Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Chris Bucchere, the SFPD, and Matier and Ross

Someone in the SFPD has leaked info on a supposed video of the incident.
"The biker is going fast and looks like he is hunched down. He hits the victim dead-on. There is never a moment where he looks like he is trying to slow down," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because police are still investigating the March 29 crash. Hui died of his injuries four days later
First - This is the second and perhaps third leak of evidence from an "anonymous" member of the SFPD for a suspect who has not been charged. Also in Matier and Ross is a "witness account"
Police sources tell us the file forwarded to the district attorney includes the name and number of a motorist who reported seeing Bucchere and another cyclist fly through several red lights and stop signs before the deadly Castro district crash. Hui's wife, incidentally, was walking a few steps ahead when her husband was hit.
A third possible leak from the SFPD is the email threads from Mission Cycling and SF2G. The SFPD had the email threads the day of the incident. The email threads stayed out of the media until they appeared in MarinIJ, SFBG, SFGate, SFAppeal almost simultaneously. Was this also leaked by the SFPD? Regarding a suspect they were not officially naming? Regardless of whether you think Bucchere should be convicted of whatever, he deserves due process. Second, Matier and Ross stated that Hui died of his injuries four days later. While Occam's Razor might lead one to conclude this, I have seen no official word that the injuries were the cause of death. This is picking nits, but isn't wild speculation supposed to be the realm of the crazy bloggers, not the genteel printed media? The analysis of the video given by "Anonymous" is interesting. It does not dovetail with Bucchere's description, especially the statement that Bucchere "laid it down" which we have all concluded he meant that he intentionally crashed his bike. What the discrepancy might make one think - Bucchere claimed that he didn't remember anything for 5 minutes following the accident. How was his recollection of the lead in to the accident so vivid? I was in a car accident when I was 17, I didn't remember anything leading up to the accident until I came to in the ambulance.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Chris Bucchere Accident

I have been very deeply affected by the bike/pedestrian crash at Market and Castro last week. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the accident and asking the question "How did this happen?"

I use the word "Accident" in the title intentionally and ironically. I am of the camp that the word accident is usually inaccurate. When something goes wrong on our streets, there is generally a cause. And this can break down into factors covered by law, and those that are not. There can be factors that are negligence, and those that are more "preventative".

For example, when I was run over on Millbrae Ave I feel that the driver was legally at fault, and negligent. I was in the correct lane for where I was headed and he ran me down from behind. The City of Millbrae was a player too - they were party to designing this horrible interchange that is the only crossing of 101 for miles. I won't call them negligent, but they did not take steps to prevent. Even I played a part - if I was headed to SFO, and I knew the interchange was complete crap, I could have taken BART, ridden on the sidewalk, or gone out of my way and ridden a safer overcrossing.

The primary word applicable to Bucchere's case is "tragic". If you don't think so, watch this. But if you divorce yourself from the tragedy, it's provides a lot of food for thought. I went to the intersection this AM to film it. I only stayed for 2 light cycles but got the shots I wanted. Apologies for the quality and the angle of the second but the point is clear.

First this video.

You see the man in the foreground looking up at the light for N/S Castro Street. It's red, and he starts to cross against the walk signal. He makes it almost to the yellow line before the walk signal appears. A woman closer to Market itself also reaches mid-intersection before the walk sign. On the other side of the street, a pedestrian waits to verify that the car headed North has stopped, then enters the intersection against the red walk sign.

Second, this video

In this shot, the pedestrians on the far side of the intersection do in fact wait for the walk sign before entering the intersection. The difference in this shot is that there is a motorist in the intersection, the motorist reaches the crosswalk simultaneous to the walk sign turning white and is in the crosswalk with the white walk sign. Perhaps similar to Bucchere's arrival time. Are these just more law abiding pedestrians or are they aware that there is a car crossing and are waiting for the intersection to clear?

Look at the angle of the man in the first video. He is looking mid-lane. Would his eyes catch view of a cyclist coming along the right side of the Southbound lane? This is prescribed by California Law - cyclists must ride as far to the right as practicable. If the cyclist has a black jersey which might blend into the background, would he be that much more difficult to spot? A cyclist has - for the most part - the same rules and responsibilities as a motorist, as such a pedestrian has the same responsibilities with respect to a cyclst.

These are the sort of questions that will come up as the case proceeds. There is supposedly video of the intersection during the incident. Will the video show Bucchere entering on Yellow, as he claims? Is there video of the crosswalk showing the timing of Mr. Hui's entrance to the intersection?

If there is information gleaned from video to support Bucchere's claims it will make things more tricky for the District Attorney if they intend to charge him. If there is no video, Bucchere's defense team will do a much more substantial inventory of pedestrian activity at that intersection that will be of value to his defense. This will force the District Attorney to dig deep into a pretty meager toolbox in order to make charges that will pass the rigors of a court case.

If I were the cyclist in question, this incident (EDIT - add "perhaps") would not have happened. First - if I were riding from the Panhandle to the Castro I would avoid Divisadero/Castro Street and take the Wiggle - because it is flat and though I enjoy a good challenge, in the city I prefer flatter routes. Second, if I happened to be on Castro I would probably be riding slower than Bucchere apparently was. I got a yellow at the last moment it would be tricky, I would proceed but immediately be preparing for the worst, with cross traffic on Market now having the green light and MUNI tracks in the road making emergency maneuvers a bit dicey.

My behavior would fall under the umbrella of "Practicing Due Care". My understanding of the law is that this isn't a specific requirement - instead of requiring people to drive carefully, we have instead tried to devise a set of rules that we believe, if followed, will enforce care. In practice, these rules tend to fall short.

My opinion is that the Police and Courts need another weapon in their arsenal. Install a "Vulnerable Users Law" that states if you are on a bike and you hit a pedestrian, then you have not practiced due care unless it can be shown otherwise. If you are in a car and you hit a cyclist or a pedestrian, the same standard applies. Then, just because you followed the logistics of road use you may still be charged for not adapting to conditions.

Penalty? California spends 50 Billion per year on prisons and 8 billion on education. I'm not sure that we need to put people guilty of Vehicular Manslaughter who are otherwise non-malicious into the prison system for long periods of time, unless gross negligence is shown (I consider DUI to be gross negligence to name only one example). I do think we simply pull their Driver's License for 3 years, with no exception for work travel. That is a pretty serious hardship on the person convicted of the charges, but a lot less serious than going to prison, at far less cost to the State. I think this should apply to cases involving a cyclist - right now tickets while on a bike do not impact your drivers license. I'll hazard a guess that Mr. Bucchere would be impacted pretty badly with a 3 year suspension. And if you get caught driving a car (or causing more mayhem on your bike) within that period - off to the clink, no questions asked.

If this sort of law were in place, this case would be a lot more clear. Instead, I think this one will take a long time and I have no idea what the result will be.

I would bet a large sum of money that organizations like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition would throw their full weight behind passage of such a law, no matter the increased exposure to legal repercussions for cyclists. And I would also wager a lot of money that California AAA would fight against it.