Bottle Thrower in Cuffs: This Time I Was the Cyclist Who Got Attacked

Bottle thrower in cuffs in back of LAPD car. Photo by Roger Rudick
Bottle thrower in cuffs in back of LA County Sheriff car. Photo by Roger Rudick

Wednesday night I attended the vigil for Milton Olin, a cyclist who was run down and killed by a distracted Sheriff’s Deputy. The next morning, I decided to do something I haven’t done in a long time: go for a purely recreational ride.

As I get older, and my number of close-calls gets larger, the more I worry that my luck’s about to run out and my death will be the next headline. But the vigil made me more determined than ever that cyclists should not cower. We must be allowed to ride in safety and peace.

I live in downtown, so I decided to take the safest ride I know of: the bike path along the L.A. River. But getting there is still undeniably precarious. I threaded the needle as best I could, navigated around a city vehicle parked in the bike lane on Main Street, cut back over to Alameda near Union Station, and continued towards Chinatown on my journey to the start of the path in Egret Park.

But as I passed the intersection of Spring and Bruno, just past the Homeboy Cafe, a tan SUV blew through the stop sign. I shouted “Oiy!” as loudly as I could and he stopped before hitting me, yelling out the window, “I saw you!”

I answered, “The stop sign is back there!” as I rode past him.

So no f-bombs, no cursing, nothing rude, just a criticism for blowing the stop sign.

He gunned his engine, overtook me, and threw a bottle at me.

The bottle hit me in the buttocks and bounced off. It must have been mostly empty, and plastic, so no damage done. But that’s an assault—anybody throwing a bottle at a cyclist is aware of the potential consequences.

I took off after the guy and easily got back in visual range of his license plate. In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was going to do with the number. But then I noticed something to my left.

An L.A. Sheriff’s car, parked on the other side of the street, with two deputies standing nearby.

“Officer! I need help! Help!” I shouted as loudly as I could. 

The deputies got in their car, spun around, and pulled along side me.

“He threw a bottle at me!” I shouted, pointing at the SUV in front of us.

They made chase and pulled the tan SUV over. They separated us; heard our stories. And they put the driver in handcuffs and into the back of their cruiser. Score one for the good guys.

I assumed the driver was going to lie and it’d turn into my word against his. But that didn’t happen, I guess. Or maybe the driver had priors or an outstanding warrant. I don’t know and it seemed beside the point because there he was, in the back of a police car, with handcuffs on—where he should be.

Deputy Danny Estrada took my information. I think we’re about the same age. We got to chatting.

And he explained what’s what.

Basically, he said if I ask for an assault charge, the guy in the car will be processed and back on the street in an hour. I wasn’t hurt and there was no video so there was little they could do to back up my charge. However, apparently the bottle thrower must have admitted running the stop sign. The Deputy said if we just leave it at that, they can hold him all day. Estrada assured me his daughter rides a bike and he doesn’t want to let the guy go, but the best option—the best way to make this jerk suffer—is the stop-sign citation.

Hmm. Well, not knowing enough about the law to judge either way, we agreed to wait for LAPD to show up and take over, since it’s their jurisdiction.

As we were waiting, things got a bit surreal. Another man approached us and asked if we were going to let the driver go soon, because the guy was his ride. Deputy Estrada said what I was thinking: “Yeah, well, you might have to walk.” Then the driver’s mother walked over from, uh, somewhere, and started apologizing for her son and saying they needed to go to her husband’s chemotherapy.

Anyway, long story short, LAPD arrived 25 minutes later. They also supported the stop-sign violation idea. But they asked if I wanted to press any charges.

“Yeah, how about assault? Throwing a bottle at a cyclist is no joke. If it had hit my spokes or my face, I could be splayed out on the asphalt right now.”

LAPD wasn’t impressed. “We can go a lot of places with ‘what ifs.’”

My next impulse was to say “Well, what if I had a Deringer in my saddle bag and what if I pulled it out and shot at you but missed. You’d be unhurt. So I guess that wouldn’t be an assault either?”

I decided it would not be in my best interest to say that. Unlike Deputy Estrada, the LAPD officers were exuding an attitude of don’t-bother-us-with-this-crap.

Estrada said no matter what happens they’re going to have the guy in the back of the car for quite some time, so I should go finish my ride. He suggested I take Broadway, which is a bit safer for cyclists, to get to the bike path. He also recommended I not exchange words with drivers, as I could get shot.

Getting shot seems like the least of my worries, since if the SUV driver wanted to kill me for sure, he could have just run me over and said, “I didn’t see him.”

Anyway, I went back to look for the bottle, but I think his friend or his mom scooped it up, or it got swept away in traffic, or who knows what.

There are good cops and bad cops, but our law enforcement system itself is fundamentally broken. It should take an assault seriously; police should have been asking witnesses for statements. The cops could have found the bottle. I’m glad the perpetrator is going to have a bad day, but that’s all you get for throwing something from a car at someone?

And is it wise to never yell at drivers? I don’t know if he really saw me or not, but if I hadn’t yelled, we might have crashed as he blew through the stop sign at Bruno and Alameda. Maybe I shouldn’t have added “the stop sign is back there.”

