Is the killer cyclist more negligent because of past actions?

Was Bucchere's crime about more than just this intersection?

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.


Exactly, so your talking out of your ass on the speed of the cyclist, aren't you?

Posted by marcos on Jun. 22, 2012 @ 11:29 am

I was just telling you that the trial hadn't started as you appeared to believe that it had.

Some witness accounts speak of excessive speed and no doubt we'll hear more about those WHEN THE TRIAL STARTS!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2012 @ 11:50 am

States evidence A: 1 dead senior citizen who was walking (with the right of way) though an intersection.

Last time I checked, motorists get charged with everything from crossing a double yellow line to speeding to DUI and vehicular manslaughter. You sir are retarded.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 22, 2012 @ 11:26 am

Many of the commenters here seem to be missing the point.

1. The point of the piece is not just to ask whether past evidence of Bucchere going through a red light will be admitted in court. The larger issue at stake is that for San Francisco it's not just Bucchere but all cyclists--or rather, the image of "entitled cyclists" that persists in the minds of many--on trial. Had he been driving a car, assuming he was booked for the same charge, few people would say, "Well, drivers are just like that," even though the number of deaths due to automobiles per year hasn't dropped below 30,000 since the mid-1920s. Instead, in comments sections and the conservative press, this trial will about how high not just Bucchere but ALL cyclists should be hanged.

2. At least a few commenters have said that no cars were involved in the accident so they are somehow off-limits for discussion. A pretty silly point when you consider that the timing of the light, the length of the intersection, basically the entire street system exist as they do because of the car. Since very few of us who ride bikes grew up without driving, it might be reasonable to say that Bucchere was operating his bicycle as most have learned to operate a car, treating anything inhibiting his forward motion (whether pedestrian or traffic signal) as a nuisance. In the early part of the 20th century, drivers were considered murderous scofflaws and were often attacked by mobs at the scene of accidents in which a pedestrian was killed. This was before the power of the car lobby and the AAA. Now we have become accustomed to blaming pedestrians and cyclists for coming "out of nowhere" when they're injured or killed. In this case, because a vocal minority jumps at any chance to spew its hatred of cyclists, the operator is being blamed, but in many ways Bucchere's behavior is as much a product of car culture as cyclist "entitlement." Also, let's remember that the weekend Sutchi Hui succumbed to his injuries a cyclist in East Oakland was killed by a driver who fled the scene (barely noted in the press) and a teenager lost control of his car and killed most of a family riding on a Concord sidewalk. The point of comparing to cars is that while Bucchere displayed negligence and callousness, the death of Sutchi Hui was genuinely an accident, rather than an inevitable consequence of cyclists and pedestrians sharing road space. An average of 3 pedestrians PER DAY are hit by cars in San Francisco. With such a statistic it's hard to call it an accident when it happens.

3. Those who deny that it's a left-right issue are fooling themselves. Sporadic incidents such as these are grist for the mill of the anti-urban majority of congressional Republicans, who will fight tooth and nail against any federal funding of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure while fighting as ferociously to hand out massive subsidies for highway construction. Locally, most of the more vocal opponents to bicycles are also opponents of the progressive agenda in San Francisco more generally--what is left of it, that is. Not all on the left are pro-bike, but anti-bike Democrats, progressives and leftists are few and far between. Ironically, a lot of the people calling for punitive sanctions against all cyclists probably consider themselves believers and the free market and opponents of regulation.

4. The "power" of the "bike lobby" is consistently overstated. Groups like the SFBC would still be getting nowhere if they hadn't begun to frame their constituencies as wholesome families, good consumers and (implicitly) members of the "creative class." In other words, exactly the kinds of residents San Francisco's political class want to encourage. Yes, there is a rather dormant progressive agenda, and the SFBC has benefited a great deal from the energy that went into it, but it persists so far as it doesn't substantially interfere with the real business of San Francisco--tourism, finance, real estate, high-value commercial and neighborhood branding.

Posted by John Stehlin on Jun. 24, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

Response to the article's writer: I am sorry but I do not understand your question. How else do you answer the question of recklessness expect by noting the actions of the accused that lead to the accident? Webster defines recklessness as: "marked by lack of proper caution : careless of consequences". A person's actions prior to any accident are always subject to scrutiny. Very often they tells us important things about a person. What is it that you object to? This is not a smart aleck question. I really would like to understand your objection. This man committed a lot of provocative acts prior to his plowing through the crowd.

Posted by 762x51nato on Jun. 27, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

I know the intersection where Mr Hui died very well since I have driven on it numerous time in my life. I fail to understand why Bucchere did not turn off onto Market street in either direction or 17th St or the other streets that meet here. I can see 4 or 5 alternatives to staying on Castro St. Maybe I'm wrong about all of this, so I am willing to listen to other opinions.

Posted by 762x51nato on Jun. 27, 2012 @ 6:47 pm