Skip to content

Posts from the "Traffic Justice" Category

Streetsblog LA 2 Comments

Four CA Hit-and-Run Bills Await Governor Brown’s Signature

Hit-and-runs have been a problem in California for a long time. In this 1973 publicity still, Adam 12′s fictional television LAPD officers investigate a hit-and-run. Four bills to curb these crimes await Governor Brown’s approval. Photo: Wikipedia

Four bills targeting hit-and-run crimes in California await Governor Jerry Brown’s signature, including two from Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), who has made hit-and-runs a focus this year. The bills have passed both houses of the California legislature and are awaiting the governor’s signature.

One, a late addition to the legislative calendar (A.B. 47), would allow law enforcement authorities to broadcast information about vehicles suspected of being involved in a hit-and-run collision using the existing “Amber” alert system, which notifies the public about child abductions via changeable message signs on freeways across the state.

The system is strictly limited to avoid its overuse, and the Senate made amendments to the bill to further tightened restrictions. The new “Yellow” alerts would only be allowed when a hit-and-run has caused a serious injury or death. There has to be at least a partial description of the vehicle and its license plate available, and there must be a chance that making the information public will help catch the suspect and protect the public from further harm.

Another Gatto bill, A.B. 1532, would require an automatic six-month license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run collision in which a person was hit. Currently, consequences for leaving the scene of a crash are light if the victim has less than serious injuries, but someone who drives away can claim not to know how badly the victim was hurt. With this law, anyone who drives away and gets caught will face more serious consequences just for the act of leaving.

Meanwhile, the bill from Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), A.B. 2673, which would remove the possibility of a civil compromise in the case of a hit-and-run conviction, has also passed both houses of the legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Current law allows someone convicted of a hit-and-run to avoid criminal prosecution if they come to an agreement with the victim of the collision, and this bill removes that possibility.

Yet another bill, A.B. 2337 from Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona), would extend the period of time that a driver’s license is suspended for a hit-and-run conviction from one to two years. This would apply to anyone caught and convicted of a hit-and-run that caused the death or serious injury of another person.

If stiffer penalties can make people think twice about leaving the scene of a crash, then these bills may well help reduce the incidence of hit-and-runs. As long as people believe they can escape the consequences, however, the heavier penalties may not act as a deterrent. But combined with a new system that will broadcast a car’s description and license plate for all to see, it will be more difficult to escape.

As Assemblymember Gatto said, “Together, these bills will empower the public to help us catch hit-and-run drivers before they can cover up the evidence of their crimes and ensure the perpetrators of these cowardly acts think twice before leaving fellow citizens dying on the side of the road.”

11 Comments

Court Applies Reckless Driving to Bikes. When Will Gascón Apply it to Cars?

A California state appeals court ruled last week that “reckless driving” can be applied to people on bicycles who kill or injure others, just as it’s applied to people driving, as the SF Chronicle reported. No one, including bicycle advocates, seems to dispute that full accountability should be brought to anyone who commit acts of traffic violence — but the reality is, drivers who maim and kill rarely ever face penalties.

DA George Gascón in a Streetfilm in 2010, when he went on a bike ride with advocates. He was the SFPD chief at the time.

There are countless such examples. One of the most egregious is the case of 29-year-old Kieran Brewer, who killed 17-year-old Hanren Chang in a crosswalk on Slot Boulevard while he drove drunk, and was sentenced to just six months in prison. Or consider Gilberto Alcantar, who will face no charges for illegally turning his truck across a bike lane and killing 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac at Sixth and Folsom Streets. SF District Attorney George Gascón claims that despite video of the crash, prosecutors can’t make an adequate case to file charges.

“Prosecution of deadly traffic crashes needs to be investigated, and prosecuted, to the fullest extent in order to reflect the severity of traffic crimes,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider. “We also need to ensure fair and equal enforcement across modes, which historically had not happened.”

