Tuesday, November 10, 2009

CityWatchLA - Two Tales of Cyclists Down and the Uneven Hand of Justice

CityWatch, Nov 10, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 92

Last year, on July 4th, Dr. Christopher Thompson drove his car down Mandeville Canyon and came up behind two cyclists, pulled alongside and exchanged words then pulled in front and slammed on the brakes, seriously injuring both cyclists and telling the police officer who first arrived at the scene that he did it "to teach them a lesson."

That same week, as Paul Moore rode his bike south on Bundy Drive, a motorist approached him from behind, overtook him and then turned right, slamming him to the ground.

Unlike Christian Stoehr and Ron Peterson, the cyclists in Mandeville Canyon, Paul didn't get up. In fact, before the day was over, surgeons would remove a section of his skull, storing it in a refrigerator for later reattachment, all in an effort to alleviate the cranial swelling and bleeding. That evening Paul slipped into a medically-induced coma that allowed his brain to rest and recover.

By Monday morning, news of the Mandeville Canyon incident had spread and by early afternoon, LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl stood before the press and proclaimed "Cyclists need a Bill of Rights!"

Concerns that the case would be handled as a traffic collision instead of a criminal act were cleared up by the LAPD's Captain Eaton who flanked Councilman Rosendahl and assured the public that this was a road rage incident that would be investigated as a felony criminal assault. This show of force went a long way toward reassuring the cycling community that justice would be pursued.

As for Paul, he slipped into the pool of anonymity that comes with being one of 550 LA Fire Department medical transports that occur each day in the City of Los Angeles. Of those 550 transports, approximately 100 of them are the result of a traffic collision and they include motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. Paul was just one of many.

The public clamored for more information on the Mandeville Canyon incident, the press responded with radio, television and newspaper coverage. The blogs were filled with activity and comment sections had to be shut down because of the intense debate and personal animosity that took place.

Meanwhile, Paul's wife worked quietly to investigate the circumstances that left her husband lying on the street with multiple broken bones and a left frontal lobe injury that resulted in Aphasia which is the inability to form words.

It took two days for Rosendahl and Eaton to step up to the microphone and to address the Mandeville Canyon incident. It was eight days before Paul's wife received the Police Report in the mail with information on Paul's collision.

The report detailed the location, the motorist and the cyclist. There wasn't much else there except that Paul's bicycle had been transported to the Fire Station. It's curious that the bike wasn't considered evidence but, of course, that would imply an investigation.

Paul's wife went to Fire Station #59 and found Paul's bike with very little damage. One of the firemen looked in the log, found the incident number, and said the team who responded to the accident was not working, except for the Captain who was out on a call.

Paul's wife left and called Capt. Cessor, introducing herself and asked about Paul and the traffic collision. She asked if Paul was conscious when the LAFD arrived at the scene but Cessor responded "Can't answer that. Can't answer anything medical due to confidentiality."

Questions about who called 911, what happened to Paul's helmet, which corner the collision occurred on yielded a response that was completely discouraging.

Cessor informed Paul's wife "I don't know where your questions are going, so I'm going to refer you to the Arson Unit as they are the legal experts." She passed over the phone number for the Arson Unit adding "They probably wouldn't have any information about this accident."

By now, Rosendahl was calling for a Cyclists' Town Hall to address the issues that cyclists encounter as they ride the streets of Los Angeles. He went on to convene the Mandeville Task Force that would look for ways to mitigate tensions between cyclists and motorists. He continued all the way to the Transportation Committee and then the City Council where he urged his fellow Councilmembers to incorporate the Cyclists' Bill of Rights into the city's Bicycle Plan.

Paul's family spent the same period of time struggling to navigate the medical system and the insurance labyrinth and the emotional journey, celebrating the fluttering of eyelids and the twitches and grimaces that they counted as the signs of Paul's recovery.

Paul left UCLA and went to the Barlow Respiratory Hospital and then back to UCLA and then out to Casa Colina in Pomona. Through it all, his family was by his side, playing music, talking to him, struggling to communicate and to encourage and to maintain hope through the recovery process.

Periodically there would be some activity in the Mandeville Canyon case and members of the cycling community would hold vigil at the LAX Courthouse, hoping against hope that justice would be served and reporting back on the developments.

As for Paul, justice was limited to battles his family and his doctors fought with the insurance company's grievances and appeals representatives, quite a tough position for the victim of a crime.

Apparently, when Rosendahl told the world "Cyclists need a Bill of Rights!" it didn't include Paul Moore, a cyclist whose life was ruined by a motorist who "right-hooked" him in violation of CVC 21750 which specifies that “the driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle or a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle…”

The Cyclists' Bill of Rights claims, as right #4, "Cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law."

This past week, the cycling community threw a virtual Twittertape parade when the jury in the Mandeville Canyon trial came back with a guilty verdict on all seven charges for Thompson including Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Mayhem. Thompson was considered a flight risk, denied bail, remanded into custody where he awaits sentencing.

Unfortunately, there are many more cases out there, including the motorist charged with the hit-and-run death of a cyclist on PCH, the motorist charged with the hit-and-run death of a cyclist on Glendale Boulevard, and the motorist charged with the hit-and-run death of a cyclist in Santa Clarita.

Add to the mix the motorists who are charged with hit-and-run assaults on cyclists on the Westside and in Echo Park and Downtown and the Mandeville Canyon case starts to look like the exception, not the rule.

Most alarming is the simple fact that Paul Moore's life was destroyed by a motorist who right-hooked him just 1500 yards from Bill Rosendahl's Westside office and Paul never made it past dispatch statistic for the LAFD team that transported him to UCLA. He spent 6 months in the hospital, he lost the ability to move and to talk and his family was left to struggle with his recovery and with the surgeries and with the seizures and the financial struggles and the insurance battles, and in the midst of all of the debates over equality and justice, Paul was completely forgotten.

"What about Paul?"

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.net)


danceralamode said...

So what can we do? We have to start with the first case, a strong case, correct, to win some justice, don't we? Look at the ACLU. Don't they pick winnable cases that they can fight and use to spotlight national coverage? I'm not saying that the lack of investigation in Paul's case isn't appalling, but what can we do as a community that we aren't already doing?

I think you're right that the media has a huge responsibility here. It would be great to see this article in the LAT, so people can see that we are humans. They could see Paul and his wife's side of this struggle, and perhaps their story can help to bring some justice and safety to us all.

I did not know about Paul's case at all til reading this article. I think it's our cycling community who will have to get the word out to other cyclists about "accidents" like Paul's so we can learn what we can do and how we can help. How can we press LAFD or LAPD for an investigation into this incident? Do I need to write a letter? Make a phone call? Tell me how I can help Paul and his family, and I will. As a cyclist, I would want others to do the same for me, should I ever be involved in a motorist v. bicycle accident.

SoapBoxLA said...

This happened in Councilmember Rosendahl's District. Call him and ask him what happened to Paul and what the LAPD did to follow up on this. Ask him if there is assistance for victims of crimes. Ask him what happened to the motorist. Most of all, ask him to follow up on Paul. 213-473-7011