Feb 7, 2010 at 7:51 am

Jim, Your views are what you wrote!
It makes no your already paying cycle tax?
I ride all the time and I think we should have a cycle tax and license for EVERY cyclist on the road. The state would make a killing!
Dont listen to Rush.....I have my own views and ideas.

Dream on Jimmy boy!

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Posted by 1 speed no brakes
a resident of Danville
on Feb 7, 2010 at 12:27 pm

95% of bicyclists are plain old showboats in their matching nuthuggers and pretty boy team jerseys (like you're really sponsored, yea right).
if you're really out to get that workout (which in reality a $6K bike with frictionless bearings isn't really much of a workout on the flats), why don't you clowns ride up and down Mt. Diablo on a beachcruiser. Then you might get some respect, but I guarantee you none of you could do it.
Oh and by the way, just because you've got clip-ons doesn't mean you can blow through stop signs and lights. Learn how to jockey. Punks.

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Posted by Greg
a resident of Danville
on Feb 8, 2010 at 2:09 pm

1 speed no brakes............I like it!!!!!
Couldn't have said it better myself.

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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.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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