Anyway, I finished my ride.

Sadly, the only time I’ve ever felt truly relaxed and safe when riding a bike on a city street was in the Netherlands. Some day, I dream we might have Dutch-style infrastructure in L.A. I doubt I’ll live to see it. I will keep fighting, but I worry. How many Milton Olins have to die before we take these issues seriously? And which close call will be my last? Or yours?

Right now, my bike is back on its storage hooks on my wall. I suppose it’s time to get a GoPro camera, not that it always helps.

I wish it didn’t feel like we all need one.

  • sahra

    I am not going to touch on Roger’s piece, but I will step in to say the Sheriffs are absolutely not seen as trustworthy by anyone I know in South LA or Boyle Heights, Latino or Black. In Watts, they are seen incredibly poorly, blatantly harassing people on a regular basis, and I know at least two youth they have stolen money from while conducting (unlawful) frisks this year. An LAPD Capt. laughed when I told him about my having gotten stopped and harassed by them and said he was so grateful the Sheriffs were around to make them look so good in comparison. By beginning their tenures working in the jails before heading out to the field, they seem to become indoctrinated to the idea that everyone is a criminal and needs to be treated aggressively and with brute force. The idea that LASD would take over anything is terrifying. One only need follow the jails crisis to know that that is only the tip of the iceberg…

  • calwatch

    In the unincorporated area of East LA (not Watts or Boyle Heights, where they are out of jurisdiction) everyone I know has no issues with them. Two can play this game. And the sheriff being directly elected allows for some political pressure to be put on them, and much of that helped force Lee Baca out. Talk to the residents and city councilmembers of Baldwin Park who want LASD’s greater resources to combat what is seen by some as a petty police force. Or the people of Maywood and Cudahy who are getting something better than small town cops from Bell.

    We need to stop painting with broad brushes about cops, bicyclists, people of different races, etc. and not generalize so quickly. That was my main objection to Herbie’s invocation of Ferguson, one she has backed away a bit from.

  • passerby

    In the article it states the SUV driver blew threw the stop sign, and the cyclist responded with “the stop sign is over there”. As a cyclist myself i try to stop at intersections with stop signs but sometimes I don’t. Are you going to tell me the cyclist in the article has never blew past a stop sign and then get upset when someone calls them out on it. It works both ways.

  • sahra

    I’m not playing any game. Just tempering an endorsement of a force known in some parts of the county as aggressively corrupt and incompetent…and they are not out of jurisdiction in Watts (they stopped and harassed me within their jurisdiction in Watts last summer) or areas like Florence Firestone…East of Central, chunks of South LA are Sheriff territory. And, of course, they heavily patrol the rail lines within both Boyle Heights and SLA, and not being particularly friendly (a number seem to favor racial epithets) when they do so. If they behave better in other parts of the county, I’m genuinely thrilled to hear that, but as I said, it’s unfortunately not an endorsement I’ve ever heard from anyone in any of the areas I cover or beyond.

  • Salts

    If someone, regardless of mode of travel, runs a stop sign in such a way that they cut me off or put me in danger I get upset. Can we stick to the actual events of this situation? Don’t bring up bad behavior of other cyclists and imply it condones the behavior of this driver. In this situation Roger did everything right and the driver didn’t. That’s what matters. if Roger coasted through a stop sign at an empty intersection 2 weeks ago (or whatever) it has no bearing on this situation. Completely irrelevant.

  • Alex Brideau III

    I like how unicycles are specifically called out in the LA City code.

  • james

    Has anyone seen a tried out the rideye “black box” camera or is it vaporware? I was thinking of getting two.

  • I’m failing to see your point here? That’s unrelated to the later assault of throwing a bottle at someone? Not to mention, how you think one person’s traffic violations invalidate another person’s violations. Also how do you “try to to stop at all intersections but sometimes don’t”? Do your brakes not work? I try to stop at all stop signs as a cyclist and I succeed in stopping at all stop signs as a cyclist. Its pretty easy.

  • hugo

    This is ridiculous. We have rights as cyclists. Why should we have to be second-class citizens, just because we have a different form of transportation?

  • drsus

    i didn’t know about this, excellent little product idea.

  • james

    There was apparently a successful kickstarter, followed by images of a sleeker 2.0 model. Apparently made in LA. I haven’t seen any reviews.

  • j

    Imagine if you had honked at another driver who ran a red light and nearly hit you. If the red light running driver then threw a bottle at your car would you be accused of escalation? Would the LAPD have told your off for honking? Probably not. The LAPD apparently thinks we should accept our status as 3rd class citizens and not make any noise when a motorist breaks the law and threatens our life. If a driver wants to respond to bad behavior with a honk, go ahead but if you are a cyclist or pedestrian you should keep your mouth shut.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Agreed.

    In America we have the right to voice our displeasure if someone angers us (perhaps by blowing through a stop sign). We don’t, however, have the right to commit battery against someone who uses their constitutional right to free speech. Seems pretty clear to me.

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