Bikelash PART X: Epilogue

On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.

This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.

We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.

This story is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story that happens all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. Media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgment, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.

The narrative is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. To protect the privacy of others, I changed some names. All else is true to my memory of what happened.

I am sharing this not for redemption or personal profit, but because this side of the story rarely gets told. To make sure our justice system treats all defendants fairly, we need to speak up when it doesn’t.

I’m Chris Bucchere.

And this is Bikelash.

PART X: Epilogue

Fall 2018

In the years since the accident, I’ve tried to understand the motivation behind every person who had played a role—and mostly, I do. I may not approve or agree, but I have mostly settled on the reasons why each person made the decisions they did. Each person, that is, except Nathan Pollak, a.k.a. Mr. Several Red Lights and Stop Signs.

Why would a small business owner have fabricated a narrative that claimed I had done reckless, asinine things I hadn’t? Why had he been willing to put his own credibility on the line? I understand wanting to be a Good Samaritan and help the police—but he had knowingly lied, under oath, to do it.

He had risked his reputation and his livelihood by coming forward with an invented narrative giving precisely the ammunition that prosecutors needed to raise my charge from a misdemeanor to a felony. Why? Had he wanted the attention? Did he like being the star witness? Was it a Superman Complex? Or had he been paid off?

No one jeopardizes his own life without the hope of at least something in return. What was in it for Nathan Pollak?

Nathan Pollak (far left) and Heidi Gibson (second from right) receiving $250,000

Four months after Pollak came forward with his narrative about a reckless cyclist he had thought he had seen near Market and Castro, his business became one of twelve small businesses in the country to be awarded a grant of $250,000 from a new program by Chase, LivingSocial, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

What was the groundbreaking and innovative achievement of the business that beat out nearly 70,000 other applicants?

A café that serves grilled cheese sandwiches.

Also, just ninety days after he had testified, Pollak and his business partner and now wife, Heidi Gibson, won the Small Business of the Year award, presented by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

Was The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen the best small business in San Francisco? I don’t know; perhaps it was. I do know, however, that Nathan Pollak was the only small business owner who had volunteered to lie to the prosecutors so they could raise my charge to a felony. The timing of these two prestigious awards seems rather conspicuous, although it doesn’t prove that Pollak received them as direct payouts for his role in ruining my life and reputation.

It just seems fishy.


The Hui family, as one of the conditions of my probation, had asked my probation officer to steer me toward elder care as one of my community service modalities. Technically speaking, however, I was allowed to complete my hours doing any type of service work, as long as I worked exclusively for nonprofits.

After I had completed some hours on projects to benefit the homeless and our national parks, Omid had asked Ted if I could do more work in the field of elder care. Happy to comply, I reached out to a number of senior centers, elder care facilities, different types of assisted living residences, and a few hospices. Ruling out anything that wasn’t a nonprofit left very few choices.

I had some brief phone conversations with the remaining facilities, during which the subject of my felony conviction would invariably come up. It didn’t take long for me to realize that felons aren’t normally given access to the elderly.

I wrote to Ted and my probation officer to explain this dilemma. Ted put a call in to Omid.

Rather than giving up on elder care entirely, Omid told Ted he would like to call the people who had turned me down for community service projects with elders and deliver a personal message about how I was indeed a convicted felon, but somehow I was still a suitable person to work with the elderly.

Why on earth would Omid do something like that?

I suspected that, as part of his negotiations with the Hui family, Omid had promised them that I would do elder care service work—but now I couldn’t, because he made a felon out of me.


From: Chris Bucchere
To: Ann Peabody
Subject: Volunteer Opportunities at the Senior Service Center

Hi Ann,

I just heard from one of my attorneys that the Senior Service Center is going to accept me as a volunteer. That’s great news! I am confused however, because I thought there were strict rules in place about allowing convicted felons to engage in any kind of elder care. I thought this would especially be the case for violent crimes like murder and manslaughter. If you don’t mind my asking, why was there a sudden change of heart/policy?

 

Regardless, I look forward to serving your organization and I hope my felony manslaughter conviction won’t be an issue.

