A San Francisco software developer pled guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter after crashing his bicycle into a pedestrian and killing him. The San Francisco D.A. says it’s the first felony conviction in the country for killing someone with a bike. Despite pleading to a felony, 37-year-old Chris Bucchere won’t spend any time in jail. He’s getting 3 years probation and 1,000 hours of community service. Is that a fair sentence?
Here is what reportedly happened in this case—as I’ve discussed before on two different blog posts. Bucchere was riding his bike downhill in the Castro district at around 30 m.p.h. Witnesses say he blew through a red light and crashed into a busy intersection. His bike collided with 71-year-old Sutchi Hui who was crossing the street with his wife. Hui died of his injuries 4 days later. Bucchere had reportedly been using a GPS application that allows cyclists to compare speed records for a particular route.
Does this seem like an appropriate plea bargain and sentence for Mr. Bucchere?
As a bicycle and pedestrian accident attorney in San Francisco, I appeared on NPR last year to discuss:
AUDIO: NPR AirTalk Interview
Claude Wyle: “My specialty is representing people who are harmed by the carelessness of others. It’s very rare that a bicyclist harms someone to the extent that they die. It’s a unique situation that demonstrates a lot of the tension that we have here in San Francisco between all the different vehicles and pedestrians that have to share our congested city.
I don’t want to put my second-hand judgment in place of the people who were working on this case very hard—the District Attorney’s office, the Defense Attorney, and the courts. But, I think that Mr. Bucchere should have been treated just the same as anyone else who negligently harms someone to the extent that they die.
NPR Host: If he had been driving a car, blown through a red light and crashed into someone crossing the street, do you think that this is likely the penalty that driver would have received?
Claude Wyle: I think that’s likely the penalty that the driver would have received or that driver wouldn’t have even been prosecuted. We have so many negligent homicides in San Francisco and in California—it seems to me that I’m reading about it almost every day. Within the last couple of days, a truck driver was taking a right turn down south of Market in San Francisco and a bicyclist was passing on the right and the bicyclist ended up dying. We’re not hearing any stories right now about that truck driver being prosecuted. In the Bucchere case, they started talking about it right away. I think they wanted to make an example of him. That’s one of the things that bothered me about the case. I represent both bicyclists and pedestrians so in a way I’m torn; I’m on both teams. I know that the bicycling community is very upset at Mr. Bucchere’s attitude that he expressed in his posting amongst his racing group. I think that really sparked the prosecution.
The level of negligence in order to prosecute for manslaughter has to be higher than just ‘oh it’s an accident’. That’s why I was surprised that Bucchere was prosecuted. It’s not like he started at the top of the hill, said ‘oh I see a whole bunch of people crossing the street so I’m going to blow through the red light and if I have to hit someone I will.’ That would have been true negligence. My understanding is that he thought he was going to make it before the light turned red; he blew it and it was negligent but I’m surprised he plea bargained to a felony.
The facts about vehicular manslaughter state that he could have been charged with 10 years in prison and 5 years probation. This case could also wobble to change to a misdemeanor over time by the judge.
Did the GPS device egg him on to become reckless and therefore tip the case to wrongful? It would appear so since it breeds a competitive nature, including a comparison to professionals who are also on the app. The app encourages time over safety.
A lot of people think that the judge was too lenient on Bucchere and wondered why such a light sentence for a bicyclist convicted of felony manslaughter? I was personally shocked at some of the over-the-top comments from listeners such as ones implying that bicycles as a whole should be banned because they kill people just like guns, or that the judgment was racial prejudice, or that Bucchere should get hit by a BART train (or worse). Someone shared the fact that was not relayed enough that the Hui family asked that Bucchere spend community service helping the elderly, building low-income housing, and assisting people suffering from brain trauma (rather than jail time, which as they put it, wouldn’t have helped anyone).