As the Center for Investigative Reporting reported last year, 60 percent of the 238 motorists “found to be at fault or suspected of a crime faced no criminal charges” between 2006 and 2011 in five Bay Area counties:

Read more…

Streetsblog LA 1 Comment

CA Assembly Bill Would Create Alert System For Hit-and-Run Crashes

Police in Orange in Southern California released this picture of a truck driven by a hit-and-run perpetrator two weeks ago. With AB 47, there would be a much higher chance drivers like this one are caught. Photo: NBC4

It is too common a story. A family is crossing the street or some friends are bicycling along when a negligent car driver changes their lives forever. While the victims lie wounded in the street, the driver flees and is never heard from again. Advocates for safe streets, victims of hit-and-run crashes, and their friends and family say that there are not enough resources or legal protections for victims.

Asm. Gatto

Assemblymember Mike Gatto

One California Assemblymember has vowed to change that.

Assembly Bill 47, a heavily amended version of legislation re-introduced this week by Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-LA), would create a statewide “yellow alert system” modeled after the Medina Alert system, which was created in Denver but is now a statewide program in Colorado.

The system would require that Caltrans and other highway owners use electronic signage, radio, and other available media to broadcast information about vehicles suspected in hit-and-run crashes. Unlike alerts issued over TV news, the yellow alerts would enlist drivers and other road users to spot hit- and-run drivers right away.

Basically, the bill would create an “Amber Alert” system similar to what is used when a child is kidnapped to help catch hit-and-run drivers.

“These are crimes which, by their nature, occur at a high rate of speed and with clear means for fleeing the scene,” said Gatto.  “The public is almost always needed to catch those who leave fellow citizens dying on the side of the road, and AB 47 will allow us to do so promptly, before the perpetrator can get away and cover up the evidence.”

Last year, Gatto authored AB 184, which doubled the statute of limitations on prosecuting hit-and-run drivers.  This year, he also introduced AB 1532, which would require mandatory license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run involving another person.

Read more…

27 Comments

Legal System Fails Again: No Charges for Trucker Who Killed Amelie

Amelie Le Moullac. Photo: amelielemoullac.com

Note: Amelie Le Moullac’s mother, Jessie Jewitt, and other Bay Area musicians will perform at a benefit concert on Friday in Palo Alto at 7:30 p.m. Proceeds will go to Amélie’s Angels, “a fund dedicated to bringing the gifts of education, food, clothing, toys, and most importantly love and laughter, to the children of Haiti.”

The truck driver who hit and killed Amelie Le Moullac on her bike at Folsom and Sixth Streets last August will face no charges from District Attorney George Gascón, despite surveillance video showing the driver at fault in the incident.

Gilberto Alcantar, the truck driver, is shown making an unsafe right turn in the bike lane in the video found by an SF Bicycle Coalition staffer. SFPD investigators initially claimed they could find no such video, and blamed Le Moullac for her own death. SFPD Chief Greg Suhr later apologized for the botched investigation, as well as the behavior of the sergeant who purposefully blocked a bike lane at a rally for safer streets in her honor. Suhr declared that the video evidence showed the fault was mainly with the driver, but DA Gascón says prosecutors can’t make an adequate case to file charges.

The news was broken yesterday by KQED’s Bryan Goebel, founding editor of Streetsblog SF:

After watching the video, investigators concluded Alcantar was to blame for making an unsafe turn into the bike lane, killing the young public relations professional. Despite that key piece of evidence, prosecutors ultimately felt it wasn’t enough to convince a jury.

“Unfortunately, with the evidence presented, we are unable to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Alex Bastian, a spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.

Micah Liberty, an attorney for the Le Moullac family, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Alcantar and Milipitas-based distributor Daylight Foods. She said the family was disappointed and heartbroken that charges aren’t being filed, and that Alcantar wasn’t issued a ticket.

“After reviewing the evidence that we have, looking at the video of the incident, it’s really hard for this grieving family to understand how a driver can do what he did without receiving even a slap on the wrist for a minor violation of the vehicle code,” Liberty said.

“There is no issue about what happened. The video is clear, from what I understand — he made an unlawful turn across the bike lane,” said Shaana Rahman, an attorney who represents pedestrian and bicyclist victims in civil court. “It’s not all the time that you get such a clear piece of evidence in cases, either civil or criminal. There aren’t videos for every bike accident that happens — and here we have one.”

