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Anger and time to think about ‘lessons’ learned

  • By VeloNews.com
  • Published Nov. 4, 2009
  • Updated Nov. 4, 2009 at 2:31 PM EDT

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Can we say we’re ‘fair and balanced’ then?

Editors:

Kudos to VeloNews for its excellent coverage of the road-rage trial. Your reports are a fair recounting of what people on both sides actually said without adding weasel-words to try to slant the coverage in favor of either side. It is some of the finest trial reporting I have seen in any medium, including in the legal-specific press.

I’ve been a lawyer for 23 years, so I speak from considerable experience. Much — no, most — of the mainstream press should take lessons from you folks. Many thanks for the excellent work.

Richard Shearer
Berkeley, California

Editor’s Note: We, too, would like to thank Patrick Brady for his balanced coverage of the trial. Like most of us, Brady is an avid cyclist, but his years as a journalist appear to have over-ridden the gut reaction most of us would have had covering that story.

An ideal opportunity for reflection

Dear VeloNews,

I have been waiting with rapt attention for the verdict for this trial and I was glad and relieved to learn that Dr. Thompson is being punished for his actions. As a physician and cyclist, I felt a little split minded in my allegiances.

I know the consequences of committing a felony as a physician and can appreciate the implications this verdict will have on his career, but at the same time, I was appalled and disgusted at his aggressive and wonton disregard for these cyclist’s safety and lives. Like many cyclists, I have faced near miss accidents with irritated drivers and times, where, I have expressed my anger and irritation, sometimes regretting letting my emotions get the best of me in those encounters.

Dr. Thompson will have time to reflect on his mistakes, rightfully so, behind bars. Hopefully, the cyclists involved have sense of justice and closure. We would all do well to learn to control our cars and pace lines, emotions, and even our tongues, so that this kind of awful incident could be avoided. Thanks for reporting on this trial and keeping us readers up-to-date on the outcome of the trial.

Ken Dong
Seattle, Washington

Commit the crime and do the time

Editor’s Note: Shaun Bagley’s letter of November 2 – “Jail time is a little bit much” – probably generated more letters than any we’ve had in recent years. To say the least, the position staked out in that letter represents one held by a small minority. Rather than post the large volume of letters, we’ve opted to offer a representative sample, instead.

The definition of a criminal act

Dear VN:

Shaun Bagley’s Nov. 2 letter on the subject of the L.A. road rage trial counseled lenience in sentencing, stating in part, “…I’ve been punched in the face in criteriums for not backing down from pros who think they’re God — but that doesn’t make them criminals…”

Yes, it does.

Violence in practically any situation not involving self-defense is criminal. I dare say that had your nose been nearly severed in the incident you relate, rather than just being punched, and/or if there’d been a weapon involved — Lexus-sized or otherwise — you might feel differently.

David Windhorst
Tigerville, South Carolina

Intent and the lack of remorse

Editor,

I would like to respond to the comments of Shaun Bagley. Dr. Thompson showed no remorse. Because he was inconvenienced, because his time was too precious and because he was offended he chose to hurt and possibly kill these men.

Based on his own comments at the accident scene, I believe that he did exactly what he meant to do. He never said he was sorry, and he never took responsibility for his actions. He should go to prison until the end of his sentence or until he admits he was wrong, whichever comes last. I do not understand why anyone would believe he deserves any leniency.

If he had pleaded guilty, stood up like a man, and taken responsibility for his actions, I might feel differently.

Dax Soule
Seattle Washington

A car, a gun, a baseball bat … it’s still a weapon

Editor,

I’d like to offer an alternate viewpoint to that from the letter of Shaun Bagley, in which he wrote that jail time was too harsh a penalty for the driver that was convicted of road rage in California. I’d look at it this way, remove the fact that the two injured guys were on bikes and imagine they were in a car.

They are going slowly, maybe looking at scenery or real estate. This other driver doesn’t like them going slow, harasses them several times, and then intentionally forces their car off the road into a deep ditch causing significant injury. If that happened the driver would likely get much more than 5 years.

Just because someone is in a car does not remove their legal liabilities. Assault is assault whether the weapon is a car or baseball bat and the offenders should be punished – especially when there is evidence of repeat behavior. Also, don’t think that just because he’s been convicted in criminal court that civil proceedings won’t also take place.