Best regards,

Chris


From: Ann Peabody
To: Chris Bucchere
Subject: Re: Volunteer Opportunities at the Senior Service Center

Good Morning Chris,

You had an advocate. We understand the circumstances. You’ll still be required to register as a regular volunteer, including a free background check. Please give me a call so we can set-up a time frame that’s convenient for you.

Happy Holidays!

Ann Peabody
Director of Volunteer Services, Senior Service Center


The ADA was now my advocate? After all we’ve been through? I tried to quell my anger by appreciating the obvious irony.

After I calmed down a bit, I called and left a voicemail for Ann to tell her I was thrilled to accept the food service position she offered me in Healdsburg.

I never heard back from her.


My insurance company, YNK Insurance, agreed to pay out $2,100,000 to settle the Hui family’s demand.

I didn’t harbor any animosity toward them for demanding this money. Betty Hui knew three versions of the events that transpired on March 29: her story, which was that she and Terry had waited for the WALK symbol (and then some); the DA’s story, which was that I had recklessly sped into the intersection trying to break a land speed record, blowing three red lights and stop signs, making no attempt to stop and violating pedestrian right of way; and finally, the media’s story, which had taken the DA’s press releases and leaks and blown them out of proportion to fan the already-roaring flames of hatred toward cyclists.

The Huis got a large settlement—one that could have caused me complete financial ruin but, thanks to my insurance policy, didn’t—and I’m glad for them. The settlement jibed with Betty’s statement to the police, the DA’s charges, Terry Jr.’s understanding of the case, and it even mostly fit the media narrative. $2.1 million won’t end their tragedy or their suffering. $2.1 million won’t replace Sutchi Hui—nothing can or will.

This settlement released me from all future claims by the family, but it doesn’t absolve me of the burden I carry. It will, however, allow Betty to live more comfortably, and Terry Jr. perhaps to inherit something as well.

I have nothing other than sympathy and contrition for the Hui family, except of course for my one wish that none of this had ever happened.


Meanwhile, I’ve tried to focus on rebuilding my life, personally and professionally.

Every marriage ends for a million reasons, but the toll this accident and its aftermath had taken on us was too much to bear. Carroll and I filed for divorce amicably in 2017, remaining in close contact as we continue to raise our daughter Ashley together.

I took another software job at a company with an office in the financial district—ground zero for bike messengers. Every day I watch them ride on sidewalks, make every kind of illegal turn imaginable, hop over train tracks to weave in and out of traffic, and do track stands in the middle of intersections. I see them ride the wrong way on one-way streets, tearing through crosswalks, treating pedestrians like cones on a slalom course, middle fingers always at the ready.

As far as Gascón’s idea that my felony prosecution would serve as a serious warning to the city’s cyclists? Not so much.


On September 18, 2014—a little more than a year after my case came to a close—a cyclist in New York City’s Central Park collided with a pedestrian who was crossing the street in a crosswalk. Like me, Jason Marshall had been tracking his ride on Strava. He, too, tried to swerve to miss other people crossing the street, but still ended up running into a woman named Jill Tarlov. A few days later, Tarlov died of injuries sustained in the accident.

Like me, Marshall quickly became an international whipping boy for scofflaw cycling. Dozens of stories came out that sounded just like the ones about me. Marshall hadn’t written any loopy emails to friends and family, but popular opinion seemed just as mean and angry as it had been in my case—reckless cyclist, racing on Strava, hang him high. I wondered if he, too, would face vehicular manslaughter charges.

But Marshall was not charged for his role in the accident. In fact, he wasn’t even issued a traffic citation. Perhaps this is because the New York District Attorney knew that—as in my case—the pedestrians were trying to cross against a DON’T WALK signal and failed to yield the right of way to the cyclist.

Or perhaps the truth lies in something Gascon said in the final press conference he held about my case:

“You would probably have seen in many jurisdictions actually no prosecution at all. We would not be having this discussion. It would have simply been deemed an accident.”

An accident. After all, that’s what it was: a horrible, tragic accident.