As frustrating as the lack of charges in this case may be, it’s par for the course when it comes to holding drivers accountable for killing people biking and walking. As the Center for Investigative Reporting found last year, 60 percent of the 238 drivers who killed pedestrians in the Bay Area between 2007 and 2011 were found to be at fault or suspected of a crime but faced no criminal charges, and those who did usually only faced a slap on the wrist. Drivers tend not to be charged unless they were drunk or fled the scene.

Even drunk drivers can get off easy. Kieran Brewer, who was intoxicated when he ran over 17-year-old Hanren Chan in a crosswalk on Sloat Boulevard, was sentenced to just six months in jail last month.

DA Gascón says he’s increasing efforts to prosecute traffic violence, and plans to hire a dedicated vehicular manslaughter unit of prosecutors to specialize in such cases, and it’s expected to be funded in the city budget this year. But his office claims that in Le Moullac’s case, there isn’t evidence to justify criminal negligence on the driver’s part — even with the video.

Read more…

15 Comments

Six Months for Killing Hanren Chang: Even Drunk Drivers Get Off Easy

This post supported by

Lowell High School student Hanren Chang. Image: ABC 7

It’s hard to imagine a more egregiously clear-cut case where a driver deserves a harsh prison term than when drunk driver Kieran Brewer ran over and killed a minor inside a crosswalk. Surely, unlike other cases where sober drivers killed pedestrians and faced few consequences, these circumstances would spur the judicial system into action.

Yet Brewer was sentenced to just six months in jail for driving drunk and killing Hanren Chang in a crosswalk on Sloat Boulevard last year, as she was returning home from celebrating her 17th birthday.

Kieran Brewer. Photo via CBS 5

Brewer’s total sentence includes six months in jail, six months in home detention, five years of probation, 300 hours of community service, and a nine-month treatment program for people who have driven under the influence, according to the SF Chronicle. Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy also ordered Brewer to pay the family more than $4,700 in restitution.

In addition, Judge Conroy struck down a bid from the prosecuting attorneys to apply the state’s “three strikes” law in this case. Prosecutors argued that Brewer inflicted great bodily injury, a crime that counts as a strike under the law.

“I don’t think the interest of justice will be served if Mr. Brewer gets this strike,” Conroy said in court, according to the Chronicle. “He has been consistently remorseful and cooperative with law enforcement.”

Remorse and cooperation apparently go a long way in court. So, too, does committing manslaughter with a car rather than a gun. As pointed out in a blog post by GJEL Accident Attorneys, a Streetsblog SF sponsor, “Involuntary manslaughter shootings usually result in sentences of years, not months”:

Read more…

3 Comments

DA Gascón to Hire Attorney Dedicated to Vehicular Manslaughter Cases

District Attorney George Gascón has announced that he will hire an attorney devoted to handling vehicular manslaughter cases, in what could be a major step toward bringing accountability to drivers who kill.

Image: SFGovTV

“We’ve lost children, grandparents, people in the prime of their life,” Gascón said yesterday in his State of Public Safety Address, where he announced the initiative under the rubric of Vision Zero. The SF Examiner reports:

The full-time position, requested in the next budget, is necessary to ensure his office can respond “swiftly and appropriately” to such cases, Gascón said.

The district attorney reminded hundreds of public-safety leaders and advocates at the Hall of Justice auditorium that 21 pedestrians were struck and killed by motorists in The City last year, the highest number since 2007. Two months into this year, eight people have lost their lives on San Francisco roadways, which he called “unprecedented” and an incentive to implement the Vision Zero policy to eliminate pedestrian fatalities.

“I am passionate about this effort because when a case gets to my desk, it is already too late; someone has lost their life,” Gascón said. “These tragedies are completely avoidable, and a modern city like San Francisco can and should eliminate this threat.”

Modern technology has meant that advancements like computers in vehicles, security cameras and smartphones become part of vehicular manslaughter investigations. Gascón’s strategy is to have a prosecutor who understands all the forensic evidence available in the 21st century.

