Patrick Watson, Ron Peterson, Deputy DA Mary Stone and Josh Crosby (l-r)
With the courtroom filled to capacity and people lined shoulder to shoulder along the back wall, Dr. Thompson was the last to enter the court and his appearance was a surprise. Dressed in blue prison scrubs and shackled, he took short steps to his seat and once seated I could tell he had lost a significant amount of weight while in prison, perhaps as much as 20 pounds. Frankly, it had done him good.
I really hadn’t given a lot of thought to the statements that might be made by the victims. In my mind I had thought, “Yadda, yadda, stiff sentence. Next.” As for the friends and family, I figured, “Yadda, yadda, great guy. Next.” I didn’t think that it would be much of an opportunity to shed new light on a situation that had brought international attention to the tension between cyclists and drivers. The formality would end with Thompson’s sentencing and my only concern was that if he walked out of court that day, the cycling community would feel utterly marginalized. Any jail time at all would be a success.
I was surprised to see that Christian Stoehr did not attend. Christian’s perspective on the events of July 4, 2008, has been entirely more detached and, dare I say, even relaxed than anyone else’s, even Deputy DA Mary Stone; I attribute it to the fact that he spent most of his formative years in Germany. And while it wouldn’t have surprised me if in his mind he was finished with the case and ready to move on, as it turned out, he was working on location in San Antonio and had wanted to attend.
Judge Millington indicated he would allow three people to speak for each side, given that Stoehr was not in attendance. Peter Swarth, as has been typical of his demeanor throughout the case, asked the judge to allow more people to speak on behalf of his client, but was denied.
Patrick Watson was the first to speak and I was surprised by the degree of his anger; he seemed as angry as when I spoke to him on the phone in December 2008, some nine months after the actual incident. As he told the judge, “Mr. Thompson tried to kill us,” it was apparent that he really believed Thompson had meant to do more than just scare him and Crosby that day. Judging from the reactions of several people in court, there was some perception that his anger was a bit overblown relative to the experience he’d had with Dr. Thompson. What did resonate was when he spoke of Thompson’s lack of remorse for his actions. While it was true that Thompson’s defense did not permit him to accept responsibility for what happened, the remose he had shown on the witness stand during the trial had rung hollow to the cyclists present. To the degree that any one of the victims has given the defense license to speak of cyclists wanting vengeance, I’d have to say Watson has enabled them to play that card.
Josh Crosby was more restrained in his statement. For the most part, he addressed Thompson directly and the judge only at the very end. When he spoke of how Dr. Thompson’s actions had placed everyone in the courtroom—“your actions led to this day; you put us here”—it eliminated the ability to see his participation in the trial as retribution, but rather as a requirement of civic duty.
He showed real compassion for Thompson’s family as well in saying, “I’ve been on the other side; I had to watch someone close to me go away for a while. I’m sorry ofor all the cyclists involved in this, but mostly I’m sorry for you Dr. Thompson. I’m sorry that after doing grave harm unto others you show no remorse. I’m sorry that as a man, you take no responsibility for those actions.”
As he spoke of watching someone close to him “go away,” his voice broke slightly in the remembering.
When Ron Peterson rose to speak, the already hushed courtroom seemed to go even quieter. The strain of the trial was writ large on his face and his movements were very restrained. If watching him speak was uncomfortable, I believe it wasn’t half the discomfort he felt.
You can see the entirety of Peterson’s statement in a post that accompanies this, as well as Dr. Thompson’s statement and the statement made by Judge Millington here.
When Dr. C. Thomas Thompson, Dr. Thompson’s father rose to speak, I was surprised that a 60-year-old man had the good fortune to still have his father. He rambled a bit, but several points in his address made an impact on at least some present. He talked about how his son’s “widow-maker” obstruction had the potential to make any prison sentence a life sentence. It was a sobering thought. He talked about remorse, the remorse his son had shown since moving in with his parents in Oklahoma, to which many of us present shrugged our shoulders as if to say, ‘Telling your father you’re sorry isn’t the same as telling the victims you are sorry.’
Most disturbing was him describing what occasioned his son’s move back to Oklahoma, that he had “been ridden out on rails.” I’ve heard the assertion before from Swarth and was unwilling to give it any greater weight than a convenient defense tactic. The elder Thompson’s recounting of death threats against Dr. Thompson should give cyclists everywhere pause, perhaps none more so than Patrick Watson, who first posted Dr. Thompson’s contact information on the Internet. We, as a community, should hang our heads in shame over the threats that Dr. Thompson received. We are better than this. The machinery of justice is less likely to stand by our side if we are perceived to engage in vigilante actions.
