SFPD Blames Victim for Biking Through Red Light But Won’t Cite Evidence

Photo: Stanley Roberts/Twitter
Photo: Stanley Roberts/Twitter

Contrary to initial reports, the SFPD says Charles Vinson, 66, ran a red light on his bike when he was hit and killed by a driver at 14th and Folsom Streets on March 2.

Immediately after the crash, the SF Examiner reported that a witness “saw the vehicle blow through a red light and strike the bicyclist as the bicyclist waited for the light to turn green.” But on March 17, SFPD spokesperson Grace Gatpandan said investigators had determined that Vinson ran a red.

Streetsblog asked how the SFPD arrived at that conclusion. “There are many different factors involved, such as examining skid marks, measurements, placement of evidence from the collision, etc,” said Gatpandan. “As the case is still open and active, we do not discuss open and active investigation matters.”

So, while police are comfortable releasing their determination that the victim was at fault in this crash, they say it’s too soon to disclose any supporting evidence.

Is there video of the crash? Is there witness testimony? If so, does it come from bystanders, the driver who struck Vinson, or both? We don’t know, and SFPD isn’t saying.

Gatpandan said the driver won’t receive a citation. We’ll request the police report to get more details on the investigation.

A ghost bike was placed at the corner where Vinson died. Photo: GhostBike.org/Twitter
  • ladyfleur

    This doesn’t add up at all. If he was struck from behind while running a red, wouldn’t that mean that the driver that hit him was running the red too?

  • Justizin

    This is a great example of why I try to avoid sitting idly at red lights when there are no cars in sight. I don’t trust people to be looking for or see me, and I’m essentially in the very center of the street.

  • the_greasybear

    SFPD: bias, bias, bias.

  • SFnative74

    Why are they comfortable releasing their conclusions but not the evidence they say they used to come to that conclusion? If “…the case is still open and active, we do not discuss open and active investigation matters,” then they shouldn’t be discussing their conclusions either. Unfortunately – and I know this from people who have had to work with the SFPD after they’ve been struck – the SFPD is TERRIBLE when it comes to writing accurate crash reports (or knowing the CVC), and they have been outright hostile to those who have been struck by cars.

  • BBnet3000

    This is a pattern in a lot of places, the police leak a conclusion that the cyclist was at fault while the blood is still wet and the newspapers report that.

    Only later the investigation shows otherwise and only Streetsblog reports that.

  • murphstahoe

    I was pulled over by the SFPD at the Golden Gate Bridge. The officer barked at me to “GET ON THE SIDEWALK”. Since I am a white middle aged male on an expensive bike, I actually had the temerity to bark back at him “RIDING ON THE SIDEWALK IS ILLEGAL”.

    He told me “There is a sign saying BIKES PROHIBITED”. I asked him “WHERE?” He said “Back there!”.

    Suffice to say, there was no sign “Back there!” He was either
    A) Lying
    B) Making it up as he went along.

    I said “I don’t want to miss my bus so I won’t bother to make you walk back there so you can show me the sign that doesn’t exist”

    Where do they get these people?

  • Dave Moore

    I thought bicycles aren’t allowed on the bridge. Maybe you’re referring to some other area near the bridge where they are (it’s not clear from your post). Or maybe you’re just saying there’s no sign. Or maybe I’m wrong; I never looked before. But I see here:


    Other Exclusions: None of the following shall be permitted to enter upon the Bridge roadway and its approaches:

    Bicycles are only allowed on the sidewalks.

  • murphstahoe


    How did you read that and go “Hmm. I bet that he was riding somewhere that maybe he’s not legally supposed to be” as opposed to “wow. that cop just lied to Murph, or was completely ignorant so he just made something up”.

    What I do know is that there is NO sign that says bicycles are prohibited, contrary to the statement of this incompetent SFPD officer. Then, just past the bus stop, there IS a sign that says bicycles prohibited.

    The only silver lining was that one thing that is definitely illegal is a u-turn once you’ve gotten as far as that cop did. He had to drive to Sausalito as penance for being a liar.

  • murphstahoe

    @gln pic.twitter.com/yTfA4Z46RX— murphstahoe (@murphstahoe) March 20, 2015

  • murphstahoe

    QFT pic.twitter.com/Xlae5KCbv4— murphstahoe (@murphstahoe) March 24, 2015

  • Dave Moore

    I’m sorry. I guess I’m lost. I honestly can’t figure out what you mean. You said you were pulled over “at the Golden Gate Bridge” on your bike and that the cop said to get on the sidewalk, which you said was illegal. Although their website says sidewalks are ok. Were you on the road? And you agree the website says the road is illegal for bikes, right? So is your problem is that the cop was right but made up the sign so he’s incompetent? Or is it that if there’s no sign it doesn’t matter what the official rules are?

    Seriously, I don’t understand the outrage. I must be missing something.

  • murphstahoe

    Do you not have a problem with a cop not knowing the law, so he just makes it up as he goes along?

    I am of the belief that not only was the cop making it up (I don’t quite think he was lying) – but that his theory on the legality of my presence at the spot I was – the GGT bus stop – was incorrect. I told you where the signage is and posted pictures. When someone refers to the “sidewalks” with respect to the GGB, that typiically means the sidewalks that cross the bridge, not the sidewalks to the bus stop. I hope that reduces your confusion.

    But that doesn’t matter to me – what matters is that the cop cares so little about his craft that he doesn’t care what the law is. That is what leads to things like SFPD not bothering to see if there is video evidence at the site of the Le Moullac death. It’s just flat out lazy.