Read more…

13 Comments

Cesar Chavez: A Traffic Sewer Transformed Into a Safer Street

As part of the newly-completed redesign of Cesar Chavez, there’s a new plaza at the corner of Mission and Capp Streets. Photos: Aaron Bialick

Western Cesar Chavez Street has been transformed after decades as a dangerous motor vehicle speedway that divided the Mission and Bernal Heights neighborhoods. City officials cut the ribbon today on a redesign of the street, nearly nine years after residents began pushing for safety improvements.

Cesar Chavez was widened in the 1930s and 40s at the expense of safety and livability to serve as a thoroughfare from the 101 and 280 freeways to a planned Mission Freeway that was never built. As a result, it became a virtual no-man’s land for walking and biking, and crossing the street was a huge risk.

Fran Taylor speaking at the ribbon cutting today.

Fran Taylor speaking at the ribbon cutting today.

“Our neighborhoods were cut in two by this dangerous street that was in no way worthy of the man it was named after,” said Fran Taylor, who helped found CC Puede to push for a redesign of the street. “It’s taken a long time, and the efforts of many, but we finally have a Cesar Chavez Street to be proud of.”

With the redesign, the six traffic lanes on Cesar Chavez (known as Army Street until the nineties) were reduced to four. In place of those two lanes are unprotected bike lanes, bulb-outs with rain gardens, and a center median lined with palm trees. With fresh pavement and markings like continental crosswalks, the treatments have made the street calmer and more habitable for people.

The ribbon cutting was held on Si Se Puede! Plaza, which was created at the northeast corner of Cesar Chavez and Mission Street, where Capp Street ends. Drivers can still pass through at the end of Capp, but permeable, textured pavement raised to sidewalk level signals that they are guests.

“We finally have a street that’s going to protect families and reflects what we value, which is safety, first and foremost,” said D9 Supervisor David Campos, whose district includes Cesar Chavez. “It took longer than it should have.”

The project snowballed from a simple re-paving planned by Department of Public Works into a full redesign as residents pushed for safety improvements, and city agencies sought to coordinate those changes with the re-pave to save costs. Andres Power was the project manager for the Planning Department until 2012, when he became an aide for Supervisor Scott Wiener.

“On one hand, it’s unbelievable that it takes this long to get anything like this done. On the other hand, it’s such a transformative project, and I think the wait was well worth it,” said Power. “We wanted to do something that was not just a street project, that was about bringing the neighborhood together, and encouraging people to use the street outside of their cars.”

Read more…

13 Comments

SFPD Commits to “Vision Zero” With Policy Reforms to Back Up the Rhetoric

This post supported by

[Editor's note: Streetsblog will not be publishing Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.]

The conversation is changing when it comes to the SFPD’s approach to traffic violence. That much was clear at a four-hour hearing at City Hall last night, where SFPD Chief Suhr and Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali pledged to pursue Vision Zero, the call to end traffic fatalities within ten years.

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr speaks at the hearing alongside SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Photo: ##http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/01/17/san-francisco-pledges-to-boost-traffic-safety-after-deadly-crashes/##CBS 5##

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr speaks at the hearing alongside SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Photo: CBS 5

Suhr told city supervisors and the Police Commission, in a room packed with citizens, the SFPD’s command staff, and every police captain, that “we are committed to a new normal in San Francisco.” And the SFPD backed up the rhetoric by announcing real performance metrics and procedural changes.

The raft of SFPD changes to investigations, citation issuance, and arrests marks a “seismic shift in policy,” Suhr told the Bay Guardian in a video interview after the hearing. It’s too early to say how deep and lasting these reforms will be, but there is real substance to them.

For the first time, SFPD presented a goal to measure the performance of its “Focus on the Five” program: At least 50 percent of tickets issued should be for the five most common violations in crashes in pedestrian crashes — drivers’ violation of pedestrian right-of-way, speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, and turning violations. In 2013, during which the program was in effect, the number was 22 percent, according to Ali.

A policy change initiated in 2013 also allows officers to arrest drivers in fatal crashes where there appears to be “probable cause,” Ali said. That appears to explain the unusual instance of two drivers being arrested for killing pedestrians on New Year’s Eve.

