“…to teach them a lesson”. That was Dr. Christopher Thompson’s motivation for purposely injuring 2 bicyclists on July 4, 2008 on Mandeville Canyon Road in Brentwood, near Los Angeles. In November a jury convicted him of mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon, battery with serious injury and reckless driving causing injury. He faces 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors alleged that Thompson stopped his car after passing the two cyclists and shouting at them to ride single file. The cyclists testified that they began maneuvering to ride one after the other when they noticed Thompson’s car approaching fast behind them but that the driver passed dangerously close before abruptly stopping.
Ron Peterson, a coach for USC’s and UCLA’s cycling team, was flung face-first into the rear windshield of the doctor’s red Infiniti, breaking his front teeth and nose and lacerating his face. Christian Stoehr, the other cyclist, hurtled to the sidewalk, suffered a separated shoulder.
A police officer testified that Thompson told him soon after the accident that the cyclists had cursed at him and flipped him off, so he slammed on his brakes “to teach them a lesson.”
So, who learned a lesson in this?
Mandeville Canyon Road is a popular cycling route and the location of frequent confrontations between recreational bicyclists and the motorists who live nearby. Bicyclists report frequent threatening motorists. Motorists report bicyclist blocking the road, making rude gestures and spitting on them. Dr. Thompson surely learned that he can’t let his temper get the best of him when he’s behind the wheel. Peterson and Stoehr learned that the seeds sown by rude bicyclists can be reaped by any cyclist with the bad luck to be on the wrong road at the right time. As a result, Peterson now wears false teeth and can’t feel the end of his nose.
Let’s hope that the Mandeville Canyon motorists and bicyclists learned some lessons, too. The lesson for me is that I’m extremely vulnerable when I’m on my bicycle, vulnerable to unforeseen “accidents” and vulnerable to retribution for the sins of my fellow bicyclist. The smart thing to do is to actively promote safe and responsible bicycling and patient motoring and hope people get it before it gets me. What goes around does comes around.
(Thanks to the LA Times, Nov 3 edition, for much of this story)