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