  • Dave Moore

    I saw your photos, but never having been at that spot it wasn’t clear to me exactly where it was. Your initial post just said “at the GG bridge”. As I said then I wasn’t sure what you meant. Even in your followup it wasn’t totally clear…I thought the bus stop was somewhere later on, not where you were stopped. I said all along that I didn’t get it. You had a lot of context I didn’t.

    Yes: cops should be better at their jobs, and not make stuff up. But from what you said it also seems possible that he was just mistaken and not lying.

  • murphstahoe

    He probably thought I was going to ride the bridge. When he figured out he was wrong – he had as little concept of their being a bus stop (right at the toll plaza immediately at the entrance) as you – instead of apologizing he made up some story. When I called his bluff – and told him flat out there was no sign he claimed existed, he tripled down. He was embarassed to be caught being lazy and too proud to back down.

    That’s a culture problem.

  • What’s the systematic solution to this city’s police department problem of letting drivers get away with murdering cyclists? What can we do to change this system because it’s obviously very very broken. Would a vulnerable victims law help? Our streets are never going to be safe when there’s no justice for drivers killing us. Something has to change.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Cops are pricks. That isn’t going to change, you just have to deal with that. It would be nice if they knew there was some consequence for lying.

  • Plus, when you’re driving a car and someone strikes you from behind, it’s automatically your fault — “failing to keep an assured clear distance” is, I believe, the official wording.

    But if the same thing happens and you’re on a bicycle? “That’s what you get for riding a bicycle” seems to be the official point of view.

  • coolbabybookworm

    This is just awful and after the way the SFPD botched Amelia Le Moulac’s case, (on this same street no less) among others, gives the public little faith in their ability to carry out this investigation.

    Is David Campos’ office or the bike coalition working to find out what happened? In other districts the supervisor can be instrumental in putting pressure on the SFPD to actually do their job. In theory the mayor could as well, but we know that’s not the case with our current one.

  • murphstahoe

    Automatically the fault of the person who strikes you…

  • p_chazz

    SFPD are very biased against bicyclists and pedestrians who have been injured or killed by motorists. Several years ago, I was knocked down in the crosswalk by a little old man making a left turn from Valencia onto 18th St. He stopped briefly and drove off without offering assistance or giving me his contact info. I was not badly injured, so I continued on my way. The next day I went to Mission Station to report a hit and run and was told that since I did not file a complaint at the time, I could not do so. I didn’t believe them, so I went to the hit-and-run detail at 850 Bryant. They took the report, located the driver from the license plate number which I had copied down. The little old man had never had a moving violation in his life. He admitted that he hit me and drove off. SFPD told him to report it to his insurance company, and I received a settlement. I asked why they did not charge him and was told that since he had a clean record and reported it to his insurance company, they considered the matter closed.

  • Regardless, I don’t see how anyone could support the police giving illegal orders. Sidewalks must be free of bikes, so cars can park on them (qua.Baker Street).

  • What he said and edited to reflect as such. Being as it were. After a manner of speaking.


  • vcs

    Even it it is technically legal to bicycle on the US101 shoulder at the toll plaza, I can’t figure out why it would be allowed, nor why anyone would want to ride there. Were you just prove a point or something?

  • murphstahoe

    “Were you just prove a point or something?”

    I was – as has been mentioned in this thread – trying to catch a bus…

  • vcs

    Ah, missed that.

  • NoeValleyJim

    This sounds like one of those half-assed Le Moulac “investigations” where they talk to the person at fault, get their side of the story, then not bother looking for any other evidence.

    The other side of the story is dead? How convenient.

    Is there a video cam at that corner? I am going to go down there tomorrow and see if I can find one. I am sure that SFPD hasn’t bothered to do their job.

  • DocAmazing

    Once again: bang-up job, SFPD.

  • gneiss

    I honestly am having a hard time understanding how this crash unfolded the way the police spokesperson is trying to spin it. Are they suggesting that he ran a light on 14th and was hit by someone traveling on Folsom? Or are they saying that he ran the light on Folsom and was hit by someone traveling on 14th? Either way, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. I know people who ride bikes in the city who are in their 60’s. Generally they are far more law abiding then younger riders and have a high degree of awareness of traffic control devices and street geometries. If nothing else, they have developed a high degree of self-preservation, which includes not running red lights.

    I travel this route on my way to work most mornings, sometime as early as 6:45 AM. The most common violation I see are car drivers traveling west bound on 14th trying to make a right on red on to Folsom and not waiting until the opposing cross traffic clears, because it’s not obvious that the opposite side of the street has a green light. The police themselves could have made this mistake – if the driver told the cops he was making a right on red and opposing traffic moved forward to go left, they could mistakenly believe that the opposing traffic also had a red light when in fact it was green.

  • Fran Taylor

    Chant from a recent Black Lives Matter march in Oakland:

    Oink, oink! Bang, bang!
    Every day, the same damn thang!

  • TransBayTube

    SFPD – If you kill someone with a gun we’ll come after you. If you kill someone with your car, don’t worry about it.

  • dat

    “Sprinkle a little crack on ’em Johnson and let’s get out of here…”

  • StrixNoctis .

    I won’t be surprised if the SFPD claims the cyclist was suicidal, stabbed himself three times with a knife before embarking on a suicidal bike ride then was found dead in his apartment or house.

  • StrixNoctis .

    I won’t be surprised if a spokesperson for the SFPD next tries to claim he was riding backward through a red light while blindfolded.


Driver Kills Cyclist Charles Vinson, 66, at 14th and Folsom

Update: SFPD issued a response below. Charles Vinson, 66, was struck by a driver at 14th and Folsom Streets in the Mission yesterday and died from his injuries today. A witness saw the driver of a Honda Civic “blow through a red light and strike the bicyclist as the bicyclist waited for the light to turn green,” according to the […]