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LA road-rage defendant says he stopped to try to take a picture

  • By VeloNews.com
  • Published Oct. 29, 2009
  • Updated Nov. 3, 2009 at 7:00 PM EDT

By Patrick Brady

Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson said he never intended to hurt a pair of cyclists who hit the back of his car on the Fourth of July 2008. He told a court Wednesday that he stopped to try to take a picture of the riders after a verbal confrontation, and said he wakes up every night thinking about the incident that led to him being charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

“I’m not happy anyone suffered injuries,” Thompson told defense attorney Peter Swarth in Los Angeles Superior Court. He denied telling a police officer that he meant to teach the injured cyclists a lesson.

Thompson testified Wednesday about the incident on the Fourth involving cyclists Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr. He also talked about an earlier incident on the same road, involving Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby. He denied that he was involved with yet another incident, with cyclist Patrick Early, earlier that year.

In the Peterson/Stoehr incident and the Watson/Crosby incident, Thompson testified that he stopped after passing the cyclists to get their names or take a photo of them so he could file a complaint with police.

Peterson went through the rear window of Thompson’s Infiniti sedan when Thompson stopped; Stoehr says he slammed into the rear of the car and flew over the top of it. Watson says he had to bunnyhop over a curb to avoid hitting the car when it stopped.

Swarth asked Thompson his feelings about cyclists in general.

“I have no problem with cyclists. I don’t like to be behind them for safety reasons,” he said.

Swarth asked him to elaborate. Thompson went on to relate briefly the story of his childhood friend Bobby, who was run over a car, from behind, when Thompson was 14. Thompson was visibly shaken as he related the story and appeared near tears.

‘Tens of thousands of times’

The incidents were on Mandeville Canyon Road, where Thompson lives. Swarth asked Thompson a number of questions about the road, including its elevation gain, distance, how it winds, points where it narrows and more. Thompson testified he had driven the road “tens of thousands” of times.

Thompson said the former Robert Taylor Ranch — the site of the Peterson/Stoehr incident — is a point he uses to pass cyclists as he drives both up and down the canyon, as it is the one stretch of road on which you have a clear line of sight both up and down the canyon.

Thompson said he and other Mandeville Canyon residents had wanted to find a way to identify law-breaking cyclists. It was the suggestion of a police officer to a friend that stuck with Thompson: take a photograph.

“It bothered me that we were doing what I thought was police work,” said Thompson.

The Watson/Crosby incident

Concerning the incident with Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby, Thompson’s version of events is that he honked once, lightly, with the heel of his hand. As he passed the pair, he said, he lowered his passenger side window and told the riders, “single file.”

The riders “never changed position,” he said. “I got back an obscene gesture. They shot me the shaft. They were both talking; I’m not sure which said it, but one said, ‘Fuck you, asshole.’”

Swarth asked how he felt about what happened.

“I was frustrated. I was just trying to create a safe environment,” Thompson said.

“I stopped in a normal fashion. I wanted to get their names,” he said. “After I stopped, I put the car in park. They both stopped. The rider on the left struck my car one time. He struck my car a second time. He struck my car three times.”

“How did you feel?” Swarth asked.

“I was frightened. They were acting crazy so I decided I needed to leave,” Thompson recounted. “They had endangered themselves as well as me.”

The Patrick Early incident

Although Thompson was not charged with anything related to cyclist Patrick Early’s confrontation with a driver on Mandeville Canyon Road during the winter of 2007-2008, prosecutors had Early testify to establish a pattern of behavior.

Early said he was passed closely and at speed as he was climbing the canyon, and identified the driver as Thompson from a police line-up. Early, who works in the auto industry, said he could identify Thompson’s year and model of car.

Following a long analysis of work and travel dates between the end of December and mid-January, Swarth asked Thompson, “Did you have that confrontation with Patrick Early?”

“I simply wasn’t there,” he said. “No.”

The Fourth of July incident

Moving to the July 4, 2008, incident Swarth asked how Thompson drove to get down the canyon at the speed limit. Could he apply the accelerator in descending the canyon?

“No,” said Thompson. “It’s a lot of coast-brake-coast-brake.”