In the time Tom Freeman, the head of the Upper Mandeville Canyon Homeowner’s Association, spoke, he devoted most of his effort to PR for all the great things the homeowner’s association had done in making Mandeville Canyon a nice place to live rather than talking about why Dr. Thompson really deserved leniency in sentencing. Were it me, I’d have expected a little more direct support.
Last to speak on Thompson’s behalf was Lillian Ferguson. To the degree that anyone put a truly human face on Thompson, Ferguson did it. She told a moving story of her daughter’s relationship with Thompson, how he taught her piano at his home, her aspiration to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” as well as he did, and her death in a car accident when she was 18 years old. Dr. Thompson and another doctor, she said, took it upon themselves to pay for her funeral and—through tears at this point—each week for the past 14 years Thompson has had flowers placed on her grave.
Just as the verdict came with a surprise—Dr. Thompson being remanded to custody on the spot—that Dr. Thompson chose to address Peterson, Watson, Crosby and Patrick Early (the cyclist who came forward and told of an altercation he’d had with Dr. Thomspon after he read about Peterson and Stoehr in the L.A. Times) was a big surprise.
I think nearly everyone present in court was shocked to hear Dr. Thompson say he took responsibility for his actions on July 4, 2008, that he admitted he was at fault for the injuries Stoehr and Peterson sustained. I don’t think anyone present would argue that he hadn’t done some soul-searching since his conviction.
We speak of people who are out of touch as needing a “come to Jesus.” Dr. Thompson had his. I saw tears of embarrassment, shame, love and truly, remorse. But oddly, Dr. Thompson’s reckoning seemed only to apply to the events of July 4. In addressing Watson and Crosby, he reminded them how they frightened him and went on to insist that he never encountered Early, despite the avowed car guy’s thorough description of the car and partial plate.
Even after Dr. Thompson’s statement, Swarth continued to stand by the defense conceit that Dr. Thompson was only stopping to take a photograph. To stand by that story means standing by the assertion that Stoehr and Peterson somehow brought the day’s events on themselves, that they were in some way at fault.
He railed against the suggestion by the victims that Dr. Thompson had shown no remorse, pointing out how when he testified during the trial he had expressed his sorrow that anyone had been injured.
In standing by the tattered defense it was as if, confronted with the actual Big Foot, Swarth continued to deny its existence. Further, citing Thompson’s previous apology showed his complete disconnect from the emotional experience of seemingly anyone who came in contact with him during the trial (indeed, his rudeness to all members of the media became a source of amusement to us). Because the context of Dr. Thompson’s apology was entirely different, the meaning, and therefore, its credibility, was entirely different as well.
Later, with regards to Dr. Thompson’s apology Early said to me, “He should have made that statement on the Fifth of July.”
When I asked him about Dr. Thompson’s unwillingness to acknowledge any altercation with him he said, “He drove me off the road and doesn’t even remember it! That says a lot about his attitude.”
Dr. Thompson said that cyclists and drivers are at a crossroads. In that, he was wrong; the tension between the two communities has been at a boil for years. Assaults happen on a daily basis; some are more veiled than others and the will of the police to investigate them is as variable as the profile of a mountain range.
It was Judge Millington’s statement that brought closure to the saga. He acknowledged cyclists’ vulnerability and declared a need for cyclists and motorists to consider their actions in sharing common motorways. He also declared the responsibility on the part of the government to provide bike lanes so that cyclists may enjoy safe passage on the nations roads.
May we hope that legislators everywhere hear Judge Millington’s words.
The following are the statements made in court by Ron Peterson, Dr. Thompson and Judge Millington. Each is profound for the insight it brings to bear on the case.—Padraig
I’d like to thank the court for the opportunity to speak this morning. These past 18 months have been difficult to say the least. Being the victim of multiple felonies is not a pleasant experience, one which is made even more difficult by the constant court date postponements, stress of being cross-examined, recounting the event again and again, then finally: the constant worry that in the end the truth will not be heard and justice will not be served. To my great relief the truth has been heard and Dr. Thompson has been found guilty on all counts. Now the question finally arises ‘Will justice be served?’
Your Honor you are in the position of having to decide what exactly justice is in this case. Not an easy task I’m sure.
In order for you to make an informed decision you need to know just how Dr. Thompson’s actions that 4th of July have affected us. The trauma to me, both mental and physical has been extensive, in fact much more extensive than I feel comfortable sharing in this venue. But Your Honor, I have to share, because you have to know.
As far as physical injuries go I don’t need to go into detail. Through the testimony of my physicians you have heard what Dr. Thompson did to me. My nose was nearly torn from my face, my front two teeth were broken in half, and I suffered multiple facial lacerations. You’ve also seen the pictures. They speak for themselves.
