Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson has been found guilty of six felonies and one misdemeanor as a result of two different incidents with cyclists. Jurors in the case returned unanimous verdicts for the seven crimes after less than six hours of deliberation.
While not so speedy as to be hasty, the deliberation was short enough to convey how convincing was the prosecution’s case.
I hadn’t expected to be called to court today for the verdict; though I thought the logic of the prosecution’s case was convincing enough to assuage any and all doubts, my concern for a hung jury never hung on logic.
The atmosphere in the court was charged. Thompson didn’t walk in until moments before the jury filed in. This was the only time during the course of the trial that cyclists outnumbered Thompson supporters. Every seat in the gallery was filled and nearly a dozen people stood in the aisle behind the last row of seats.
I was less than eight feet from Thompson as the verdicts were read. Following the first count, reckless driving causing specified injury, his head slumped and he looked down at the table in front of him. He lifted his head and looked out as the second verdict, for battery with serious bodily injury was read. This time his head dropped down so that his chin was nearly touching his chest. He did not lift it for the rest of the reading of the verdicts.
I’ve been asked on a number of occasions if Thompson showed any emotion, any remorse. For the most part, he has acted aloof and calm. Unperturbed would be another great way to describe his mood before today. I’ve not seen anything anyone would call remorse or concern for the cyclists.
To the degree that I was concerned about the likelihood of a hung jury, some of this was attributable to comments I heard made in the courtroom by non-cyclists. I heard one woman, who I supposed was a neighbor of Thompson’s and a likely member of the Upper Mandeville Canyon homeowner’s association, say that Patrick Early, the first cyclist reported to have had an altercation with Thompson, “wasn’t one of those primadonnas.”
On Friday a woman seated directly behind me said, “It’s a bike rider conspiracy.” I wasn’t sure whom she was speaking about until later when an attorney following the case said she pointed at me and a cyclist next to me when she made the statement. I’m still not sure what the conspiracy was about or what led her to believe I and an airline pilot had committed felonies of our own, but rational thought wasn’t always in evidence in the gallery.
I’d overheard Thompson’s wife make some snarky—if not downright nasty—comments about cyclists in the gallery, so when I saw her in tears as we exited court, I’ll be honest and say I felt no empathy for her situation.
That Thompson was remanded to custody on the spot was really the one development I didn’t see coming. I assumed that Thompson would remain free on bail until at least sentencing if not until an appeal. Despite a nine-page motion from Peter Swarth, the judge revoked bail, but not before Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone told the court, “In terms of public safety, there isn’t a cyclist in Los Angeles who would be comfortable if he were out on the streets.”
In a court session full of surprises, the compassion Stone showed for cyclists was clearly stronger than any propriety required for professional reasons.
Once downstairs at the press conference, Stone spoke briefly and then each of the riders involved in the charges against Thompson. As Peterson was speaking, the wind blew in the unmistakable aroma of marijuana. Someone had left court only to smoke up upon hitting the parking lot. It was a shocking reminder of Thompson’s flagrant disregard for the law.
I get a lot of questions about the cycling publications that feature my work. As much as I love writing about cycling, I am loathe to promote myself or my work. It’s odd that a writer who depends on having an audience in order to pursue his work would be reluctant to mount a personal advertising campaign, but so it is. Launching Red Kite Prayer was a monumental and difficult effort if only for the fact that I knew my name would be all over it.
In Los Angeles a former emergency room doctor is accused of injuring two cyclists by stopping short in front of them. Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson is charged with seven counts as a result of the incident, including reckless driving causing injury, two counts of battery with serious bodily injury, reckless driving, mayhem and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. The charges stem from a July 4, 2008, incident in which Thompson is alleged to have stopped short in front of Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr after a brief exchange of words. I’m reporting on these events for VeloNews.
On the chance that you’re not currently following the Thompson case on VeloNews.com, I encourage you to visit the site and follow the proceedings, not because I’m the reporter, but because I think the outcome of this case could tell us a lot about how American society feels about cyclists in general. It’s been tough work so far, work I’m unaccustomed to doing; fortunately, I’m working with terrific editors—VeloNews’ online editor Steve Frothingham and contributing editor Patrick O’Grady. Frothingham is an AP and Bicycle Retailer and Industry News veteran and O’Grady is known as a contributing editor to both VeloNews and Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.
To the degree that you are curious why I’m writing about the trial for VeloNews and not for RKP, the answer is simple: While the RKP readership is sizable, the VeloNews readership is much larger and these proceedings deserve as broad an audience as possible.
In addition to my occasional work for VeloNews, I also contribute to Road Bike Action. Most of my work for the magazine has concerned travel, but there have been a couple of technically oriented features as well as a comparison of the ’09 Astana team to the ’86 La Vie Claire team, commissioned by the magazine’s editor, Brad Roe. My relationship with Roe has been one of the easiest and most pleasant working relationships I’ve had in the industry. Despite (or maybe because of) the amount of research I did for the Astana/La Vie Claire feature, it ranks as one of the most enjoyable features I’ve written on in the last 10 years. In addition to the magazine features I write, I’m also contributing to the magazine’s web site twice a week (Mondays and Fridays).
For reasons I can’t explain, I find it nearly as enjoyable to write stories about the industry as to write about the equipment and racing; maybe it’s the chance to engage in some analysis. As a result, I also contribute, whenever the occasion arises, to the industry’s magazine of record, Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.
This winter Menasha Ridge Press will publish a book I’ve written called “Ride Like a Pro!” It is an instructional guide for entry-level roadies and contains everything from pack riding skills to chapters on metallurgy and geometry. I hope it will serve as a reference text for riders new and experienced alike.
I’m grateful for the readers who come to RKP. For those of you who enjoy my work and would like to see even more of it, I hope you’ll take a look at these other publications. This is probably as close as I’ll ever come to self-promotion. P.T. Barnum would call me a putz.
Concerning my present assignment for VeloNews, if you’re not already following this story, I hope you’ll check in on it from time to time in the coming weeks. It’s rare that cyclists come across a driver who might act in a deliberately harmful manner. Regardless of whether Thompson is found guilty, the facts of the case are shocking and the injuries gruesome; it should serve as a reminder to us of just how things can go wrong when we least expect it.