Streetsblog Interview: Andres Tena

5_21_09_Tena.jpgBack on the bike: Tena after the "Bike Not to Work Day" ride last week.

Late one Thursday night, or early on Friday morning
depending your point of view, this April an H3 Hummer hit a cyclist, and what
followed is a controversy that fuels emotions that rivals last year’s
Mandeville Canyon “Road Rage Doctor” Crash. 
The LAPD’s ham-fisted handling of the crash report has led to charges of
bias and incompetence from various parts of the cycling community.

But whatever happened the cyclist who was thrown from his
bike when the H3 ran into him?  What is
his take on the controversy and what does he have to say to those people who
say it was his fault?

I’ve had the chance to twice ride with Andres Tena since he
was assaulted and had a chance to sit down with him to talk about the
crash.  The smiling, good-natured Tena provides a contrast to the anarchist vandals that were described by the LAPD spokesperson last week at the City Council.

The full text of my chat with Tena is available after the
jump.

Streetsblog: A couple of weeks ago you were involved in a
crash with an Hummer H3 and didn’t get the support and protection you would
expect from the Los Angeles Police Department. 
Can you tell us, in your own words, what exactly happened?

Tena: It was a Thursday night/Friday morning, there was a
group of us riding home.  We were
promoting a friend’s bike shop downtown called the Bow and Sparrow.  We were going down Los Angeles Street about
to make a right on Seventh Street to go to Tacos Mexico.  It was pretty late, but there was a good
amount of us.  We were pretty noticeable.

It happened so quick…it happened so fast that I don’t
really know everything that happened.  I
was riding, and I felt contact.  It was a
black hummer.  H1, H2, H3, it doesn’t
really matter.  They’re all about 8,000
pounds.  I feel contact.

I’m in the air for about two or three seconds.  The car hit me from behind and on my left
side, and I’m in the air and I feel the side of the car as it whizzes by
me.  I see the wheel like two or three
inches away from my head.  It was kind of
scary.

I hit the floor.  My
bike drops.  I’m freaking out, I mean
what just happened?  I try to get up, but
I hit the floor again.  I realize that I
can’t feel my foot.  I can’t feel my left
ankle.  Pretty much from my ankle down, I
can’t feel anything.

That’s pretty much it. 
My friend Tom picks me up and asks if I’m allright.  I’m repeating, “I’m allright, but I can’t
feel my foot.  I can’t feel my foot.  It might be broken…”

I had a couple scrapes here and there, bruises on my knees
and elbows.

The funny thing is, at the time I didn’t know that the
driver tried to get away because all I remember was sitting and waiting on the
curb for the ambulance to get there.  I
heard a sound of metal scraping on pavement, and then all of a sudden the cops
showed up and the ambulance showed up.

I know the rest of the story from other people.  Three other bikes were run over while the
Hummer was getting away.

And that’s it!  There
have been different stories from different people.  But here’s what you need to know.  I was hit. 
Three other bikes were totaled. 
Now, we’re just waiting to see what happens.

Streetsblog: Just to be clear, how visible were you?   Do you have a rear light?  Was it working?  Were you wearing dark clothes?

Tena:  I have a rear
light, a front light and I was wearing bright clothing.  They’re always on.  And I always wear light clothes when I’m biking;.

Streetsblog: How long have you biked in the city?  You know what you’re doing?

Tena: It’s been close to two years of city riding.  I’m not new to this.  I try to stay right ride consistently.  You never expect to get hit from behind by a
car, but I was hit by a hummer.  It’s
something I can make fun of…I wasn’t hit by a car…I was hit by the biggest vehicle
you can.

Streetsblog: You weren’t drunk, were you?

Tena: (Laughing)  No,
none of us were drunk.

Streetsblog: So everyone got home safely from there, except
for you who went to the hospital until later in the afternoon.  Was that the last you heard about things
until we went to the Police Commission?

Tena:   Actually,
Officer Cho called me the next day to tell me it wasn’t a crime that the hummer
hit me.  But that it was an "accident."  It was because of all the bike riders.  It was a pretty biased opinion.

Streetsblog: Because you were on the road in a group you got
hit.  How many of you were there?

Tena:  About a dozen.  It was really strange the way he was saying
it.  Really biased.  He was saying it was all our fault.  I could feel that he wanted to say it was
because we’re always drunk.  It’s because we’re like a mob activity. 

Streetsblog: One of the weird things about this crash is, you almost never hear of a
bike getting hit by behind.  It’s a lot
less common than a “right hook,” because you’re right in front of them…to
rear-end a cyclist that’s lit up is either negligent or aggressive.  It’s not like he couldn’t see you.

Tena: Well, to Officer Cho, it was an accident.

Streetsblog: Obviously nothing was broken in your foot,
because this is the second time I’ve seen you since then and you’re on your
bike.

Tena: It’s amazing really. 
I’m fine, I’m fine.  The only limp
I have is from a left ankle sprain, a contusion, and some bruising on the left
side of my hip that turned out to be hematoma. 
Now I’m getting some chiropractic work done and I exercise.