Then, of course, there are the scars. Let’s be honest, they seem relatively minor. I’ve had plastic surgery, and my face cleaned up fine due to the skill of my surgeons. But your honor, the scars are still there as reminders of the incident. I see them every day. I see them every time I look in a mirror, every time I shave or wash my hands. Now I’m an active guy; I have plenty of scars. Scars on my arms, scars on my legs. These are “active scars” a kind of proof that I have lived my life and enjoyed doing so. They are almost badges of honor. The scars on my face are not that kind of scar. The scars on my face remind me of the pain and trauma I went through because Dr. Thompson didn’t like cyclists riding on “his” road.
Mentally, this incident has been stressful as well. That Fourth of July, or after that 4th of July I was having a hard time coping with what had happened. I had difficulty sleeping, and when I did I was plagued by recurring nightmares. They were of brake lights, and slamming. When awake, despite myself I was constantly replaying the event again and again. Now, I’ve crashed before, and never had nightmares due to these accidents. I have nightmares because this pain was caused by an intentional act. That fact, in addition to the incident’s violent nature was extremely hard to deal with. Eventually I sought help from a psychologist and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was in therapy for a year, and still go back every month or so.
I hope you now have a better understanding as to what I have gone through. Christian as well, though he’s not here to say anything.
So the next question is, what would constitute “Justice”? I know some of the options being considered are probation or as the DA has suggested, 8 years of prison.
It is my firm belief that the crimes Dr. Thompson has been found guilty of must be severely punished.
Your Honor I understand you are taking many variables into consideration when deciding Dr. Thompson’s sentence. Of course you are considering that this is the first felony—actually series of felonies—Dr. Thompson has ever been found guilty of. However my run in with the doctor. was not the first time he attempted to injure a cyclist, nor the second, but the third.
I also understand you will also be taking into consideration Dr. Thompson’s professional history. He’s been practicing emergency room medicine for 30 years. I believe Dr. Thompson’s medical training and experience make these crimes all the more heinous. Very few people have a greater understanding of just what happens to someone when they strike a solid object at 30 mph. Horrible injuries occur, including severe head trauma, broken bones, even death. Over the last 30 years Dr. Thompson has seen them all. Yet he still sent Christian and me to the emergency room.
This kind of violent behavior is not acceptable. In fact, preventing this kind of behavior is exactly why we have a justice system in the first place. Arguably the main reason we have punishment for crimes is to deter unacceptable behavior. If Dr. Thompson is not punished for his crimes, the message will be sent that it is okay to intentionally harm another person, merely because you don’t like what they said, that they dressed differently, or they slowed you down on ‘your’ street.
Your honor, thank you for the opportunity to speak here this morning. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I’ve been through, so please seriously consider what I’ve said when deciding Dr. Thompson’s sentence.
First of all, pardon me for reading. I needed to jot this down. Before I try this I would like to say Your Honor that I’m blessed, I’m very blessed by having an extraordinary family, friends and neighbors who are here to support me, both here in the court room as well many outside employers.
That’s not what I wanted to say. I wanted to address personally and directly Mr. Stoehr and Mr. Peterson. I violated the most sacred rules of medicine and also in my personal life, and that is to do no harm. That should not only govern our profession but me and us all as beings, human beings. I did violate it.
I have been haunted by nightmares where I see Mr. Peterson, it’s more not seeing you sir, it’s hearing you go through the windshield. Five to seven times a week, and I, too, sir, have been in therapy since that happened.
In my 32 years of practicing in the emergency department I have had the privilege, I mean privilege, excuse me [voice breaking], to treat and counsel many patients with injuries and am painfully aware of not only the physical trauma but the mental trauma as well. And I know that the physical injuries heal as well as mental ones but that the recovery can be quite extensive and lifelong.
I only hope and pray that the recovery from the mental anguish my actions have created is as short as possible for you and your families, because I also this affects other people, not just you. And I apologize to your family as well. The physical and mental scars are my fault.
I think Mr. Watson said I’ve not been remorseful or accepted responsibility. I do. And I pray that the impact on a daily basis is lessened. I would like to apologize again deeply and profoundly from the bottom of my heart. For you and your family as well as for mine and myself, this entire sequence of horrible events seems to grow and grow during the past 18 months, spinning out of control in the public arena being dragged, all of us dragged into it many times, looking through some of the chronicle stories and many more innocent people have been affected, I think.
And to that end I would like to address the cycling community as a whole and Mandeville Canyon in specific residents, as well as residents as a whole in Los Angeles. I can only hope and wonder that if we’d each walked a mile in each other’s shoes and communicated how whether all sides would have had a more open and productive dialog and all parties would have reaped the benefits of that dialog.