“There were three bikes riding three across. As I got closer I tapped on the horn with the heel of my hand. The center rider turned around. Again, I honked with the heel of my hand. The left rider turned around and shot me the shaft. All I could do is think, ‘Here we go again,’” Thompson said.

“Were you in a rush?” Swarth asked.

“No, not at all,” said Thompson.

“Bicycles are inherently dangerous,” Thompson asserted, “because of their instability and unpredictability. The last thing I want is to be behind a bicycle because of their ability to fall off or hit a pothole or child because that puts them under my wheels.”

“I made an arc-like pass,” he said. “I said three words, ‘single file please.’ I accelerated as hard as I could. I heard a hail of ‘fuck you, asshole,’ from all three.”

“I was coming up to a turn. I decided I need to stop and see if I can get a picture. About three seconds after passing I stopped, took my seatbelt off and put the car in park,” he said. “I started to open the door. That’s when one of the riders hit the back of my car.”

Once Officer Rodriguez of the LAPD arrived, Thompson testified, “He seemed distracted. He kept looking up the canyon.”

Swarth asked, “Did you say you wanted to teach them a lesson?”

“No,” said Thompson.

“Did you say, ‘They flipped me off?”

“No, repeated Thompson. “I say, ‘Shoot me the shaft.’”

Swarth brought up the fact that Thompson told a 911 operator — in a conversation that was recorded and played in court earlier in the trial —  that Peterson’s and Stoehr’s injuries weren’t serious.

Thompson explained how emergency room cases are organized into two broad classes, those that are in life-threatening danger, and those that are not.

Peterson and Stoehr had injuries that were unlikely to threaten their lives, Thompson said, and therefore were not “serious.”

Thompson said that even though Peterson would not allow him to treat him, Thompson still assessed the injured cyclist according to emergency medicine’s “ABCs” — airway, breathing and circulation. He determined that Peterson and Stoehr had no serious issues with their airways, breathing or circulation.

Thompson said the injuries, nevertheless, troubled him.

“I wake up every night at 4:00 a.m. thinking about this incident. I injured people and I’ll never get over that.

Brief cross-examination

Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone’s cross-examination was relatively brief and she moved to the events of July 4, 2008, fairly quickly.

Related articles:

Oct. 30, 2009: Closing arguments
Oct. 29, 2009: Thompson cross-examined
Oct. 28, 2009: Dr. Thompson takes the stand
Oct. 26, 2009: Prosecution rests
Oct. 22, 2009: ‘I wanted to teach them a lesson’
Oct. 20, 2009: Defense suggests cyclists were looking for a fight
Oct. 19, 2009: Road-rage trial begins
Oct. 12, 2009: California road-rage case heads for court
Dec. 24, 2008: Mionske: Mandeville incident inspires Cyclists Bill of Rights
Aug. 15, 2008: Mionske: Bikes v. cars
Aug. 8, 2008: Mionske: Where’s the justice?
July 14, 2008: Mailbag: Readers sound off
July 13, 2008: Doctor charged
July 10, 2008: LA incident rallies cyclists

Stone asked Thompson, “You pulled in front and slammed on your brakes.”

“I did not slam on my brakes,” Thompson responded.

Stone then played the 911 tape again in which Thompson clearly says to the operator, “I slammed on my brakes.”

Stone went through Officer Rodriguez’s notes on Thompson’s statement to him at the scene, line by line.

“Did you say, ‘I just live up the road?’”

“Yes,” said Thompson.

“Did you say, ‘I was driving to go to work?’”

“Yes,” said Thompson.

“Did you say, ‘The bikers were in front of me, three across?’”

“Yes,” said Thompson.

“Did you say, ‘I honked my horn and yelled ‘ride single file?’”

“Yes,” said Thompson.

“Did you say, ‘The bicyclists flipped me off and yelled back?’”

“Yes, well, I said, ‘They shot me the shaft,’ that’s just what I say,” said Thompson.

“Did you say, ‘I passed them up and stopped in front to teach them a lesson?’”

“No,” said Thompson.

“Did you say, ‘I’m tired of them?’”

“No,” said Thompson.

“Did you say, ‘I’ve lived here for years and they always ride like this?’”

“Yes,” said Thompson.

Closing arguments will take place beginning at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Airport Courthouse. The jury is expected to get the case in the afternoon.

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