The two cyclists can press civil charges as well, and based on a criminal conviction, will likely win, with the driver being libel for all financial damages (property damage, medical bills, lost wages, etc.) as well as the usual “pain and suffering” to compensate the cyclists.

California does have decent tort laws so the damages won’t be as great as they could be in other places, but the driver will likely be seeing the financial impact of this for quite some time. While this might be seen as “ruining his life”, he made a choice and has to face those consequences. This was not some unfortunate accident. It was intentional.

Losing control is not an excuse. No one other than himself is responsible for the degree of damages he caused.

Greg Gilbert
Marietta, Georgia

Just who sullied Dr. Thompson’s reputation?

Dear Velo,

Cheers to the justice system for getting this right. As a physician I am appalled at this guy’s menacing and deliberate actions. Other readers might be concerned about ruining reputations and careers, but Dr. Thompson is the only one who is responsible for that.

Time to belly up and take responsibility for his own actions and get his just deserts and forget about hiding behind a lawyer with a ridiculous defense.

Dr. Scott Hofer
Lake Charles, Louisiana

Someone was taught a “lesson”

Editor:

In response to my fellow racer Shaun Bagley’s letter regarding the proper punishment for Dr. Thompson, I respectfully disagree.

If he shot at someone in the knee for walking across his lawn in order to teach the person a lesson, would that not be assault with a deadly weapon? Aiming a car at cyclists and intentionally slamming on the brakes is equivalent to aiming a gun at someone and pulling the trigger.

As someone whose back broke a windshield of a left-turning car because the driver actually thought that cyclists did not have right-of-way when riding straight through an intersection, I feel strongly about prosecuting to the full extent of the law so as to make roads safer. And though physically it felt like it was an assault with a deadly weapon, this motorist who turned in front of me was merely ignorant of the law and negligent in regard to my safety.

This excuse does not hold for the good Dr., who wanted to teach cyclists a “lesson.” The lesson for Dr. Thompson, who more than likely revived a few victims of violence during his career, should be that using the car as a weapon in a manner that creates a potential for loss of life will lead to the loss of his freedom.

And to all my fellow cyclists: maintain civility with motorists, offensive or otherwise. I know how easy it is to lose one’s cool when motorists do things that put you at risk.

For a couple of years after my run-in with a windshield, I chased down irresponsible or obnoxious motorists like a rabid dog. However, I came to realize that it is also easy to maintain control, and that the best way to protect your health and your rights as a cyclist is to communicate calmly, if not sternly, to offending motorists what those rights are.

Nick Theobald
Burlingame, California

Anger issues and bird-cage liners

Hey there,

As a Santa Monica resident who regularly rides up Mandeville, I’m very grateful for your complete coverage of the case of Dr. Thompson. I rode there on the afternoon of the crime; I saw the blood and shards on the concrete on the way up, and thought a speeding car had struck another deer or coyote. (Road kill is a common sight in Mandeville Canyon, where the speed limit is 30 and people complain about the bikes going fast, but cyclists are always tailed and then passed while cruising downhill at the speed limit.)

Not that I want to write letters about letters, but it struck me as odd that one reader wrote that “jail time is still a bit harsh for the crime.” This former emergency room doctor wielded what’s tantamount to a tank, compared to a bike; he knew perfectly well the damage he was capable of inflicting with his vehicle.

With his priors, it’s evident he has anger problems, specifically with cyclists. It’s been established he’d attempted the same crime a couple of times before, but hadn’t made contact when he ran the cyclists off the road. So he upped the ante, went further still. I don’t think jail time will teach this old dog a lesson, per se. But he violated the law, and he should do the time like everyone else would, regardless of his millions or rank in society. (After all, he lives at the top of the hill, an easy metaphor to read in LA.) That someone like this will serve a sentence and pay significant punitive damages will serve as a warning to all other drivers who’d consider running down cyclists. That is the only positive I can see of all this.

As far as USA Today‘s coverage of cycling, I appreciate that the writer wrote that the cyclists told Thompson to “Fuck off” and shot him the shaft, yet neglected to mention the honking and revving that preceded that response. I knew there was a reason I always left USA Today on the floor outside the door at hotels.

Keep up the great work. Go Cuddles!

Patrick J Canale
Santa Monica, California

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