But San Francisco’s DA decided otherwise—and if this kind of overreach doesn’t scare us all, it should.


On October 2, 2018, George Gascón announced he would not run for re-election, but will serve out the remainder of his term as District Attorney.


 

 

for Aaron


Asiye funzwa na mamae hufunzwa na ulimwengu.

[Ah-see-yay foonzwa nah mama-ye who-foonzwa nah oolim-way-ngoo.]

That’s Swahili for “it takes a village to raise a child.” My name may be on the byline, but it took a village to raise me up from a dark place and help me get here.

First, I had to avoid jail time and financial ruin, which would not have been possible without the work of my legal team: Fred Levine, John Mason, Julie Salamon and the relentless, inimitable Ted Cassman, a man who earned his title of “the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area” many, many times over.

In the other corner, the man who had insisted I become a felon, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, provided the spark that ignited my inner activist. Though his political career may have come to an end, my desire to root out corruption will last a lifetime.

San Francisco is a special place, full of special places. One such place, the Twin Peaks Tavern, will always be extra-special to me. They had the foresight and cared enough about security to install a 360-degree outdoor surveillance rig, the camera that incidentally recorded a clear video of the entire accident. My experience with this case would have been radically different without that video. Defenseless, I would have literally been fed to the trolls on sfgate.com.

But not all media is the sensationalized garbage in the local papers and on the TV news.

Kashmir Hill (who at the time wrote for Forbes magazine) authored a detailed, factually-correct article about me, the only one of its kind.

Pianist Noam Eisen took the barebones score I wrote for the theme music and turned it into something masterful.

Terre Gorham, a stickler for all the details, did the copy editing.

Tara Austen Weaver, my developmental editor, found and extracted this story from the steaming pile of garbage I dumped on her. She taught me how to write all over again—by pointing out how I had made every mistake imaginable, and some mistakes no one could even have imagined. Tara was my Michelangelo. She chipped away everything that wasn’t David, getting rid of all the stone that was weighing this story down, at times even obscuring it completely. I could not have asked for a better ally. Nor could I have ever found anyone else smart enough to produce this narrative, but also brave enough to take on a subject matter of this kind.

Antoinette DiBona, Gary Brown, Bryan Gescuk, and Arnim Polster read early drafts and gave invaluable feedback.

Three cyclists, John Murphy, Dan Connelly, and Vitaly Gashpar wrote blog posts days after the accident to counter the prevailing media narrative. They turned out to be remarkably accurate, and none of them had even seen the video.

A handful of strangers, most of them also probably cyclists, came to my defense on Twitter and fought legions of trolls in the comment forums of local and national publications.

Lawrence Lessig took a break from saving the world to save me from myself—and to save this project. I am without words to describe the warmth of this man’s heart, the depths of his soul, and the endless reach of his generosity.

All of my friends and family listened to my ranting and raving for years about this. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to those of you who didn’t run away screaming. To those who did, I can’t say I blame you, and I beg your forgiveness.

Prince did what no one else could, and what nobody would do anyway even if they could. I hope someday I can be that hero for him—or for anyone.

I stole six good years from my wife and daughter. I can never give them back and I’m sorry.

The Huis suffered a grave, permanent loss and I am dreadfully sorry for my role in it. To Betty, Terry Jr., and the rest of the Hui family: I beg for your forgiveness and I want you to know that I think of you every day, especially so when I use the roads in San Francisco. I hope that we all—myself included—can do a better job keeping everyone safe. It’s a jungle out there.

And to Mr. Sutchi Hui: may you rest in peace. From what I’ve read about you, I know that you were a good and compassionate man, a proud grandfather and a friend and confidant to so many. I didn’t know you, but from what I do know, I suspect you wouldn’t have wanted this circus any more than I did.

Finally, thank you to everyone who found love in their hearts and responded and acted with kindness in the face of this terrible tragedy. I hope and pray that your turn to have an example made out of your actions never comes, but if it does, I promise to treat you with compassion—and never to take anything I ever read about you at face value—unless you, while of sound mind, wrote it or said it yourself.


