UPDATE: No Charges, Not Even a Traffic Ticket, for Distracted Motorist who Killed Greg Knapp

District Attorney's statement mentions distracted driving, but says it doesn't qualify as criminal negligence?

Greg Knapp coaches JaMarcus Russell of the Oakland Raiders. Image: BrokenSphere, CC
Greg Knapp coaches JaMarcus Russell of the Oakland Raiders. Image: BrokenSphere, CC

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Advocates for safe and livable streets were outraged to learn that Contra Costa DA Diana Becton will file no charges against the apparently distracted motorist who killed Greg Knapp, 58, last July. Knapp was riding in an unprotected bike lane on Dougherty Road in San Ramon when a driver traveling in the same direction reportedly “swerved” into him, a representative told Fox Sports Radio.

How does Streetsblog know the driver was distracted? We don’t, since the DA’s office and the San Ramon police aren’t saying much about the 22-year motorist, except that he wasn’t wasted. This was the DA’s statement:

Bicycle fatalities are devastating events. Following through [sic] review of the investigation, the Office of the District Attorney has determined that there is insufficient evidence to satisfy the requisite standard of criminal negligence on the part of the suspect driver. That [sic] dangers of distracted driving are well known, to truly promote road safety motorists need to be attentive drivers as well [emphasis added].

So if the driver was distracted, which the statement suggests and seems to be the conclusion of the police, how was there not negligence? Streetsblog followed up with Becton’s media affairs person, Scott Alonso, who replied “that is our statement.” They referred further questions to the police. Streetsblog asked the police if they would at least be issuing a citation to the motorist and will update this post [Update, 5:25 p.m.: The San Ramon Police Department will not cite the driver].

“I myself was surprised to learn the DA was not pressing charges. I’ve never been a DA and I realize it’s in their discretion as to whether or not to charge a crime, but I still don’t get it,” wrote Andy Gillin, an attorney who specializes in traffic and bicycle law.

Indeed, it is hard to understand, but also not surprising, as many advocates indicated on social media in response to a tweet by Streetsblog USA.

Meanwhile, Bike East Bay’s Robert Prinz reminds people that, in addition to the responsibility of the driver, the engineers and planners who designed the road are also to blame.

Screenshot from 2021-09-27 13-43-12

Prinz is absolutely right. But getting back to law enforcement and prosecutors, there’s clearly a mental disconnect. “We are all committed to protecting the public’s safety and providing assistance to those harmed by violence,” it says on the Contra Costa DA’s web site. And here is the DA’s mission statement:

The mission of the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office is to seek justice and enhance public safety for all our residents by fairly, ethically, aggressively and efficiently prosecuting those who violate the law [emphasis added] and by working to prevent crime.

Obviously, it is a crime to drive in the bike lane. It’s also a crime to drive while distracted. And unless the driver was experiencing a medical emergency of some kind that rendered him incapacitated–and presumably the DA or the police would have mentioned if that were the case–it’s not an innocent “accident” if the driver was in the bike lane and hit a cyclist directly in front of him.

But clearly, the DA in Contra Costa–and other places–don’t think violence perpetrated by someone operating a two-to-five ton machine with their eyes on something other than the road qualifies as a real crime. Maybe it has something to do with “windshield perspective.”

The Contra Costa DA's office is located in a suburban style office park, surrounded by a giant parking lot. Image: Google Streetview
The Contra Costa DA’s office is located in a suburban style office park in Martinez, far from its walkable downtown, surrounded by a giant parking lot. Maybe this has something to do with their perspective on using a car to murder people not in cars. Image: Google Streetview

So how does the DA justify it? Streetsblog is still trying to find out. “If I had to guess it’s because there were no drugs or alcohol involved and because they determined the driver wasn’t on his phone at the time,” speculated Gillin, but “I still find it baffling.”

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SF District Attorney George Gascón and SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali held a press conference last Thursday to bring attention to distracted driving, since April is officially National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. It’s promising to see law enforcement officials bring attention to this deadly and growing problem on San Francisco streets. What remains to be […]