When Is Enough, Enough?

As I worked on the daily “Today’s Headlines” roundup for this morning, there were three items I wanted to pull because they paint an ugly picture about what’s going on in our streets.

Ed Magos is left bleeding in the street next to his mangled bicycle as Angelina Everett speeds off.  Emely Aleman and Angela Rodriguez are thrown 50 feet after being hit by a Jeep Wrangler.   Moran Biton strikes and kills Conor Lynch in Sherman Oaks with a burgundy SUV.

The particulars of each case are different, but the outcome for the drivers are the same.  None will be charged with a felony, and it’s unlikely that any will face jail time.  Everett, Biton and the still anonymous killer of Aleman will face misdemeanor charges, as though they were caught shoplifting a candy bar, not maiming a fellow human being.  And some people wonder why the term “accident” is offensive when applied to these preventable, deadly, crashes.

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In some ways, the Magos/Everett case is the most concerning even though Magos was not killed and Everett faces sentencing tomorrow.  Originally, neither the District Attorney or City Attorney was interested in prosecuting a clear hit and run until the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition drew attention to the case.  Tomorrow, the LACBC will be hosting its third, and hopefully final, “ride for justice” as they head to Everett’s sentencing.  You can get the details of the ride, and the trial, by visiting the LACBC’s blog here.

While the Bike Coalition deserves credit for bringing attention to Magos’ case, they probably aren’t capable of bringing attention to every bike crash in the city.  In other words, we need a change in the way that C.A.’s and D.A.’s look at these cases and more incentive for going after reckless and dangerous drivers.

Taking a more meta view of enforcement issues is Bikeside, who in addition to pushing for clearer thinking from police and prosecutors also wants changes in the law.  In the Streetsblog comments section, even LAPD Sgt. David Krumer voiced admiration for their Life Before License Campaign which seeks to change state law for hit and run crashes to make the penalties fit the crime.  As the law is written now, if a driver hits another road user and was drinking, the best thing he or she could do for themselves is run from the scene.  Hit and Run laws are actually more lenient than drunk driving laws.  Thus, the worst thing a drunk driver could do for themselves is stay at the scene.

That being said, there is no evidence that Biton, Everett or the person who killed Aleman and crippled Rodriguez were drinking.  But we do know that both Everett and Biton fled the scene.

Conor Lynch.  Photo provided by LA Now.

Conor Lynch. Photo provided by LA Now.

In Biton’s case, the crime is even more egregious.  Biton, an unlicensed driver at the time, hit Conor Lynch while he crossed the street in the middle of the block.  Biton drove for four blocks before telling an officer in a parked car that “I think I hit someone.”  She will not be charged with a felony because, as reported in the Times:

Biton was arrested later on suspicion of leaving the scene of an accident. But county prosecutors said that there was no evidence for a felony filing because Biton contacted police and did not conceal any details of the case.

The law is so tilted towards protecting unsafe drivers that an unlicensed driver can hit someone, leave them lying in the street, confess to the police that she’s not sure if she hit (much less killed) someone and face a maximum of a year in jail.  Clearly these laws need to be changed.  Yet, there is almost no inertia in Sacramento for such laws to be changed.

Emely Aleman.  Photo from ##http://www.facebook.com/people/Brianna-Trimboli/100000557888342#!/pages/Emely-Aleman-Memorial/159371870765804?v=wall##The Emely Aleman Memorial/Facebook##

Emely Aleman. Photo from The Emely Aleman Memorial/Facebook

All of the road design in the world wouldn’t have protected Lynch from an unlicensed, oblivious driver; but it might have saved Aleman and Rodriguez.  In the much-publicized crash in the Valley, the two were crossing the street in an un-signalized crosswalk when they were run down by a yet-unnamed driver who, to his or her credit, stayed at the scene until the police arrived.  The community has focused their anger at the city for not installing a traffic light as they requested after another fatal crash last December.

Indeed, what truly Livable cities need is support for cyclists and pedestrians at all level of governments.  In these cases we see sub-par conditions and roadways, ambivalent police officers, lenient laws and prosecuters that can’t be bothered.  No one campaign can fix all of this, a true citizen’s revolt is what’s really needed.

But as people lay dead and dieing in the street and their killers speed away, as deadly crosswalks are left un-fixed nearly a year after a man is run down, as prosecutors look for excuses not to charge people that kill with their car; those that want to live in a city that caters to people, not their cars, are left to wonder: When is enough, enough?  What will it take before the safety revolution truly comes?