Both sides—the cyclists as well as the community—are at a crossroads. The bible teaches us that we have two choices: revenge and retaliation, or resolution and reconciliation. If my incident shows us anything its that confrontation only leads to escalation of hostility and not resolution, and that’s on both sides. I strongly urge both parties to embrace resolution through reconciliation. You cannot fix the problem if you are consumed with fixing the blame. Both sides can begin by agreeing on common goals and common understanding an example is that both parties surely would agree that safety is their primary concern.
From the beginning, I believe that both residents and cyclists can resolve their differences to the benefit of everyone and I hope and pray that this happens as soon as possible. You can honestly disagree without being disagreeable.
In closing, I would like to say from the bottom of my heart that I am again sorry and to Mr. Watson and to Mr. Crosby as well if I offended you and I scared you, you scared me back as well as Mr. Fitts and I think that we both could use a little talk, a little dialog. To Mr. Early I apologize for the perceived incident, again I was not there, I am sorry to say, but I had nothing to do with that incident.
I’m sorry there’s this notion I’m not remorseful and have not been apologetic, there’s nothing I can say that’s going to change your mind, I suspect, but believe me from the bottom of my heart, I’ve lived my entire life never intentionally hurting or wanting to hurt anyone in my life, including you. I’ve spent 33 years trying to help people, not hurt them. And I pray that I have that opportunity again. I wish you all long life and good health more importantly [voice breaking] and may God bless you and your families. Thank you your honor [through tears].
The first thing I want to state is that this case illustrates to me the incredible tension between cyclists and motorists on Los Angeles streets, and honestly should be a wake up call to everyone. Government must become aware of the dangerous conditions existing on our city streets and the threat of injury to cyclists and should provide safe and accessible bike lanes to cyclists.
Cyclists and motorists should be respectful of each others rights to use the common roadways for all.
With that said, the court finds circumstances in aggravation as follows: the court does agree with people that the victims were particularly vulnerable in this matter. They were riding bicycles, where the defendant was in a motor vehicle and therefore the court finds them particularly vulnerable.
The court is also concerned with the lack of remorse, I did hear, I did hear the statements of the defendant today, but throughout the probation report and other statements continues to maintain that he was going to take pictures of the cyclists in this matter and the jury obviously didn’t buy that story.
The court also recalls the testimony on the 911 call that the defendant specifically told Mr. Stoehr after he was thrown over the vehicle to ‘get his bike off the road.’ The defendant also stated on that same call when Mr. Peterson was seriously injured, bleeding profusely, the defendant said, ‘they will claim they were really hurt.’ The court is also aware of the statement to the officer that he did this, ‘to teach the cyclists a lesson.’
The court also read and considered the report submitted by the defense by Dr. Whiting, and I think I also heard it in the testimony of the defendant about when he was 12 years old his best friend’s brother was run over by a car while riding his bike and that was traumatic for the defendant, yet he goes about and does something like this.
Circumstances in mitigation include the defendant did actually call 911 and remain at the scene; I don’t know if he did that—remain at the scene—because Mr. Stoehr was laying on the vehicle or he did that of his own volition, but he did call 911 to at least seek aid for the two victims in this case. He is 60 years old with a minimal prior record, just one 1977 reckless driving case.
Tomorrow morning, January 8, Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson will be sentenced for the six felonies he committed against Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr, as well as the misdemeanor he committed against Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby.
To a great many cyclists, this day has been a long time coming. Many people decided his guilt once they heard the reported circumstances, so the trial struck many as a formality, simply a long pre-game show before the one-act main event—the sentencing.
Thanks in part to the efforts of RKP readers, more than 270 letters and e-mails have been filed with the court, condemning Thompson’s actions and requesting no leniency for a man whose actions resulted in life-altering injuries for Peterson and Stoehr.
Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone has used the letters and e-mails to request a lengthy sentence for the doctor.
She wrote to the court, “It is time that motorists learn that they must share the road with people on bicycles and that the courts will view assaults on cyclists by motorists as seriously as other assaults with deadly weapons.”
RKP will be in court. We’ll tweet the sentence once it is announced—@redkiteprayer.
It’s been an interesting year in the world of cycling. There have been some duels for the ages between larger-than-life figures. I decided to ask each of RKP’s contributors to pick their three favorite stories of the year. Some of their answers may surprise you.—Padraig
Lance Armstrong. No other figure in cycling has ever made headlines worldwide the way Lance Armstrong does. Whether it’s his battle to rid the world of cancer, the birth of a new son, doping charges or his battle of wits with Alberto Contador, Armstrong is a headline wherever he goes, whatever he does. He is also significant because no other figure has half the ability to polarize a group of cyclists as Armstrong. To some, he is a virtually convicted doper, to others he is a champion and figure of hope. No matter what you think of him, he has the ability to keep cycling in the mainstream worldwide, which, ultimately, is good for cycling.
