Today's announcement by District Attorney George Gascón that he filed felony vehicular manslaughter charges against Chris Bucchere, the bicyclist who hit and killed a pedestrian at the intersection of Market and Castro streets on March 29, won't be a surprise or source of outrage to many people.
As I reported shortly thereafter, data from the cyclist training website Strava indicated that Bucchere was traveling at around 35 mph as he entered the crowded intersection on a yellow or red light. And the callous comments he made afterward to an online forum, which I also quoted, certainly cast him in an unsympathetic light.
But there is an aspect to the case that Gascon is bringing that I find vaguely unsettling: “'This tragic death caused by a bicyclist illustrates the worst case scenario when traffic laws are not obeyed,' said District Attorney Gascón. He explained that Bucchere displayed gross negligence in operating his bicycle warranting a felony vehicular manslaughter charge. His office intends to prove that there was a pattern of traffic laws being broken by Bucchere leading up to the accident.”
If he ran a couple red lights without incident before this one, does that make him more criminally liable for the bad decision he made at this intersection? Shouldn't the question of whether Bucchere was criminally negligent in causing 71-year-old Sutchi Hui's death be about his decision to plow through this intersection when it wasn't safe to do so?
Perhaps it's an issue that helps shore up the case that he was behaving in a reckless way. But this is going to be an emotional case and one likely to be trumpeted by the handful of cyclist-haters out there for whom our tendency to roll stop signs is the source of real anger and condemnation, with many blog commenters in the past wishing me a violent death for doing so, threatening to carry out the deed themselves, and saying they would feel only pride in doing so.
If one of these crazies plows into me when I'm riding legally, will I be blamed because I ran a red light a few intersections ago? Will they cite my admission in the Guardian that I often break traffic laws and say I had it coming? Would the decision that Bucchere made as he was screaming down Castro toward that fateful intersection be less negligent if he had stopped at previous intersections?
With the bitter resentments that some San Franciscans feel toward cyclists so palpable and potentially dangerous, it will be easy to lose perspective on this case and make Bucchere emblematic of all cyclists, as dishonest as that may be. And I think it's incumbent upon Gascón to try to prevent that from happening.
This is an isolated and unusual case of a young man making a tragic mistake for which he will pay a heavy price, no more and no less.
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