Saturday, March 28, 2015

Charles Vincent, Chris Bucchere, and SFPD

On March 2nd Charles Vincent, 66 years old, was riding his bike at the intersection of 14th and Folsom in San Francisco when he was killed by a car driver who was observed by multiple witnesses to have run a red light. Despite this, no charges are being filed. According to the story on Streetsblog, SFPD Explains: Driver Won’t Be Charged for Killing Cyclist at 14th & Folsom, a witness also had Vincent riding through a red light in his direction, and so the collision occurred when both people had reds. "The DA is not gonna charge that person with a crime because there’s a contributory factor" according to SFPD.

This is an interesting spin on the law with which I'd not formerly been aware. If someone is in violation of code, it's sanctionable to kill them with your own violation? Curious.

Rewind to the Chris Bucchere case.... Chris rode his bike at approximately 31 mph through the intersection of Castro and Mission, hitting and killing a Sacha Hui, a pedestrian among a group of pedestrians who were crossing Castro. This case brought out a wave of rage against Chris, indeed against cyclists in general, which caused the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to attack him and his behavior as irresponsible and unrepresentative of cyclists in the city. Indeed there's little question Chris was being reckless, and his speed was in excess of the 25 mph limit. But the question is here is one of fairness, whether drivers are treated comparably to cyclists when they are guilty of reckless behavior.

Compare and contrast. First, the Vincent case where no charges are filed because the cyclist was observed to have been in violation of code. Whatever violations the driver committed were thus rendered irrelevant: there's a "contributory factor."

The Bucchere case, on the other hand, went something like this:

A: "That speeding cyclist blew through the stop sign and hit the pedestrians legally crossing the intersection - throw the book at him!"
B: "But the video shows he entered the intersection legally."
A: "Well, never mind that -- he still plowed into those pedestrians legally crossing the intersection!"
B: "But if he entered legally, and was near the speed limit, it's impossible the pedestrians entered the intersection legally -- there's an all red phase long enough to clear traffic, so they entered well before the walk signal."
A: "Well, never mind that -- someone says he ran a stop sign during one of the blocks before the intersection."
B: "Really? Okay -- felony manslaughter!"

I'm not defending Bucchere; he screwed up. But if anything violations by drivers of multi-ton motor vehicles need to be treated more seriously, not less, those pedaling their 10 milliton bicycles. The repeated pattern of San Francisco Police behavior in these matters is demoralizing: there's so many. Amelie Le Moullac is just the most egregious of so many tragic cases where cyclists have been killed and blame-the-victim has been the first line of investigation. But when it's a cyclist who causes the damage, things are very different.

4 comments:

Rkeezy said...

I've read many different speeds for CB's bicycle anywhere from 31-35 mph. You might amend your description to be "at least" rather than "approximately" 31 mph if we're shooting for truthfulness rather than truthiness.

Your back and forth between Msrs. A and B suggest that CB entered the intersection legally. He was speeding, so he did not.

That being said, the Ped certainly should have waited for the intersection to clear. So, fault on both sides, as you suggest. Not sure the A-B convo is necessary other than to say your opinion on what should be considered at-fault, and what shouldn't. But hey, it's your blog.

I think the real reason the two cases are treated differently is a question of willfulness and remorse. There's too much information, straight from CB's mouth, about being obsessed with his Strava times, about being in the intersection and consciously making the decision not to brake, and after the accident making social media posts that showed basically zero contrition or zero acknowledgement of the tragedy that had just occurred. Absent those factors, I'd be inclined to agree with your assessment that the two cases were treated differently in an inappropriate fashion. There is more of an absence of information about the driver in the Charles Vincent case, rather than any information saying the driver was one thing or another.

We also know that vehicle vs. vehicle carries different weight than vehicle vs. pedestrian. You may disagree in those classifications, but I'm guessing the DA does not.

IMO, I think in both cases the DA is going to weigh all those factors when deciding whether or not to prosecute. In CB's the case was just stronger.

As a footnote, you mention "many" cyclist deaths in San Francisco. By SFPD's report, there were three, and all three were due to fault of the cyclist. It's not "victim blaming" if it turns out that the person who suffered the harm was deemed the primary cause of the accident. (i.e. a pedestrian running across 6 lanes of traffic mid-block and then getting hit isn't "victim blaming" - it's "fault blaming").

Rob Anderson said...

Do you have a link for the Bucchere video? I've seen references to it but not the video itself.

djconnel said...

Rob:
I don't think I've seen the video... maybe a screen shot, but I'm not sure. There were two factors in the video. One showed him in the intersection with the light yellow. The other was the distance traveled between frames. I'm sure I've not seen that (at best I saw a screen shot, but it was awhile ago). In any case, I think we're on the same side on this, that pedestrian fatalities by drivers are not treated seriously enough.

Rkeezy:
The 31 mph is from his Strava data taken from his iPhone, which was briefly available on Strava and then deleted. I really regret I didn't export it when I had the chance (you could do that then, before the API was restricted). It's an average over 3 seconds. 31 mph is faster than the posted 25 mph speed limit. I doubt it's higher than the 85th percentile traffic speed, though, which is a criterion applied per the fundamental speed law. I think we both agree this 85th percentile rule is a big problem.

We agree both sides had fault. The quote on the Vinson case explictly states that's it: no charges if both sides are at fault. But that's SFPD's position for drivers, not cyclists.

On remorse neither you nor I have a clue how remorseful Chris was in this case. His email encouraging others to wear their helmets was interpreted as indicating a lack. It certainly indicated a lack of political savvy. But it isn't as if he were bragging about what he did. He further said he sped up to get ahead of the pedestrians in the intersection, pedestrians he hadn't expected to see entering the intersection on yellow. This didn't work out but it he'd succeeded there'd be no story. But I place zero credibility in often politically motivated "remorse" ("mistakes were made...") Cases should be decided on the facts, not on acting skill.

I wish I could agree with you that vehicle vs pedestrian was treated seriously. The sad fact is, well documented on Streetsview, that if a driver is not above the limit of intoxication and remains at the scene, charges are very rarely filed, let along felony charges which are basically unheard of (driving up onto a sidewalk and running down multiple pedestrians might do it).

If there's been 3 fatalities in 2015, only three months, that's a lot. Vision Zero calls for none in twelve. And that SFPD finds the cyclists at fault is my point: they also found Amelie at fault until SFBC found, with little difficulty, a video which proved otherwise. Cyclist fault is basically a rubber stamp conclusion for these cases.

Amanda HK said...

I watched the video get played over and over during the preliminary hearing, but I don't think it was ever put on the internet. You might be able to find the screen captures and the other documents entered as evidence in the court records, but in the meantime, I've posted the closing arguments on scribd.