The conviction of Dr. Thompson. That Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson was even tried for one felony—let alone six—was a big success for cyclists everywhere. There were more opportunities for this case to go off the rails than can be counted, but some significant points were in the initial investigation, once the case was turned over to the district attorney and, of course, in Thompson’s cross examination. This case will be cited as a turning point in the recognition by the average person that cyclists are both vulnerable to the actions of malicious drivers and have a right to the road.
Doping. From Christian “cycling has changed” Prudhomme, to Danilo “the killer” DiLuca to the blood transfusion kits found among Astana’s medical supplies, one should draw the conclusion that some riders might be cleaner than in the past, but cycling, as a sport, has yet to shed the taint of doping. Prudhomme, the Tour de France director, made the ludicrous statement, “I recently confirmed that ‘there were no suspected cases’ (during the 2009 Tour de France). This means that the fight against doping progresses.” Astarloza’s positive proved his statement was both premature and dead wrong. If anyone should have been fired from the ASO, it shouldn’t have been Patrice Clerc, but rather Prudhomme for making such a reckless statement on behalf of such a storied institution.
The fire sale of Iron Horse bicycles to Dorel. Iron Horse wasn’t a prestigious brand, but it was long known as being a good value for new cyclists. Its descent into bankruptcy was an ugly, backbiting mess full of recrimination and charges of shady deals involving owner Cliff Weidberg and his son, who owned Randall Scott Cycles, a significant debtor to Iron Horse. Dorel (the parent for Cannondale, GT, Schwinn, Mongoose, Pacific, etc.) purchased Iron Horse for $5.2 million at auction, less than what Iron Horse’s three biggest secured creditors were owed, for a classic pennies-on-the-dollar deal. The sale left hanging dozens of unsecured creditors who were owed a combined $17 million as well as CIT Group for another $4 million, and made cycling’s biggest corporate colossus just a little bit bigger.
Lemond v. Trek. Just wait, the plus-size gal isn’t even on stage.
Contador and Schleck denying Armstrong an 8th TdF. When the Lance returned, so much of the American cycloratti was hoping he’d return to his throne, but personally, I was ready to move on. As the hype ramped up and up and up, through LA’s collar bone break, through the Giro and into the initial stages of the Tour, I was really wishing for the sport to move on. Not to be ungrateful for contributions made, but I was ready for some new legends to emerge. And they did.
Philippe Gilbert’s end of season wins. What I love about Gilbert is his incredible tactical sense and timing. This is a guy who beats riders head and shoulders stronger than he is, by keeping his wits about him and playing them against one another. Not a weak rider, Gilbert shows what racing might be like in the absence of race radios, when smart riders win as much as strong ones.
The emergence of Edvald Boasson-Hagen. While everyone was talking about Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador (myself included) another young rider was winning races (10) and taking the overall in smaller stage races like the Eneco Tour and the Tour of Britain. Boasson-Hagen is 22. He is exactly the sort of rider that today’s top guns should be wary of, because he’s going to get better.
USA Bike industry ignores its mounting inventory crisis for an entire year (repercussions will impact retail pricing and corporate profits until 2012). If you ever had any doubts as to whether bike companies know what they’re doing, well, here’s your answer.
Lemond v Trek: no matter which way it ends up (short of an out-of-court-plus-gag-order settlement), this story still has the potential to become the biggest scandal in US cycling history. It’s also the #1 story the cycling press wishes would just go away: no matter how—or even if—they report it, it’s a lose-lose for them.
American public starts to figure out that bikes are actually a lot of fun (and practical transportation, too). This is THE biggest sea-change in public attitudes about cycling since That Skinny Blonde Kid won some race over in France 33 years ago … although sometimes I liked it better when we were just a bunch of geeks and outcasts instead of too-cool-for-school fashion mavens in skinny jeans and ironic t-shirts.
Bonus: Mavic’s parent company (Amer Sports) puts it up for sale, can’t find buyer, de-lists it, fires its own President. You know the economy’s bad when no one wants a highly regarded company with the lion’s share of a long-term lucrative market.
Contador’s Tour win as part of the Bizarro World of Team Astana. I know of no other time in cycling history when, after the designated team leader takes the Yellow Jersey, the team manager wanted to put on sackcloth and ashes. The psychological war Bruyneel and Armstrong waged against Contador remains about the oddest thing I ever saw in cycling.
The death duel between Di Luca and Menchov in the Giro. While I watched it, I tried to forget Di Luca’s past doping offenses (he made sure I was reminded later…) and watched 2 superb athletes fight until neither had a watt left. Menchov’s crash in the final time trial made even the race’s last moments exciting. His poor performance in the Tour showed he had gone truly deep in the Giro.
Grand Tour VAMs. Both the Giro and the Tour had some spectacularly high VAMs (average rate of vertical ascent in a climb). There was one day in the Tour that saw the Tour climbing speed record Bjarne Riis set on the Hautacam in 1996 eclipsed.
