Courtroom Drama for Cyclists throughout the County

laist_1.jpgThe trial of Dr, Christopher Thompson begins today, but there are other cases worth watching.

The wheels of justice grind slowly and sometimes it’s hard to believe that the system is working but a survey of the legal landscape in LA County reveals that there are several cases working that should be of great interest to the cycling community. Danny Jimenez, local cyclist and lawyer, says "victims are often discouraged by the difficulty in obtaining justice but when the system works, it’s encouraging to see a Judge and a Prosecutor and a Jury doing their job and doing it well."

In the last year and a half, there have been several drunk driving and road rage incidents that have shaken the cycling community, leaving a trail of dead and broken bodies behind along with a general feeling of frustration and despair for the friends and families of the victims.

Dr. Christopher T. Thompson is charged with 2 counts of Assault with a Deadly Weapon (245a) 2 counts of Battery with Serious Bodily Injury (243d) reckless driving (23103a) and reckless driving causing specified injury (23105a) and Mayhem (203) all stemming from the Mandeville Canyon Road Rage incident that left two cyclists broken, bleeding and lying on the road. Thompson’s case is slowly working itself through the system at the LAX Courthouse. Today, they will pick a judge to replace Judge Cynthia Reyvis and will then hear pre-trial motions. Tomorow, they start jury selection.

Alejandro Hidalgo is charged with vehicular manslaughter (191.5a) and DUI (23153a) (23153b) in the death of Jesus Castillo on Glendale Boulevard and his case is coming up in the Downtown Criminal Courthouse. The next hearing is on October 30 at 8:30 and no trial date has been set for this case.

Robert Sam Sanchez is charged with Vehicular Manslaughter (191.5a) and DUI (23153a) and Hit-and-Run with serious bodily injury (20001a) in the death of Rodrigo "Rod" Armas and the injury to his son, Christian Armas on PCH and that case is coming up in the Malibu Courthouse. The next hearing is on October 20 at 8:30 am and no trial date has been set.

Marco Antonio Valencia is charged with Vehicular Manslaughter (191.5a) and DUI (23153a) and Hit-and-Run with serious bodily injury (20001a) and in the death of Joe Novotny on Bouquet Canyon Road in Santa Clarita and that case is coming up in San Fernando Courthouse. The next hearing is on October 28 at 8:30 am and no trial date has been set.

Jim Azpilicueta is charged with two counts of Assault with a Deadly Weapon (245a) and Hit-and-Run with serious bodily injury (20001a) in an incident that caused a cyclist to sustain significant injuries including severe damage to her face. The arraignment is set for October 14 at 8:30 am.

There is another case pending in the Hit-and-Run with Serious Bodily Injury (20001a) incident that left Roadblock lying on Glendale Boulevard after being hit from behind and flipped into the air, landing with just enough consciousness and awareness to catch a partial license plate of the car as it sped off into the distance. The arraignment is set for Nov. 2 at 8:30 am in Dept. 60 Metro Court.

Missing from the dockets of the Southland Courthouses is the infamous Hummer vs. Cyclists case. The LAPD response to the Hummer vs. Cyclists incident received much attention and resulted in a City Council motion directing an LAPD report on police activity and the resulting investigation. It also stirred a Storm the Bastille ride to City Hall, three visits to the Police Commission, and claims filed with the LAPD Inspector General. But it did not result in a court case.

This is why cyclists need the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights. The CBR has picked up endorsements from the City Council, from the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and from neighborhood councils around LA. The CBR claims as right #4 "Cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law."

Now is the time for the cycling community to embrace the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights
and to insist that it be included, as written, in LA’s Draft Bike Plan, just released and already under attack for having a 42 day window for public participation and not using imperative language that will support the rights of cyclists on the streets of Los Angeles.

Pay close attention to what’s happening in City Council, in the Courts and, most of all, on the Streets!

  • Erik G.

    If it was made the bike and ped bill of rights, might it have a better shot of passing??

  • Well, that’s an interesting thought.

    There’s already a Pedestrian Bill of Rights, there’s also an Equestrian Bill of Rights and a Police Bill of Rights. So it seems as if the cyclists are late in stepping up.

    As for the immediate future, LA’s Draft Bike Plan is before us so we’re approaching with a focus on supporting the rights of cyclists on the streets of Los Angeles.

    But your suggestion of a more global approach is good and is reflected in some of the Common Ground approaches to public space and support all modes and all people.

  • Mercx

    Sadly, I bet that if Lance Armstrong got victim of hit-and-run in this area, thngs would move a lot quicker in courts. It appears like what’s really needed is a significant increase mediatic spotlight to get things moving on cyclist’s behalf…

  • Biker395

    It is a travesty that Marco Antonio Valencia has not been charged with murder.

    Not even old enough to drink, he had two prior arrests and one prior conviction for drunk driving, including an incident when he hit a power pole near a school, knocking out power to the area.

    Immediately before hitting and killing Mr. Novotny, he had struck other items on the street and had near collisions with other drivers. He was being pursued when the MURDER took place. He was also driving without a license. Big surprise … it had been suspended.

    I’m sorry, but that man has already killed one person, and any time he is not cooling his heels in prison, he is in danger of killing others. This case is NOT one for mercy.

