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Bicycle Safety

LA Road Rage Doctor Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison for Assaulting Bicyclists

laist_1.jpgThe bloody aftermath of the crash that Dr. Christopher Thompson was convicted of intentionally causing. Photo: LAist

Christopher Thompson - aka the Road Rage Doctor - was sentenced to five years in prison today for intentionally causing a crash that hospitalized two cyclists on Mandeville Canyon Road in Los Angeles' Brentwood neighborhood.

Our colleagues at Streetsblog Los Angeles report that Thompson received two years for assault with a deadly weapon for his attack on Ron Peterson, with a three-year enhancement for causing great bodily injury. Jurors convicted Thompson in November of mayhem; assault with a deadly weapon; battery with serious injury; and reckless driving causing injury. The judge in the case denied a motion from Thompson's defense for probation.

The case has attracted the attention of bicyclists and the mainstream media because of Thompson's over-the-top malicious behavior, the graphic images captured of the aftermath, and a 911 tape where Thompson admitted to slamming on his brakes and assured the dispatcher that the cyclists weren't seriously harmed even as the cyclists lay injured on the ground, some bleeding profusely.

Streetsblog Los Angeles recounts the details of the crash:

During a Fourth of July ride in 2008 Thompson approached a group of cyclists that were training in Mandeville Canyon. After honking at the cyclists, they "exchanged words" and Thompson passed them. He then cut back in front of them and slammed on his brakes, causing the cyclists to slam into the rear of his car. Peterson, an experienced cyclist who actually teaches bike safety, crashed through Thompson's rear window, bringing horrific pictures to both blogs and the mainstream news of the cyclists and the damage to Thompson's car.

During his trial, Thompson attempted to place blame on the cyclists, but a mountain of visual and audio evidence was stacked up against him, leading to an important victory for bicycle safety in the courts, since it's rare for a crash between a driver and a cyclist to even lead to an arrest.

The Los Angeles Times' LA Now blog reports that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott T. Millington called the case a "wake-up call" to motorists and cyclists. The judge "said he believed that Thompson had shown a lack of remorse during the case and that the victims were particularly vulnerable while riding their bicycles," writes LA Now. A police officer who was at the scene testified that Thompson told him he slammed on his brakes to teach the cyclists a lesson. Prosecutors also said that Thompson had a history of run-ins with cyclists, including previous attempts to "teach them a lesson" by injuring them with his vehicle.

While the ruling is a relief for anyone who's ever ridden a bicycle or has any attachment to justice or common sense, it's also a stark reminder of just how egregious an offense must be before police and the justice system deem it worthy of investigation and prosecution. In his ruling today, Judge Millington did have a recommendation for avoiding such confrontations in the future: more bike lanes.

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