Bonus: And the UCI says they are getting a good handle on doping. I’ve got some good ocean-front land here in Arkansas for anyone who believes that. I believe we lost ground during 2009 in the hunt for a clean sport.
Contador wins second Tour de France. The lead up to the race was more drama than MTV’s “The Hill” leading up to prom night. Every day there were hints that all the indicators being tossed out by Astana that “all is well” and “we are all behind our leader” and “Contador is our GC leader.” It was something everyone who listened and watched knew was slick talk and that there was 2 GC riders on the team, neither submitting to the other in reality. To see the dynamics play out was something that kept us all tuned daily for the month of July. I personally cannot wait ‘til 2010′s TdF!!
Fabian Cancellara SMOKES TT world championship. Fabian is a statesman for cycling and in my opinion one of the peloton’s classiest riders. He can be many things, but his TT skills are phenomenal and his lead up to the World TT championship brought us to anticipate a performance, which he delivered in jaw-dropping fashion.
Devolder repeats at Tour of Flanders. I love all the Classics, but I love the Spring Classics especially. Seeing Cav win Milan San Remo was incredible, to see Boonen win Paris-Roubaix was great, to see Schleck win Leige was sweet as well, but to see the Belgian Devolder repeat his win at Tour of Flanders held a meaning that goes to the very core of this race, to his pedigree, which makes him a national hero yet again, and brings this one to the top for me.
Notables: Team Columbia HTC should have an honorable mention notably as they really pulled off greatness in light of adversity, despite the other teams riding senslessly against them at times (Hincapie’s maillot jaune loss in TdF), they stuck it out and perhaps had the team of the year.
Anyone who wishes to voice their opinion regarding the sentencing of Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson has the opportunity to write an e-mail the District Attorney will forward to the judge. Sentencing will take place December 3, 2009, at the Airport Courthouse. Thompson faces a maximum term of 10 years after being convicted of six felonies and one misdemeanor following two attacks on cyclists.
For cyclists, below is a sample letter you can paste into an e-mail. If you believe Dr. Thompson was wrongfully convicted, you are welcome to send an e-mail using the link below, but you’ll have to write your own note.
Be sure to add your name and contact information. There’s not much time on this–send your e-mail by 10:00 p.m. Thursday.
To: The Honorable Judge Millington
Re: Sentencing Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson
Dear Judge Millington,
I am writing to voice my support for the maximum possible sentence for Dr. Thompson following his conviction for six felonies and one misdemeanor.
I believe Dr. Thompson’s behavior in the events of July 4 and March 11, 2008, have demonstrated him to exhibit a wanton disregard for both the law and civilized society. He has no place on the streets, especially given the escalating nature of his crimes.
As a cyclist who has endured many close calls with cars, I feel a strong connection with Ron Peterson, Christian Stoehr, Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby, the victims of Dr. Thompson’s callous acts. Please send a message to Thompson and to drivers everywhere that malicious acts against cyclists will not be tolerated by the justice system.
Show cyclists that the justice system regards them as citizens with rights.
I implore you to give Dr. Thompson the maximum possible sentence.
E-mail your letter here.
I love a good tragedy. When it comes to Shakespeare, give me Hamlet, Macbeth or King Lear. In movies, I prefer flawed heroes and fallen angels. If I cheer at the death of the villain, then I never connected with the character and that means he could only have been two-dimensional, and we know what two-dimensional pictures of bad guys are used for: target practice.
Similarly, I’m not big on god-like figures. As a kid, I was a bit of a smart-ass (not saying that has changed) and once asked in Sunday school why we were busy trying to emulate perfection if we, as man, were doomed to imperfection. I didn’t quite articulate the whole of my thought, which was, ‘If I can see flaws in Jesus, be they moments of doubt or indecision or even waves of fear, then I can identify more easily with him and thus will be inspired to at least try to follow in his footsteps.’ I was filled with such doubt on a daily basis and I simply couldn’t identify with his confidence of mission. ‘What was that like?’ I wondered.
I have received a lot of praise for my work covering the trial of Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson. I’m grateful for every note I have either received here or that has been sent to VeloNews. Nothing could please me more than to know that my effort to be fair and unbiased in my reporting resonated with readers.
The story of this case is obviously tragic in broad strokes, but I think it is easy to miss the more human elements that make us identify with each of the people involved and feel for the ways their lives have changed.
In Christian Stoehr’s case, he endured a four and a half hour surgery to repair his shoulder. He spent the vast majority of his settlement on his physical therapy. With the little money left over he built a pizza oven. He’s guaranteed arthritis in that shoulder and will never be able to carry the bigger cameras that were once a prominent part of his professional life. Once a fixture of my training rides, I rarely see him anymore.
