Hummer Hits Bike, LAPD and City Attorney Worry About Hummer

6_25_09_hummer.jpgThe LAPD testified that this hummer had full license plates at today's hearing. Where they intentionally lieing, or hadn't the officer looked at the pictures that had been submitted? Photo: Luis

On April 24, a gentleman and his family were driving around Downtown Los Angeles in a hummer when a crazed cyclist rammed the back of the vehicle.  Confused and angry, the downed cyclists' friends surrounded the hummer and threatened the driver.  With only a hummer to protect him and the people he cared for, the driver continued forward, inadvertently striking some of the bikes.  One of the rabid cyclists threw their bike at the vehicle, damaging the mirror.  After he was safely away from the cyclists, the driver pulled over and waited for the police to arrive.

That is the story LAPD Commander Mike Williams presented earlier today of the now-infamous April "bike v. hummer" crash in Downtown Los Angeles.  The LAPD further testified that the only part of the case being pursued by City Attorneys was whether there should be misdemeanor charges filed against the cyclist who "threw their bike at the hummer."

A stunned cycling community, who's seen the damage to the side, not front, of Andres Tena's bike and a series of photos that contradict Williams' version of events; aggressively questioned the reality of the LAPD's report, prepared by Officer Cho who was not present.  Also not present was Kirk Albanese, the officer who defended the report in front of the full Council in May.

First off, the cyclists on the scene responded that they weren't harassing the hummer, but were trying to keep it from fleeing the scene because he didn't have plates.  The LAPD cockily responded with the plate number, but photos of the hummer at the time of the crash clearly show that it was an unmarked vehicle.  Those pictures will be available here tomorrow. (edit: That picture is now at the top of the post.)

Second, the hummer wasn't "waiting for the police to arrive" it was fleeing the scene with a bicycle underneath the grille when a squad car pulled it over blocks from the crash.  Williams responded that the report did not mention the bicycle underneath the hummer. 

4_27_09_bike_hummer.jpgThe LAPD claims to have never seen this picture, nor others I have witnessed presented at the Police Commission and to the Inspector General.

Third, the LAPD never responded to my query about what the condition of Tena's bicycle was and what that says about the laws of physics and the crash.  What did the secret "publicly available report" say about the bicycle?  Was it damaged in the front from where it collided with the hummer?  Crickets.

The most moving testimony was again given by Tena, sitting to my right on the witness stand.  Proving that you don't have to be an experienced public speaker to move an audience, Tena recounted the story of the crash that left him hospitalized.  To recap, he never saw the hummer until it was passing him and he was falling.  He was sideswiped from behind, couldn't stand after the crash and suffered a badly sprained ankle and back pains.  He did not run into a hummer from behind, he was just a hungry sober kid, biking home from a party, who was hit by a hummer.  Gone was the smile and good humor that he showed when we last chatted back in May, and he testified that he has good and bad days and is sometimes scared to get on his bike...his primary form of transportation.  Don't get me wrong, he was back to his smiling self after the hearing, but it takes a toll to hear the police spread misinformation about one of the worst days of your life and forming a defensive wall around your attacker.

Wendy Greuel, Bill Rosendahl and Bernard Parks were the only Councilmen present.  "Bike Friendly" Councilman Tom LaBonge left before the bicycle portion of the hearing and Richard Alarcon was a no-show for the second week in a row.  Greuel and Parks seemed annoyed and confused by the LAPD's bizzarro world report, but Rosendahl seemed angry.

Rosendahl asked that the LAPD return to once again try and actually bring a copy of the "accident" report as well as the report being prepared by the Inspector General.  "I don't want to do this again," the Westside Councilman said, referring to holding a hearing on a report that hasn't yet been provided to the Council.

What kind of a justice system do we have if a hummer can sideswipe or rear-end a cyclist and get the city to seek damages on his behalf?  What hope do us common-folk have getting a fair hearing from the LAPD when they won't even provide their report, a public document, to the City Council when it's been a month and a half since it was first requested and today was the third hearing on the issue?

Ironically, the clash over the "bike v. hummer" crash followed a report from Williams where he admitted that the LAPD needs to do more internal education on what obligations that bicyclists have on the road and for what they can and cannot be ticketed.  The LAPD is working on a re-education program as part of an officer's continual training that would clarify the rules of the road for cyclists and pedestrians.  While this is a good step, Williams was unable to make the mental leap that maybe, Officer Cho who prepared the "bike v. hummer" report could use a refresher himself.

However, just because the LAPD realized there may be a gap in their training and working to address it; not everyone was happy with the news.  Aurisha Smolarski, of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, wanted a chance for the cycling community to look at the training documents before the training starts.  Stephen Box noted that the police seem more concerned with finding out how they can most effectively ticket cyclists, not how to protect and defend their rights on the streets.

There were a lot more issues, both about bikes and not, covered at today's meeting. Look for the rest of the stories tomorrow.