I previously covered a story about Chris Bucchere’s fatal bicycle vs. pedestrian accident last year, and now feel inclined to comment again. Mr. Bucchere, 36 years old, is now ordered to stand trial on a felony vehicular manslaughter charge for this fatality which occurred in the Castro district of San Francisco while he was riding through the intersection on his bicycle purportedly at 35 m.p.h. in a 25 m.p.h. zone.
I’m a San Francisco Pedestrian Accident Attorney and I recognize that yes, a pedestrian was hit and killed, and I recognize the tragedy. My heart goes out to the family of the decedent, however, I have serious questions about whether Mr. Bucchere should be prosecuted criminally. We know that criminal charges have been brought against Bucchere and now a judge has determined that the District Attorney has enough evidence to bring Mr. Bucchere to trial. But we know that the majority of pedestrian deaths are not prosecuted against the drivers. One reason why the civil justice system is so vitally important is that Bay Area drivers rarely face punishment for fatal pedestrian accidents.
Less than half of the drivers who hit pedestrians are ever charged with a crime. Those who do, serve little time in jail. Why do we have this alarming statistic toward injustice? One reason is as District Attorney Steve Wagstaff believes: juries too often sympathize with the driver because they imagine the driver could be them and they unconsciously don’t want to be deemed the criminal.
In fact, this has been happening since the 1930s, where prosecutors have had difficulty convincing juries to convict drivers for killing pedestrians. In response, in 1945 California lawmakers created a vehicular manslaughter statute (the same one Bucchere is charged with) with lighter sentences and the option of charging the crime as a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. What else can be done to ensure justice for all pedestrians?
I will blog on this topic some more in the near future.
In this case, prosecutors allege
that Bucchere ran multiple red lights and a stop sign before striking Sutchi Hui, 71, at Castro and Market streets shortly after 8 a.m. on March 29, 2012.
Yet, Defense attorney Ted Cassman asked the judge to dismiss or reduce the charge, arguing
that surveillance video of the collision showed that Bucchere had entered the Castro and Market intersection before the light turned red.
It has also been uncovered that other pedestrians also entered the crosswalk at the intersection before the “Walk” signal turned on, which limited Bucchere’s ability to avoid the collision.
So, when the impact occurred who had the right of way? I believe that what is important in terms of a criminal prosecution is what Bucchere was thinking when he made the choice to ride into the intersection. Was he speeding? Could he have stopped? And did his culpability rise to the level of criminal conduct?
Please remember that the family of the decedent has the right to pursue this cyclist’s negligence in civil court and they should pursue their civil claim vigorously. After all, at the end of the day, what does the criminal prosecution of this cyclist do directly for the family who lost Mr. Hui? I think the civil justice system is there to make sure that this family receives financial compensation for their loss. And that compensation should be fitting to the loss, which is large.
With evidence uncovered in the preliminary hearing, Bucchere was probably going far too fast, but he may have run a very late yellow rather than a red light–a mistake made tragic because of the pedestrians entering the crosswalk very early. It seems that both the cyclist and the pedestrians were too aggressive in their commuting–as is typical in any urban city, however, Bucchere’s aggressiveness held the highest risk of injuring someone. I think the Hui family will win their civil suit, but I don’t have all of the evidence at my disposal.
Due to the contradictions between the eyes of the witnesses and those of the surveillance cameras, there is a reasonable doubt as to Bucchere’s conduct in my mind. In this case, would proof such as that which could be obtained by, let’s say, Google glasses have helped exonerate Bucchere had he been taping his ride with the built-in camera? Through the eyes of the driver, the camera’s accuracy could be excellent evidence in a court of law. Maybe all cyclists should carry a GoPro camera just in case they need to prove their case in court?
The press keeps going back to an internet post that Bucchere made after the accident where he “lamented the heroic death of his helmet” implying that his helmet was more important than the life of the human he killed; prosecutors use this as evidence that Bucchere was a bad person and probably maliciously killed the pedestrian he callously hit. Is that fair? While Mr. Bucchere’s online comments may have been tacky in retrospect, I am not convinced that he was entirely callous toward Mr. Hui, or that he intentionally disregarded the safety of pedestrians that day.
This accused cyclist was clearly upset about this fatality and showed his emotions and tears accordingly during the hearing on Thursday, March 7, 2013. Is this one cyclist being singled out to make an example for other cyclists? Is that really right when so many motorists escape prosecution when they kill with cars or trucks or taxis?
This judge ruled that there was enough evidence against Bucchere for him to stand trial. The Court did not rule that Bucchere was guilty. I am eager to learn what the evidence at trial will show when this cyclist puts on his whole defense.