As easygoing as Ron Peterson is, he’s an intensely competitive guy. Prior to Thompson’s assault, Ron was racing as a Cat. 1 and had the ability to win on any course; he could drop you going up, down or in a sprint. As a coach, he had helped novice riders become good racers and some very good racers become legendary. Today, he’s on the local rides occasionally … at best. His sense of justice might get a boost someday; he has filed a civil suit against Thompson and with the help of a forensic accountant, they might find some compensation for his suffering. Nothing will really make up for the missed days on the bike either of these guys has experienced, though.
But here’s what none of us really want to think about: Subtract about three minutes from Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson’s life and chances are none of us would ever have heard his name. His given name is largely irrelevant to us judging from the names he’s been called on blogs, web sites and in e-mails.
Monster is the clear winner, with a bullet and heading up the charts fast.
Certainly the act he committed is monstrous, but does that make him a monster? I have problems with this sort of thinking for a few reasons. First, one of the great fallacies of irrational thinking is believing that if you do something bad, you are bad. Going to Catholic schools as a kid, I got that message a lot, thankyouverymuch.
Second, once we reduce a guy to a cardboard cutout, painting him as a villain, we remove him from humanity and deny that he had anything in common with us. Seeing someone as all bad is called splitting; it is a defense mechanism that gives us a chance to devalue another person. It’s convenient and neat, and saves us the onerous task of recognizing how his temper might be a first cousin to our own tempers.
I don’t know Dr. Thompson and don’t want to know him. But in working on my coverage about this “incident,” I learned a thing or two about him. He’s a musician. Present tense. Judging from a personal page that used to be on the Touch Medix web site, he’s a big wine nut; there were a few photos of him holding a glass full of what looked to be Cabernet. He lived on Mandeville Canyon; if you’ve ever been up the canyon, then you know anyone who chooses to live there has some clue about the good life. He’s an entrepreneur; Touch Medix is a company he launched with a friend to respond to a need they perceived in hospital medical records. He does, in fact, have a heart; he paid for the funeral of the daughter of an ex-girlfriend and paid for flowers to be on her grave every month.
He’s also a guy who lied to the court about his motivation for stopping in front of Ron and Christian. He lied under oath to a judge and a jury. He’s a physician who had to get through a fair amount of physics in college who claimed he wanted to get a photo of the cyclists as they passed—a ridiculous suggestion that seemingly anyone with half a brain would have understood as essentially impossible given his claimed distance ahead of them and the speed they were moving. And he expected us to believe him.
We don’t know what his sentence will be, but the loss of his medical license is virtually assured. I won’t pretend to know what the appropriate punishment is for his actions, but the loss of his medical license seems appropriate.
But is he a monster? Let me ask the question a different way. Is he a villain? Is he the black-hat-wearing, cardboard-cutout, Darth Vader of car drivers?
Hopefully, Dr. Thompson will do some soul searching and look back on the choice he made on July 4, 2008, as the low point in his judgment, though it’s possible he’ll deflect and decide his worst choice wasn’t hitting the brakes but hiring Peter Swarth to represent him. These things happen. History knows the truth: It’s unlikely Thompson will ever make a poorer choice than when he hit the brakes that morning on Mandeville Canyon. Should we sum up the whole of his identity in a single choice?
Perhaps it is fair to wonder if his identity should be different from his station in life post-verdict. Some time down the road, he’ll be out of prison and an employee of a medical records software company, a former doctor and convicted felon.
Photo: Chris Roberts
My reporting for VeloNews on the trial of Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson as a result of actions he took on Mandeville Canyon on July 4, 2008, has been as straight and without bias as I’ve been able to construct. I can’t say it is without bias at all, though I can’t point to a place in the work where I editorialized or slanted information. However, I have left out information for the simple reason that I cannot possibly include every detail that transpires during five hours or so of testimony. I’ve done my best to include the high points and low points for both the prosecution and the defense in my effort to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of the respective cases.
As I mentioned, I’ve got an obvious bias in covering this case that you don’t need me to explain: I’m a cyclist. However, I have a second bias in this case, and one that could potentially make my coverage more suspect: Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr are friends of mine. I’ve ridden thousands of miles with Ron and probably more than a thousand miles with Christian as well. When I was publishing Asphalt, Ron was one of my editors and he penned a bike review and coaching column for each issue.
I’ve left my personal opinions out of the coverage; what I think, has no place in that reporting. Also, I think if I were to skew the coverage, it would undermine our understanding of how serious this situation is.
I may have left my personal opinions out of my coverage; however, the number one question I get in e-mail and on the road is how I think the case is going. I’m asked a dozen (or more) times a day: ‘Will Thompson go down?’
