One Year Later: Assaulted Cyclist Reflects

Anthony Ryan near the spot where he was attacked by a raging motorist. Photo: Streetsblog.
Anthony Ryan near the spot on Phelan Avenue, in front of City College of San Francisco, where he was attacked by a raging motorist. Photo: Streetsblog.

Last year, Streetsblog brought you the story of Anthony Ryan, a middle-aged art instructor who teaches at several San Francisco colleges. He was on his way home one evening from a job at San Francisco State, around 9 p.m. this time last year, when he suddenly found himself in mortal danger at the hands of a motorist who was determined to harm him. You can review the details here.

The end of the attack was caught on video and detectives tracked down the assailant by the license plate. The man driving the car was eventually convicted of assault. But the incident still troubles Ryan. Streetsblog has covered several stories about cyclists who have been harmed or threatened, either intentionally or because of irresponsible behavior. But it’s important to remember that the physical and psychological pain and disruption from these incidents, even when there aren’t serious injuries, lingers. All the more reason that the core causes are so important to address, both with law enforcement and better infrastructure.

That’s why Streetsblog sat down with Ryan to reflect on the incident and the trial and prosecution, one year later.

Streetsblog: How often do you ride your bike?

Anthony Ryan:  Every day, basically. Even when I take the bus and BART to Diablo Valley College, where I teach in Pleasant Hill, I bring my bike for the last half-mile and to get around campus.

SB: I understand the road rage incident in 2015 wasn’t your first life-and-death experience on a bike?

AR: Yes, I had a crash in 2011. I was in a crosswalk at Victoria and Ocean and someone ran the red and hit the front of my bike. And I was launched and landed on my face.

SB:  You ended up in the hospital and had your jaw wired, is that right?

AR: Yes. I was cited for unsafe movement.

SB: What! Did you challenge that?

(Shook his head)

SB: Why not?

AR: I was talking with a lawyer for a while. I had minimal liability from the driver and then I was battling with my insurance company. I had a $100,000 bill from SF General and spent close to two years fighting Anthem Blue Cross, getting them to pay. Pretty typical.

SB: What did the lawyer do?

AR: She actually really helped with the insurance company and didn’t get any money for herself out of that.

SB: But you didn’t go after the driver? I guess that’s hard if the police cited you. Did you talk with your Supervisor about the police?

AR: I was in touch with the Bicycle Coalition. They said to file a complaint with the Office of Citizen’s Complaints. I didn’t pursue that.

One year ago, Ryan dove between two parked cars at this very spot to avoid a raging motorist who tried to back over him. Photo: Streetsblog.
One year ago, Ryan dove between two parked cars at this spot on Phelan to avoid a raging motorist who, at this point in the attack, was trying to back over him. Photo: Streetsblog.

SB: Hmm. Well, let’s review the incident that happened last year, in 2015.

AR:  I was taking a left–a left on Ocean to Phelan. I was in the middle of the lane. And then a driver starts honking at me, even though it’s a red arrow.

SB: So you’re in the left hand turning pocket, exactly where you’re supposed to be, waiting at a red, left-turn arrow. So the driver has no justification for honking.

AR: Right. Then it turned green and I took the turn and before I could take the bike lane on Phelan he laid on the horn and pulled up along side me on my right.

SB: So he zoomed around onto your right?

AR: There’s two lanes there, he pulls on my right, he may have been riding the bike lane, opens the door on me.

SB: To hit you with the door? Like right next to you?

AR: Yes. So I realized this guy’s a bad actor and I pulled across the yellow lines–

SB: Into the opposing lane of traffic?

AR: Yes, to get away from him. So I just rode across the double yellow to the opposite side of Phelan, over by the buses at the Phelan loop. And he chased me across the street.

SB: Wait. He’s now coming at you with his car across the yellow line and he’s in opposing traffic!

AR: Yes. And he’s coming at me in a t-bone orientation.

SB: Wow.

AR: Yes, but he returned to his lane of traffic, and started heading north on Phelan.

SB: What did you do then?

AR: I followed him, got my phone out, was attempting to take a picture of his license plate. And he was stopped at a red light.

SB: Right. Now this gets into the part you can see in the video?

AR: As I approached him to take the picture of his plate he put the car in reverse and backed up towards me. He actually backed up past me, and I was in the bike lane, and then this is fully visible in the video.

SB: He was trying to run you over!

AR: I dove between two parked cars and he backed past me.

SB: Whew.

AR: But I got a photo of the license plate. As he was behind me, I already had the phone out, so I turned around and got it. And then he sped off.  Three people approached me. They saw the last part. That’s when the guy showed me the video. City College police approached and they called SFPD.

SB: How did it go with SFPD? Better than your experience in 2011?

AR: The detective from Ingleside station contacted me. They identified who was driving from the license and he was arrested. He denied nothing.

SB: He confessed?

AR: He thought he was in the right so they arrested him on the spot.

SB: So it was one of those incidents where the driver thought you had no right to be on the road, and that justified attacking you?

AR: (nodding)

SB: And then what happened? He was prosecuted?

AR: It all happened pretty quickly. In early June, they had a preliminary hearing and he was charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon and held on $250,000 bail. I was amazed when they told me. It’s really unusual. But then at the trial, the judge decided that it didn’t merit a felony charge and reduced it to misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon, which means maximum would be a year. His bail was lowered and he posted bail and was released.

SB: How did the trial go?