Copyright © Barefoot Coding, LLC, 2018. All rights reserved.

Bikelash PART IX: The Message

On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.

This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.

We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.

This story is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story that happens all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. Media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgment, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.

The narrative is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. To protect the privacy of others, I changed some names. All else is true to my memory of what happened.

I am sharing this not for redemption or personal profit, but because this side of the story rarely gets told. To make sure our justice system treats all defendants fairly, we need to speak up when it doesn’t.

I’m Chris Bucchere.

And this is Bikelash.

PART IX: The Message

CHAPTER SEVENTY-FOUR

18 July 2013—476 days since the accident

After much reluctance and hesitation, many fits and starts, and after every imaginable human emotion had run its course, I unceremoniously pleaded guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter in exchange for a suspended sentence, three years of probation, and 1,000 hours of community service. The felony—somewhat inexplicably—would get converted to a misdemeanor in six months if I complied with the terms of my probation.

In other words, I would become a convicted felon—but only for six months. I was a reality show felon—quite literally—since the TV news is scripted just like a reality show, but with unwilling participants.

To my relief, the relentless DA finally agreed to drop the red light violation from the conviction. He held firm on speeding, as expected, even though no one could prove it.

Inconceivably, Gascón remained unwilling to budge on the failure-to-yield infraction, even though we and his underling prosecutors recognized that the yellow light gave me the right of way. Ted didn’t fight it—even though he knew it was important to me—knowing that we would soon lose this ostensibly sympathetic judge if we kept negotiating—and knowing that dropping the failure-to-yield charge had no material impact on the important part of this Faustian bargain: my sentence.

Omid promised us that no press would be there. That’s odd, I thought. We have a free press in this country; they can come and go as they please. Perhaps Omid’s promise was the exception that proves the rule. In other words, there would be no press that day because Omid didn’t tip them off this time.

Sure enough, no press attended my hearing, the hearing in which history was made. The only person in this country to get charged with a felony for the way in which he rode his bicycle just got convicted, but no one in the media lifted a finger to write or create a TV segment about it.

This entire hearing was way too easy, I thought as Ted and I exited the courtroom in silence. Still no media in the halls, none outside. I wanted to believe that I had caught a break.

CHAPTER SEVENTY-FIVE

22 July 2013—480 days since the accident

From: Ted Cassman

To: Chris Bucchere

Subject: Here it Comes

Andy Ross left me a voicemail this afternoon wishing to discuss the “plea deal.”

* * *

From: Chris Bucchere

To: Ted Cassman

Subject: Re: Here it Comes

Thanks for the heads up. Did Omid set an expiration date for his “no press” promise?

CHAPTER SEVENTY-SIX

23 July 2013—481 days since the accident

When the DA’s latest media push hit, it hit hard.

We had marveled at how I had been allowed to enter my guilty plea in private. We had walked in, taken care of business, and walked out without needing to navigate a gaggle of reporters with their cameras and their microphones and their inane questions. I had a feeling then that something seemed off about Omid’s promise of a media-free conviction. Perhaps thinking he could fool me with mere distraction, he had made good on his promise—only to let loose a full-strength media assault, five days later, with a press release about the sentencing.

I had known something wasn’t right. But there wasn’t a goddamn thing I—or anyone at this point—could do about it.

So out came the torrent of media attention. Amid much rejoicing, Gascón kept the promise he made a few days after the accident—of justice, of deliverance, of setting an example. And the most ridiculous part of it all was that it was all just for show. A felony conviction with an expiration date! Who’d ever heard of such a thing?

Over the past sixteen months, Gascón had used some ferocious rhetoric—even invoking fictional fighter pilots Maverick and Goose from the film Top Gun to describe my “need for speed.” He called my behavior “reckless” and “completely horrible.” He then slapped me with a charge rarely ever applied to motor vehicle operators in the same situation.