    Shame on the DA for not having the common sense to charge that man with MURDER, because that is what he did. Someone will pay for the DA’s stupid (and I do not use that word lightly) mistake.

  • DJwheels

    Trust me, there is no way any prosecutor can prove that Valencia had the required level of intent to support a murder charge. Even a crappy defense attorney could get him acquitted on murder charges.

    Murder is reserved for specific kinds of actions, but not this. Vehicular manslaughter is the appropriate charge.

  • Biker395

    I disagree. Murder is the appropriate charge.

    Second degree murder requires specific intent to kill, but outrageously reckless behavior can substitute for that intent.

    Do the facts evidence outrageously reckless behavior? Well, lets see. Mr. Valencia already had his drivers license revoked. Yet, he chose to drive. Better yet, to drink and drive.

    Was he barely over the limit? No, he was substantially over the limit. He chose not only to drink, but to drink a lot, and a 10AM on a Sunday morning.

    Was his driving reckless? You decide. He had near collisions with a number of people, and actually struck several objects. One individual witnessed this, and followed him, reporting his position with a cellphone to police. He ran into and killed the cyclist while trying to escape. He also had several near head on collisions before the cyclist was killed.

    That kind of behavior evidences recklessness beyond the pale, and is a textbook case of murder in the second degree.

    You might recall the case of the Internet cycling advocate Ken Kifer. He was killed in similar circumstances … by a man who had just hours before, been released from jail for drunk driving. That man was charged with murder, plead guilty, and is now in jail where he cannot kill anyone else.

    This is not a case like that of Robert Sam Sanchez. When he killed the father and son, he had a clean driving record. Mr. Valencia has had two drunk driving arrests and one conviction, and he is not even of drinking age. That conviction, BTW, was for knocking over a power pole near a school, and setting a neighborhood without power.

    No, murder is the appropriate charge.

    Any time Mr. Valencia is not in jail is time that he threatens the rest of us on the road. And he will kill again. Thanks to the DA, that will happen sooner than it needed to.

    Whoever you are Mr./Ms. DA, that death will be on your head.

  • DJwheels

    I understand what you’re saying about substituted intent and the recklessness of Valencia’s actions, but California has a specific code that applies here and is normally used in these cases.

    Moreover, although Jimmy D. Rodgers was charged with murder under Alabama law in the death of Ken Kifer, he ultimately pled guilty to manslaughter and dui, not murder.

    California Penal Code section 191.5 (a) states: “Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.”

  • Hey … lawyers? Can we sue the City (and win?) over their illegal closure of Griffith Park’s Crystal Springs Drive to cyclists during the annual Festival of Lights?

  • Biker395

    I knew Jimmie Rodgers was charged with murder, but I didn’t know Jimmie Rodgers ultimately plead guilty to manslaughter, not murder. From what I have read, that plea agreement was agreed to by Ken’s family, who felt Ken would have wanted them to be forgiving.

    And what did that forgiving nature result in? Mr Rodgers was offered parole in 2005 after serving only two years! I also heard, but cannot confirm, that he was not granted parole because he failed a drug test. I guess it is a good thing he couldn’t stay clean even long enough to work the system.

    You cited California Penal Code Section 191.5 (a), but forgot to mention Section 191.5(e):

    (e) This section shall not be construed as prohibiting or
    precluding a charge of murder under Section 188 upon facts exhibiting
    wantonness and a conscious disregard for life to support a finding
    of implied malice, or upon facts showing malice consistent with the
    holding of the California Supreme Court in People v. Watson, 30 Cal.
    3d 290.

    What’s “malice consistent with the holding in ‘Watson'”? Consider this:

    Felony second-degree murder charges are brought when it is believed that the drunk-driver acted with implied malice, or a conscious disregard for human life. The charge is unusual in a DWI case, because it’s extremely difficult to prove implied malice on the part of a drunk driver.

    However, if the driver has prior DWI convictions, a prosecutor can use those priors to show that the defendant knew the dangers of drunk-driving, but chose to get behind the wheel anyway. In California, a defendant who pleads guilty or no contest to a drunk-driving charge must admit to that knowledge either in court, or through a signed admission. This admission, known as a “Watson warning,” can be used as evidence that the person acted with implied malice in a subsequent prosecution for second-degree murder.


    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on the point, but I think there are strong facts here by which the DA would have been able to show that Mr. Valencia acted with a conscious disregard for human life. This is no ordinary DWI case!

    Besides, what is the harm in charging him with second degree murder and vehicular manslaughter in the alternative?

  • Jorges Montelongro

    The broblem goes both ways were biers ARE NOT sharing the road… they expect that everyone should bow down to them when it should be 50/50.

    Both sides need to learn some respect or else crap like this is gonna keep on happening.

    I laugh at all parties involved in these incidents. Be kind to one another, have mutual respect and this won’t happen.

    Share the road, this means you too you roadies!

  • Biker395

    I dunno what kind of drugs you’re on Jorge, but this story is about a seriously drunk driver who crossed the yellow line and struck a cyclist coming the other direction. What the heck does that have to do with “sharing the road”?

  • Maybe victims win one or to cases every now and then,but let’s face it…accidents like those,and not only happen all the time all over the world…and few…verry few…have a good ending.Even if they win in court what about the pain?the suffering of the family and friends?
    Take care everyone,have a nice day!


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