AR: I testified for two days, but that means mostly waiting around. I think I was actually on the stand for a total of three hours. It was very interesting. The defendant’s attorney produced a picture from my Facebook profile of me making anti-car statements. At one point I [had] put the stop sign with “stop driving” in my profile pic. They had fun with that, trying to turn me into an anti-automobile zealot who was provoking the attack.

SB: Like you wanted to get attacked and run over. Anyway, it didn’t work; the jury convicted, right?

AR: Yes.

SB: So in the four years from your first crash to this road rage incident, have you seen a difference in how the police react?

AR: I’ve seen both sides. There is a culture in SFPD that if you’re riding a bike in the street you are at fault, period. That’s what I experienced in 2011. But then I saw these detectives at Ingleside in 2015, well, they were very respectful and they really cared, that was my impression.

SB: So, much has changed?

AR: Maybe. Or maybe it’s the difference between some beat cops and detectives.

SB: And what about the prosecutors? Did they care?

AR: Yes, I got the same thing from the DA. But she confessed to me that it was a learning curve for her. She didn’t know bikes are legally allowed to use the lane. She honestly didn’t know that. And there was one really amazing moment where the defense attorney asked me if I ever ride without a helmet…I said I don’t always, and he said “you’re breaking the law.” I had to explain to him that if you’re over 18 you’re not legally required to wear a helmet. The jury laughed.

SB: It sounds like that may be the moment you won the trial, by showing that the defense attorney doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

AR: And I wasn’t trying to make a gotcha moment.

SB: I guess knowledge really is power. Do you have some parting thoughts?

AR: Yes, and it’s about video. Ms. Williams, the Assistant DA, after polling the jury, said their initial inclination towards the motorist was to say this is a 20-year-old kid; he’s just being a crazy 20-year-old. That was their initial inclination, but the video was what really convinced them that there was an element of malice behavior. This was a violent act. It was an undeniable violent act that could have resulted in killing somebody. I can’t stress enough the importance of the video.

SB: You ride with your own camera now?

AR: (Nods) Without the video I don’t think the police would have pursued the investigation and the jury would not have delivered the conviction. You can’t argue with that. And it’s video specifically. It showed the driver’s actions. And it’s conjecture, but I think it changes drivers’ behavior when they see the camera–they yield more.

SB: Because they see the camera on your helmet?

AB: It’s a psychological deterrent. I encourage all people who ride in the city to have a camera.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

  • Richard

    Glad to hear that there were some consequences for this nut job. What was the final sentance?

  • Printtemps

    Hi Richard,
    Sentence is still postponed, although asailant is currently in custody awaiting a felony hearing for charges stemming from a separate incident per SF DA’s office. That time will count against this conviction when sentenced.

  • jsabillon

    Wear a camera on your helmet or where do you recommend?

  • Printtemps

    I wear a Sony Action cam on my helmet. I think front and rear fixed is best, but at certain point, it gets too complicated IMO.
    -Anthony

  • Eric McClure

    Thanks for pursuing the case. Glad you weren’t physically harmed.

  • SuperQ

    I ride with a Fly6 mounted below my saddle. I like it because it doubles as a nice rear light. Less obvious as a camera.

  • HappyHighwayman

    GREAT job. I wear a camera too.

  • HappyHighwayman

    Sounds like he has anger /psychological issues.

  • thielges

    “She [the DA] didn’t know bikes are legally allowed to use the lane. She honestly didn’t know that.”

    It is amazing how many people are unaware of this aspect of the law, including professionals. That means there are thousands of drivers on the road who think that bicyclists are in the wrong for taking the lane. Some of those misunderstandings lead to harassment and assault.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    The Contour 2+ is a nice helmet camera because it’s as simple to use as most bicycle headlights, it’s cheaper than some bicycle headlights, it has exceptional video quality, and it logs GPS data. The main drawback is that no way to view the footage without a computer, the software for ingesting and viewing GPS data is awful, and the video quality at night isn’t as good as the latest GoPros.

  • murphstahoe

    As Anthony mentions, having the camera be obvious is a benefit. It acts as a deterrent – the point isn’t to catch dangerous behavior, it’s to deter dangerous behavior. Then again – there are numerous videos on youtube where the cyclist points out they have a camera and the motorist simply says “I don’t care”

  • Sabbie

    If you dont’ want to wear a gopro, you can mount your cell phone to your handlebars and download an app to record your trip. Many options for both.

  • dat
  • RichLL

    I think SuperQ’s point is that filming or recording someone can be seen as a hostile act, so if it is obvious that you are filming someone then they may react badly to that and make the situation worse.

    It’s like Heisenberg’s Principle – observing an interaction changes that interaction, and some people will respond to being photographed by escalating.

    Some bad actors may be deterred by recording; others may turn violent and even attempt to seize or destroy the recording advice – I’ve seen that happen although not in a traffic-related situation.

    So you have to decide what you really want a camera to achieve.

  • Printtemps

    I originally I got a Sony action can because I thought I could discretely side mount it on my helmet. For balance I ended up putting it on top. I was surprised to find this more overt approach effects driver behavior in the positive. I agree suddenly producing a camera and recording is seen as provocative (by psychos I might add) But I think discretely mounting a running camera is wasting half its effectiveness, I will continue to undiscretely display and record with a camera.
    -Anthony

  • murphstahoe

    When cameras running becomes the norm, then it’s understood that you can’t just do random crazy things and have the expectation of not being caught.

    I find it also helps you work with a clearer mind in situations – you know that *you* are being filmed – so you are more likely to keep a level head and cut down on the f-bombs.

  • p_chazz

    If a person is angry enough and crazy enough, the possibility of getting caught will not be a deterrent.

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