Streetsblog:  There’s
been more controversy about the police’s reaction and reporting of the crash
than just the crash itself.  Yesterday
down at City Hall, they described the cyclists in the incident, including you
hit from behind wearing brightly lit clothing on a brightly lit bike, as at
fault for being struck from behind by a Hummer. 
So, how’s that make you feel…

Tena: …I just found out the story today.  It sounds like they labeled me as a
vandal.  They pretty much say that I ran
it to it.  On purpose.  On a bike, I decided to run into a hummer.

Let’s be clear.  I didn’t,
just a little sarcasm here.

Streetsblog: A vandal. 
For getting hit in the street. 
Say, if I leave a marker here and turn my back, are you going to tag my
bike?

Tena: (laughing) No, that’s not. No.

Streetsblog:  I’m just
kidding here…Again, I haven’t seen the video yet, but it sounds sort of
shocking in its content.

Tena:  Yeah, blaming
me for it.

Streetsblog: It hasn’t stopped you from biking.  You’re back on the streets.

Tena: Back on the streets, riding safer than ever.

Streetsblog: And you were back quickly.  I saw you for the first time less than a week
later, you biked to and testified at the Police Commission hearing.  Is that your first advocacy ride?

Tena: It was my first day back in the street.  It wasn’t paranoia, but I was watching cars
as they went past.  I was definitely
traumatized, but I can ride a bike, I will ride a bike and stay on the street.

Streetsblog: Was it easier to do that ride because you were
surrounded by the group of friends?

Tena: Actually, I didn’t do the group ride.  I went to public comment and it was 10-15
minutes away.  I live in Highland Park,
not that far away, but biking on Figueroa and Broadway was kind of nerve
racking.  I felt and heard cars as they
rid by.  I was definitely going at a slow
pace.

5_21_09_tena_2.jpgTena, with Chicken Leather looking on, testifies at the LAPD Police Commission Hearing for May 2009.

Streetsblog: What was more nerve racking?  The bike ride to the LAPD, or testifying at a
Police Commission hearing for the first time?

Tena: It was testifying at the Police commission.  It’s very scary, very nerve wracking,  to get up there and do that.  I was very nervous, my voice was cracking a
little…a little squeaky.

Streetsblog: Your testimony was very good.  I wrote at the time that you could tell that
you weren’t a professional activist, not as polished as the LACBC or Stephen or
the bike lawyer, but your experience and testimony was very powerful and lent
heart to what everyone else was saying.

What’s the take home message from this incident for people out there? 

Tena: I just never thought it would happen to me.  You see things on the news, Ghost Bikes and
things like that…but you don’t think it’s going to happen to you.

A friend of mine actually just got hit too.  He just had a couple of scrapes and his
bottom bracket was broken.  He was going
down seventh, and the guy that hit him drove off.  It was just yesterday.  This stuff happens everyday, and now I guess
I’m a part of it.

Streetblog:  You going
to stay involved as an advocate now, beyond seeing your case through to the
end?

Tena: Yeah, sure absolutely. 
I want the outcome to be positive. 
I’m not the type to get all riled up and make a big deal.  I just want it to be safe for everyone
else.  I’m building a bike for my little
brother, and I want it to be safe for him.

“Ride safe.”  That’s
what I say to everyone now when they’re going somewhere, biking, driving,
flying, “ride safe.”

Streetsblog: I say the same thing to people unless its
Stephen or Alex.  Than it’s “try not to
get arrested.” (we both laugh)

My standard last question to everyone I interview is that if
you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about transportation in Los
Angeles, what would it be?

Tena:  Smaller
cars.  Smart cars.  Everyone should drive a smart car.

Streetsblog: Not everybody ride a bike?

Tena: Well, that too.

Streetsblog: Of course you want smaller cars, you’re the guy that was HIT
BY A HUMMER!

Tena: Ok, let’s say smaller cars and more bikes.

  • Erik

    “sitting and waiting on the curb for the ambulance to get their.”

    Grammer Nazi sez: “to get THERE”

  • Vito

    It’s pretty obvious that the police are covering something up. So I’d love to see an interview with the driver of the H3, just to hear the other side. That might start to poke holes in the Mr Cho’s “official” story.

  • I’d just like to get Officer Cho on a witness stand in front of a good lawyer.

  • @Erik:

    That’s “GRAMMAR”

    On topic:

    I’m am speechless at someone in a Hummer purposely hitting a cyclist. Is Mr. Tena taking the driver to court?

  • No, he clearly said “their” and not “there.”

    Kidding. I fixed it. Thanks.

    Incidentally, I have a working theory as to what happened that night. If I ever get a chance to talk to anyone involved that wasn’t a cyclist and they back any of it I’ll post it. I try to avoid speculating too much here since that’s not what this site is about (on my end.)

  • Sean

    Has anyone tried talking to lapd internal affairs about this? I know it seems pretty pointless but maybe worth a try.

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