When Felt Bicycles came back from the brink of extinction a few years back I took note. Jim Felt had been a motorcycle race mechanic for a great many big names in motocross, names like Johnny “O-show” O’Mara. He was a good fabricator and had a creative mind.
And then he got interested in triathlon.
It turns out, some of the riders he worked with were starting to do tri’s to stay fit. He started doing them as well and noticed a funny thing. He couldn’t get the triathlon bars low enough to get a truly flat back while riding a properly sized frame.
So he built a few bike frames. They were notable for quick handling and very, very short head tubes. Head tubes that in some instances measured less than 10cm. Riding a Felt was the only way to guarantee your position was as aerodynamic as possible, relative to the time. And the proof was, as they say, in the puddin’. Big names, names like Paula Newby-Fraser began to win on Felts.
In 1996 I spent a week on a Felt. Manufactured by Answer Products in Valencia, Calif., through a licensing agreement with Jim Felt, the frame was TIG-welded from 7000-series aluminum, which needed no heat-treating, thereby dropping manufacturing costs dramatically and increasing the chances that the frame was properly aligned. Back then, Answer employed a number of manufacturing staffers who were part of the ‘90s aerospace diaspora. At the time, I lived in Valencia and rode on a regular basis with a half dozen of them. A few of them told me that if they couldn’t make $60k working in aerospace, then working on bikes was at least cool.
The aerospace bit wouldn’t be important were it not for the fact that their experience made the bikes damn good. The welding was exquisite and alignment superior to any other aluminum bike I’d seen at the time.
Back to that Felt I rode in ’96. This was the same bike Chris Horner won Athens Twilight on and a career making stage at the Tour DuPont in a two-up sprint against the more experienced U.S. Postal rider, Nate Reiss; ’96 would prove to be Reiss’ last season with Postal. Oops.
The bike I rode was unlike any bike I had ever ridden. It was unusually lively for aluminum, as stiff as any Klein I had ever ridden and carried exquisite grace of a filet knife. It scared the shit out of me.
Then Answer went through what we’ll term a transition. In 2000 the new management decided to get out of the business of road bikes and cut Felt loose.
It turns out this was the best thing that could have happened to Jim Felt and his brand.
Bill Duehring, a former VP with GT and all-around industry lifer, had partnered with Michael Müllmann, the owner of one of Europe’s most successful distributors, Sport Import, and the two wanted to start a bike company. The three decided to team up and together they forged a formidable partnership. Felt was known for his ideas about frame and tubing design. Duehring was known for impeccably spec’d bikes at great price points and Müllmann had access to capital and distribution channels.
It was this incarnation of Felt that loaned me a road bike to review when I published Asphalt. Ron Peterson, the editor who reviewed the bike, lauded it for the feel of the butted Easton Scandium tubing and the handling which he adored for crit racing.
At the next Interbike the company showed off its first carbon bike, the F1. A quick look at the tube shapes told me it wasn’t an open-mold design with their decals. It was their own design, engineered in-house. The F1 was essentially the company’s long-admired road bike geometry in carbon form.
In 2007 the company introduced a new road bike model, the Z1. Like the F, the Z was offered at a number of price points, but the Z1 was notable because it used the same blend of ultra-high, high and intermediate modulus carbon fibers as the F1. The similarities ended there.
The Z-series bikes are grand touring bikes. Compared to the F-series bikes, they are built around longer head tubes (not hard to do), slacker head tube angles and more fork rake. They also get longer chainstays. The slackish head tube angle, generous fork rake and longish chainstays gave the bike a longer wheelbase while maintaining the same weight distribution between front and rear wheels as the F-series bikes.
It’s easy to be cynical and just say Felt was aping what Specialized did with the Roubaix, but there are a few differences worth noting. First, the bottom bracket is a bit higher on the Z than on the Roubaix. Next, the Z doesn’t use the Zertz vibration dampers—Felt’s head of engineering, Jeff Soucek, says he doesn’t believe they do anything to help the ride quality of the bike; I’ve argued the point with him, but that’s a different story. Third, as mentioned previously, Felt specs exactly the same blend of carbon fibers in the Z1 that goes into the flagship F1 model. My 56cm Z1 frame weighed in at 906 grams (g).
Lots of companies will talk a good sub-kilo game, but far fewer are doing it than you might think. I watched a 52cm Trek Madone—minus seat mast—tip the scales at 1133g. I haven’t had a chance to weigh a Specialized Roubaix SL2, which would be the frame analogous to the Z1, but when I asked a Specialized representative what it weighed I was told “around a kilo.” I take that to mean north of a kilo, because if it was consistently less than a kilo, that feature would be touted like the cup size of a porn star, I expect.
Let’s talk competitive models for a moment. I have to volunteer that I have some trouble taking a bike company seriously if they don’t offer a grand touring model. Now, in the case of a company such as Seven Cycles that builds bikes to suit the rider, there’s no need to offer a specific model for one geometry, but production-oriented companies are another story. Trek’s got the Pilot, Cannondale the Synapse, Cervelo the RS, Bianchi the Infinito and Giant the Defy. Interestingly, Scott claims to offer two “performance” oriented models “more relaxed geometry. Those two models, the CR1 and the Speedster are more relaxed in marketing copy alone. They have the same BB drop (6.7cm) same chainstay length (40.5cm) and same head tube angle (73 degrees for the large size) as their racing model, the Addict. Indeed, the CR1 became “relaxed” when they introduced the Addict. Perhaps they were referring to the fact that the head tube is a massive 2cm longer on the CR1 and Speedster than on the Addict. Whatever.
The vast majority of these bikes feature a watered-down carbon fiber blend (compared to flagship models) and a component spec that says century riders won’t notice an extra three or four pounds. Anyone who thinks only fast racer types will spend big bucks on a bike have completely misread the bike market. Completely.
Next: Part II
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.
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
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.
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
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.