Glendale Traffic Cops Botch Report on Fatal Bike Crash

Screen_shot_2010_05_16_at_8.48.16_PM.pngSite of the crash. Not the business district. Image: Google Street View

When we last checked in with the Glendale Police Department, we were entertained by the sight of an officer in a giant bunny costume being used in a traffic sting to catch motorists that ignored pedestrian crossing.  The story wasn't just encouraging, officers thinking outside the box to make their streets safer, but also funny.  I mean, there was a giant bunny suit involved.

Last week's story involving the Glendale police was not so funny.  On September 23, 2008 a motorist, allegedly Naira Margaryan, ran down a cyclist who died 13 months later.  Six months after the cyclist finally succumbed, the D.A. decided to charge Margaryan with a misdemeanor of "vehicular manslaughter."  The charge carries a maximum sentence of 1 year of jail time, although it is unlikely that Margaryan will face one day in jail.

The reason for the light charge, in the words of Glendale Police Det. Ashraf Mankarios and reported by the Glendale News-Press, was that riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is illegal according to the California Vehicle Code.  Mankarios went so far as to state that the cyclist, who crossed the street legally, and the driver, who ran a stop sign and killed the cyclist, were "equally at fault."  As you might expect, because the CVC allows for municipalities to set rules regarding sidewalk riding, the reaction from the cycling community is outrage.

As for the misinformation in the piece, both the paper and the GPD are pointing the finger at the other.  Cycling advocate/lawyer DJ Wheels spoke to Veronica Rocha, who wrote the piece for the News-Press.  According to Wheels, Rocha admitted she should have double checked Mankarios' statement about the CVC, but that he is a veteran officer who had proven trustworthy on such matter in the past.  Meanwhile, the LACBC's Safe and Healthy Streets Coordinator for Glendale, Colin Bogart, writes that the GPD who say that some of the information in the article is incorrect.

So that everyone is clear about the law, here is the relevant section from the California Vehicle Code:

21100. Local authorities may adopt rules and regulations by ordinance or resolution regarding the following matters:...
... (h) Operation of bicycles, and, as specified in Section 21114.5, electric carts by physically disabled persons, or persons 50 years of age or older, on the public sidewalks.

Ok, but that doesn't mean anything without knowing Glendale's laws.  Here is the section on sidewalk riding in Glendale:

Glendale Municipal code 10.64.025 Bicycle riding on sidewalks.

No person shall ride or operate a bicycle upon any public sidewalk in any business district within the city except where such sidewalk is officially designated as part of an established bicycle route. Pedestrians shall have the right-of-way on sidewalks. The prohibition in this section shall not apply to peace officers on bicycle patrol. (Ord. 5116 § 1, 1996)

As LAist has already noted, it doesn't appear that the above picture is a business district of any sort.  That means that sidewalk riding was mis-identified as illegal by the GPD, even if the reporter got confused about state and local laws.  Regardless of what Mankarios is citing, he's wrong.  Why was Mankarios confused?  Maybe because the state's Driver's Manual actually writes the responsibility of cyclists incorrectly.  Nevertheless, this crash happened over a year and a half ago.  It's not asking too much for a police officer to look up the law in that time.

So what can be done?  Probably very little.  Even if the GPD get their act together and write an addendum to the original report; any defense attorney worth their bottom dollar would be able to point to Mankarios' original statement that the fault was "50/50" and get reasonable doubt from an uneducated juror.  The best that can be worked for is better education of the GPD and other local police forces to learn the law and enforce it.  After all, regardless of what you think of sidewalk riding, there's no doubt that the world would be a safer place if drivers that killed cyclists or pedestrians were taken off the street.