How San Francisco created America's first bicycle felon
On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.
This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.
We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.
Bikelash is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story we hear all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. The media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgement, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.
The story is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. I created this companion GitHub project as a collaborative space where everyone is invited to take a closer look at the evidence, make comments, and suggest changes.
No one should ever have to die for crossing the street
But people do. On average since 2010, 18 pedestrians died each year while walking on San Francisco's roadways. Overall the city has averaged about 30 traffic deaths a year since 2005, according to the Vision Zero program. In San Francisco's recorded history, two pedestrains deaths involved bicycles, and both were blamed entirely upon the cyclists.
The Center for Investigative Reporting studied the 434 pedestrian fatalities in the Bay Area's five largest counties between 2007 and 2011, finding that motorists were at fault in 238 of these accidents. Of those found at fault, 60% did not face any criminal charges. Of those convicted, 40% served no more than a day's jail time.
The other fatal bike accident
Just sixteen days before the Castro/Market accident, local papers reported that Randy Ang—who admittedly ran a red light on his bicycle and fatally struck a woman lawfully crossing the street in a crosswalk in 2010—would receive a sentence of "only" 500 hours of community service and probation in exchange for pleading guilty to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.
The public outrage that followed Ang's "light" sentencing gave San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón an opportunity to exploit people's now-seamingly-justified fear of bicycles.
Two weeks and three days after the news broke over Randy's sentencing, with the anger of how "weak" it was fresh in their minds, people first heard of my accident in the news, igniting a furor of angry, hateful comments directed at me and at cyclists in general.
Through a series of leaks and press releases, George Gascón, San Francisco's District Attorney, built a damning strawman case against me in the local media. In response to the public sentiment he curated, he then charged me with felony vehicular manslaughter, the first time in history that this charge had been applied to someone riding a bicycle.
However, during discovery, I found a traffic light in the prosecutor's own evidence, a video from a bar surveillance camera that captured the accident in its entirety. This traffic light showed that the prosecutors had the case completely backwards.
The story of how I ended up a convicted felon despite this is the subject of Bikelash, a ten-week podcast and blog serial.
I've created this project to provide a permanent record of the media narrative juxtaposed by the facts of my case, many of which I culled directly from the records of court proceedings. Anyone is welcome to join me and participate in this collaborative forum. My goal here is not to change minds or win hearts. On the contrary, my objective is to show how Trial by Media can run contrary to the facts of a case to produce outcomes in which justice is not served.
Rules of engagement
In keeping with the spirit of other open source projects, anyone can modify these materials, using the standard fork-and-pull model. In collaboration with contributors, I will respond to any and all comments to the best of my abilities and discuss and incorporate any changes to help the information here become more accurate and more easy to understand. In return, I ask that contributors and commentors leave behind their prejudcies (e.g. that cyclists always run red lights and stop signs and that pedestrians always have the right of way). This is a work of engineering and law, so anything incorporated into it must have solid grounding in observable data with models based on verifiable mathematics and the vehicle code.
I reserve the right to delete any comments and reject any pull requests that do not contribute to this effort in a productive, meaningful fashion.
Claims and rebuttals
The left column shows the major claims of the false narrative created by the DA and promulgated by the TV news, local media and bloggers. The right column shows how verifiable facts—corroborated by the prosecution's own video evidence—proved that all of their public claims were false.
Note: Before viewing stills from the video, I recommending briefly getting oriented with the 360° camera footage.
|Pedestrians always have the right-of-way||The California Vehicle Code (CVC) defines exactly where and when pedestrians do and do not have the right-of-way|
|Cyclists rarely follow the rules of the road||Even if that's true, it doesn't mean that I behaved unlawfully|
|I ran a red light at the intersection of Market & Castro||The prosecution's own video footage showed that my light was yellow when I entered the intersection|
|I failed to yield to pedestrians||The rules of the road, designed for everyone's safety, required the pedestrians to yield the right-of-way to me|
|The pedestrians had a WALK symbol, according to multiple eyewitnesses||Video footage clearly showed that eight people, including the deceased man and his wife, entered the crosswalk against a red upraised hand (DON'T WALK) indicator|
|I ran several red lights and stop signs leading up to the crash, according to one eyewitness||The video proves that Nathan Pollak, the witness behind these (and other) statements, fabricated his entire account—because he wasn't there|
|I wrote a "blog post" that claimed I was "mourning" my bicycle helmet more than the man I "killed"||I didn't ever blog about anything—least of all, that; rather, six hours after receiving treatment for a concussion, taking painkillers, and speaking with the SFPD who told me that doctors expected the injured pedestrian to make a full recovery, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek email about helmet safety to my family, friends and cycling teammates that became more and more wildly-misinterpreted and chronologically-altered|
|Because I used Strava, a popular fitness tracking program, a local blogger, assumed I was racing at the time of the accident||Using Strava to record all my rides does not mean that I was racing that day or that I ever engage in real or imaginary races while riding on crowded city streets; rather, it means I like data|
|I rode a brakeless fixed-gear bicycle (or "fixie")||The police report contained several photos of the bike, held in their custody, which had drop bars and brifters, 18 gears (2x9), a freewheel and fully-functioning front and rear brakes|
|I was riding recklessly||No one driving a car would ever be called "reckless" or said to have a "need for speed" for entering an intersection on a yellow signal in the high 20s or low 30s in a 25mph zone|
|I hit the pedestrian "dead-on," I was "hunched down," and there was "never a moment" where I was "trying to slow down."||The video shows extreme braking, turning and other evasive actions|
|A tracker on Bucchere’s bike allegedly showed he was riding faster than 35 mph in a 25-mph zone||There was no "tracker;" this estimate was based on Strava's wildly-inaccurate interpolation of GPS waypoints collected by my iPhone|
|I gave statements to the police that didn't match the surveillance video, including saying "the crosswalk was filled with people coming from both directions" but "the video shows only three or four people in the crosswalk when the collision occurred."||The video clearly showed eight people (six walking west and two walking east) converging into my lane, which was 23-feet wide; the northbound lanes were occupied by a car (#1 lane) and a bus (#2 lane)|
|Had I been in a car, I would have been punished similarly (or worse)||"The pattern in [pedestrian accidents] is that drivers typically face no legal consequences unless they were drunk or fled the scene."|
|The DA denied leaking information to the local press and/or blamed the SFPD||Dean Taylor, an inspector in the SFPD unit that investigated the accident, told me the DA's office stole the accident video from a locked filing cabinet and leaked false information about it to the local press, saying the DA's behavior was "not fair" and that the way they handled my case was "complete bullshit." More proof of the DA's leaks came when privileged information about the 3.5 second "all red" turned up in the newspaper before that information came before the court.|
More to come as the podcast continues...