I could be dead wrong in my judgment, but I’m fairly well informed; I’ve attended every hour of every day of the trial and have been the only cyclist to attend the trial in its entirety; someone needed to.
So here’s how I see things: The jury has had less than two hours to deliberate. It seems unlikely they will return a quick verdict. They are considering seven charges—six felonies and one misdemeanor. A responsible jury will consider each of the felony charges for some time.
I’ve read about plenty of cases that seemed like slam dunks only to have a jury convict for a misdemeanor and hang or acquit on a felony as a way to dodge what seemed too harsh a punishment for the defendant. Such an outcome in this case wouldn’t surprise me were it not for an important detail—the distribution of the charges.
Each of the six felonies pertains to Thompson’s actions on July 4, 2008, the actions that led to the injuries of Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr. Should the jury become queasy about convicting a doctor of felonies, there are no misdemeanors related to that incident to hang around his neck as a slap on the wrist. The only misdemeanor in this case is the reckless driving charge that relates to the incident on March 11, 2008, with Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby.
The jury has three options, naturally. They could convict him, acquit him or hang. And while we might like the meaning of that last option to involve a rope, it is simply our preferred term for a jury’s inability to decide.
But the jury ought to be able to decide this man’s fate. Why? Well, my personal take is that Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone did what was necessary to prove Thompson’s guilt, pure and simple. While I do think Peter Swarth has been good counsel and maybe even effective counsel, even after I do my personal best to set aside my personal bias, I think Thompson is guilty based on the case Stone presented.
Ultimately, Thompson’s guilt comes down to the statements he made in his 911 call and to Officer Rodriguez. Had Thompson not made three simple statements—“I slammed on my brakes.” “I wanted to teach them a lesson.” And, “I’m tired of them.”—he’d probably be looking at a good chance of acquittal.
He did deny that he made the statements about teaching the cyclists a lesson and being tired of them. But because he didn’t deny the statements immediately preceding and following those two statements and then claiming he didn’t mean “slammed” when he said “slammed,” made him look like a liar. Or better yet, a perjurer.
While I was personally offended at some of Swarth’s tactics, I thought his defense was essentially to be expected, if not downright predicatable. I’ll admit feeling absolute outrage when Thompson said, “Bicycles are inherently dangerous because of their instability and unpredictability.”
Swarth occupied some three hours with testimony from a forensic psychologist whose entire testimony was meant to discredit the memory of Patrick Early, the first cyclist to have an altercation with Thompson. Early’s testimony was meant to go to Thompson’s mindset, and therefore his motivation, but even if the defense discredited Early—and I’m not saying they did—there was still Watson and Crosby’s incident to consider.
Still, Swarth couldn’t undo the damage Thompson had done to his own case before hiring counsel. I’ve heard that some doctors develop colossal egos that manifest through incredible arrogance. If ego and arrogance clouded his judgment enough to allow him to think his actions would go unpunished, one wonders what other sociopathic tendencies he exhibits.
So what’s it going to be?
Acquittal seems unlikely. Despite the smokescreens that Swarth blew over the case, the evidence against Thompson seems too strong to find him not guilty.
The assault with a deadly weapon charge is, shall we say, the gateway charge. This is the first charge from the July 4, 2008, incident that jurors must consider. Logically, it seems to me that if they find Thompson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt with regard to even one charge of assault with a deadly weapon, the other five charges—which includes a charge of mayhem as a result of the damage done to Peterson’s nose and carries a possible sentence of eight years—are essentially a given. If you are willing to think that Thompson used his car to threaten or intimidate Peterson and Stoehr at all, then it is virtually impossible to believe the other crimes he is charged with didn’t also take
Here’s the problem: Juror bias. It is easy for cyclists to underestimate the hostility that some people feel for cyclists. All it takes is for one person out of twelve to decide that cyclists aren’t real people or that Peterson and Stoehr had it coming or any other illogical rationalization that could undermine the proper application of justice.
We probably won’t see a verdict on Monday, though if we were to see a quick judgment, it might be good news to cyclists everywhere. It seem more likely, however, that a verdict could take days to return.
Honestly, I think there’s a 50 percent chance we’ll get a hung jury. I suppose I have to grant a one percent chance of an acquittal; it seems a remote possibility, but there is that chance. That’s leaves a 49 percent chance of conviction. I stand by my assertion: If he’s convicted of one felony count, I think he’ll be convicted on all counts. The misdemeanor in the Waton/Crosby incident hardly matters.
There is yet another wrinkle to report in this case. On Thursday, the day the case was given to the jury, Peterson sued Thompson in federal court for negligence and battery, citing permanent injuries arising from the incident. Even if Thompson gets a hung jury, or the unthinkable—an acquittal, his woes are far from over.
Photo: Chris Roberts