In a new policy change for 2014, Ali said SFPD can now also issue citations to a party found to be at fault. Previously, police policy was not to issue a citation in a crash unless the officer witnessed the violation him or herself. One major reason SFPD said they often refrained from issuing tickets was to avoid double jeopardy — charging someone for the same crime twice — the theory being if the SFPD issued a citation, the district attorney may not be able to legally file charges as well.

Police will also issue citations or make arrests off-scene, when an investigation later determines fault in a case, said Ali. In fact, Suhr said that SFPD would review collision cases throughout the past year for such opportunities, including that of Jikaiah Stevens, who was hit by a driver who admitted to running a red light, yet faced no penalties. Stevens spoke at the hearing after a short documentary telling her story was shown.

“That driver will be issued a citation,” Suhr said. “Going forward, we’re committed to making a decision at the scene and/or doing a mailer if it requires follow-up investigation.”

Read more…

24 Comments

SFPD Arrests Two Drivers After Holiday Spate of Pedestrian Deaths

Uber driver Syed Muzzafar’s SUV at Polk and Ellis Streets, where he ran over a family of three, killing Sophia Liu, 6. Muzzafar was later arrested. Photo: KTVU

In what could be a departure from the SF Police Department’s usual failure to penalize reckless driving, officers have arrested two of the five motorists who have killed people on San Francisco streets since December 20.

In the last hours of 2013, the year’s pedestrian death toll increased to 20. Both of the crashes in which the drivers were arrested took place on New Year’s Eve, and appear to be the fault of motorists who failed to yield to people in a crosswalk. Last year, none of the other sober drivers who killed pedestrians without fleeing the scene are known to have been charged.

Syed Muzzafar (left) and Giampaolo Boschetti (right) were both arrested for killing pedestrians on New Year’s Eve. Photos: SFPD

In one incident, at about 3:30 p.m., 86-year-old Zhen Guang Ng was run down in a crosswalk at Naples and Rolph Streets in Crocker-Amazon by 69-year-old Giampaolo Boschetti, who was booked on charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to stop at a stop sign, according to police.

In a later crash at 8 p.m. in the Tenderloin, an Uber ride-share driver, 57-year-old Syed Muzzafar of Union City, ran over a mother and her two children in a crosswalk as he turned right at Polk and Ellis Streets, according to reports. All three were hospitalized, and six-year-old Sofia Liu died from her injuries. The SFPD said Muzzafar was arrested on charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

Before the arrests were announced, SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali told the SF Examiner that he mainly attributed the recent rise in pedestrian deaths — a six-year high — to the increased walking and driving that comes with job growth. He also appeared, however, to take a more serious tone towards “grossly negligent” drivers than the department has conveyed in the past.

“We’re bringing more and more people into our city and with that is a challenge of managing and getting better behavior on the part of our drivers and in some cases on the part of pedestrians,” Ali told the Examiner. “When you behave in such a grossly negligent way, you’re going to find yourself unfortunately going to jail when you take someone’s life on the roadway.”

Read more…

5 Comments

SFPD Renames MAIT Team, Removes “Accident” From Web Site

The SFPD’s Major Accident Investigation Team has been renamed the Traffic Collision Investigation Team, and the department’s website has removed the term “accident” from its contact info page. The news follows a Streetsblog post on October 21, in which we pointed out that SFPD regularly violates its official policy of referring to car crashes as “collisions.”

The SFPD reportedly announced to the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee this week that the MAIT team had been renamed, and a cursory Google search of the term “accident” on the SFPD website turns up only one result, found in the description of the Traffic Company. All other instances on the SFPD’s web pages appear to have been removed. None of the SFPD’s press releases and daily press recaps in recent weeks appeared to have used “accident,” either.

The SFPD deserves credit for responding to this long-standing oversight. The vocabulary chosen by law enforcement officials is important — it can set the tone for how traffic violence is viewed by officers and the public.

Looking forward, we’re hoping to see the department’s view of deaths and injuries on our streets as preventable tragedies consistently reflected by thorough crash investigations and data-driven prioritization of traffic enforcement.