Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Journalistic Malpractice

An 86-year-old cyclist was hit by a car and critically injured as he rode on Sepulveda Boulevard in Torrance. The cyclist was riding from the south side of Sepulveda, between Maple Avenue and Hickory Avenue when he was hit by a motorist traveling east.

Larry Altman, the crime reporter for the Daily Breeze, wrote of the incident "The elderly man was riding his bike north across the street and was not in a crosswalk when an eastbound car hit him." Altman attributes the information to Torrance police Sgt. Jeremiah Hart.

I called Altman and asked why he would point out that the cyclist wasn't in a crosswalk. He said it was his way of pointing out that the cyclist was crossing mid-block and made a reference to jay walking. I pointed out that crossing mid-block is not necessarily illegal and that jay-walking is a nebulous and misapplied term that was irrelevant here. I offered up that his observation that the cyclist wasn't in a crosswalk was about as appropriate as pointing out that the cyclist wasn't wearing a parachute, the difference being that the parachute would have been legal while riding on the sidewalk or in a crosswalk in Torrance is actually illegal. - Journalistic Malpractice #1

I then offered up that perhaps the cyclist wasn't actually crossing the street mid-block but was instead pulling out of one of the many parking lots and attempting to turn left onto Sepulveda Boulevard, the same direction every single motorist on the south side of Sepulveda Boulevard goes if they want to head west. It's a reasonable theory based on the fact that one can't actually cross Sepulveda in the area where the cyclist was hit, there is nothing on the other side. It's also one I confirmed with Lt. Levine of the Torrance Police Department who confirmed that vehicular traffic on the south side crosses the eastbound traffic lanes to turn left onto westbound Sepulveda Boulevard. As for simply crossing the street, there's a wall, the tree line, the curbs. But there is no destination. - Journalistic Malpractice #2

This led me to ask the simple question, how fast was the motorist traveling if the cyclist was unable to cross the three lanes of traffic and reach the median strip before the motorist hit the cyclist? It was 1:00 pm, under clear skies, light traffic and nothing blocking the motorist's or the cyclist's eyelines. How fast was the motorist traveling? Could the motorist have changed lanes to avoid the cyclist? Were the other lanes taken by other motorists? Apparently the journalist forgot to ask the question, the Torrance Police Department press release failed to note the speed, and the Daily Breeze even failed to note that there were open questions. - Journalistic Malpractice #3

Journalists such as Larry Altman are in a position of responsibility. Their words have impact. Their questions are important and if they are lazy, if they simply reformat press releases, if they lack knowledge and if they repeat their misunderstandings, it's journalistic malpractice.

Torrance Police Department update:

I spoke to the investigating officer this morning, unnamed and unquoted until the supervisor gives permission.

The motorist was traveling in the #1 lane (closest to the center) at 40 mph, the speed limit.

The motorist 1) did not see the cyclist until the last moment when the cyclist rode into the side of the vehicle 2) saw the cyclist leave the parking lot of the YMCA and begin to ride across the street.

The cyclist 1) rode straight out of the YMCA parking lot across the street 2) rode at a 45 degree angle east bound from the parking lot, heading toward the center of the street when he rode into the side of the motor vehicle.

The cyclist was a customer at the YMCA and the investigating officer confirmed that it is legal for exiting motorists to turn both left and right onto Sepulveda. The investigating officer couldn't comment on the question "Was the cyclist attempting a vehicular left by crossing the three lanes and heading to a turning lane?" because he was unfamiliar with the term "vehicular left."

When asked about the legality or illegality of riding a bicycle on the sidewalks/crosswalks of Torrance, the investigating officer said "It's illegal, just like it is everywhere in California." I pointed out that it's not illegal everywhere in CA. Local municipalities are given the option and many, such as Los Angeles, pass on the right to prohibit cyclists from riding on the sidewalk. The prohibition also comes with singage requirements.

The point of impact was 832 feet past the intersection of Sepulveda Boulevard and Maple Avenue. The investigating officer did not ask the motorist if he went through the intersection at speed on a green or if he started from a stop at the red light.

The cyclist's bike is a 70's vintage 10 speed and it is at the Torrance Police Department. It is bent.

The cyclist was unable to offer any information to the investigating officers regarding the traffic collision.

The cyclist was determined to be at fault by the Torrance Police Department for violating CVC 21804(a) failure to yield to traffic when entering the roadway from a private driveway.

I asked the Watch Commander if the motorist might have been able to avoid the cyclist by moving to the empty median strip to the left or by slowing and moving to the right to allow the cyclist to continue merging left. (motorist says he didn't see the cyclist to the last minute yet saw him exit the driveway three lanes to the right. SLOW DOWN and allow other traffic to use the street!)

At this point, the Watch Commander concluded our conversation by saying "It's an accident!" and wishing me a good day.


Anonymous said...

It is miserable that you even had to have that conversation with someone. He showed nothing but disrespect for the deceased. When will the media realize that it is not just a story, it is people! I am glad you called him out.

User1 said...

Poor man was screwed from the very beginning. He couldn't ride on the sidewalks and no bike lanes on Sepulveda Blvd. There isn't much of a break given to riders in Torrance either. I go to the Performance Bikes store there and I'm fighting to keep it together on the roads myself. Not the friendliest place for a rider, that's for sure.

I hope the guy pulls through. Please let us know his condition. A little info on who he is would be nice if possible.

Thanks for doing a great job Mr. SoapBoxLA.