On this day, however, Gascón backed off on his rhetoric, toning down his cinematic prose. The accusations of running one, two, three, or more red lights and stop signs? Notably absent. The accusations of recklessness? Gone. The accusations of racing? Long gone. The movie metaphors? Also gone. In fact, Gascón seemingly reached out an olive branch with this mind-boggling statement: “This was not so much about Mr. Bucchere,” Gascón said. “This was about preventing future collisions and death.”

I read that line over and over, not able to comprehend what I had just read. I read it again. And again. I glared at the loathsome words on my computer screen, stood up, and started screaming like a madman. THIS WAS NOT SO MUCH ABOUT MR. BUCCHERE?

Gascón, are you out of your mind? You ate Mr. Bucchere for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You ruined my reputation, called me a liar, a reckless maniac with a need for speed. You slapped me with charges that could have landed me in jail for six years. You poisoned the media and tainted the hearts and minds of the public to ensure I could never get a fair trial. You caused me to lose friends, jobs, customers, security, money—you DESTROYED me. So please, pray tell, how was this “not so much about Mr. Bucchere”? Am I just your messenger?

Feeling better after that outburst, I sat back down. At once I realized what Gascón was really saying when he claimed that “The People of the State of California vs. Christopher A. Bucchere” was actually “not so much about Mr. Bucchere.”

Just days after the accident and my grossly misinterpreted email, Gascón had told KCBS’s Holly Quan that he was leaning toward felony charges. The police had only just begun their investigation then. They hadn’t announced that they had a video of the entire accident, let alone presented the case to the DA’s office, following the usual protocol. But Gascón already had a vision of the perfect opportunity to set an example. One that that would ostensibly deter other outlaw cyclists from their dastardly behavior—by creating the nation’s first bicycle felon.

Unwilling to let go of this chance, Gascón had refused to accept as relevant or meaningful anything about the case that supported my innocence, something that should have been presumed from the start. By his own admission, he had refused to acknowledge anything I ever did—anything at all about me—if it didn’t mesh perfectly with the evil cyclist archetype he had already created. I would have loved an opportunity to meet with him, to ask him if I really deserved to be a felon and go to jail for this. But he refused to meet with me, or even with Ted.

“Having a felony conviction was important to us,” Gascón had told NPR. “We would have gone to trial if they had not agreed to a felony conviction.”

For Gascón, it wasn’t ever about me—it had nothing to do with the facts of my case at all. For Gascón, it was about creating a felon to set an example, about carving another notch on his political belt, about redeeming his failure not to prosecute Randy Ang more harshly, which hadn’t played well in the court of popular opinion. Maybe it was even about winning future elections. But this case wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about justice, and it had no connection to the reality of what had happened.

I wondered, was this the sort of “justice” that Gascón would want for himself, if he were in my shoes?

CHAPTER SEVENTY-SEVEN

15 August 2013—504 days since the accident

At long last, my sentencing arrived. A few days prior, Omid had moved the sentencing up from Friday to Thursday—I suspected because Thursdays were a better “media day” than Fridays. We didn’t object, knowing that no matter what we did, we would be lined up like a row of sitting ducks for the press.

I arrived at the Hall of Justice uneventfully, located Ted, and, together, we parted a sea of journalists with their microphones and cameras. My skin had thickened to the point that the nagging entourage of the press no longer really bothered me. I walked swiftly into the courtroom with Ted, never looking at my feet. Randy Ang always looked at his feet and it made him look guilty. I took a seat on the right side of the gallery. I have no idea why, but I always sat on the right side. I positioned myself on the end of the row and turned ninety degrees to my left, so I could see the door with one eye and watch Ted flit about the courtroom with the other.

The inner door of the vestibule swung open and an unusually tall woman of Asian descent strode purposefully into the courtroom. I recognized her long, straight black hair, which she wore down, as when I had seen her last. I recognized her lengthy stride. Like a gazelle. I’d watched that lanky figure stride hundreds and hundreds of times, forward and backward across the pavement, crossing Castro Street as it runs east-west alongside Market Street, starting 13.9 seconds ahead of the WALK indicator.

I gazed in disbelief upon Wen-chih Yu, the most flagrant jaywalker. Yu had escaped death or serious injury twice the day of the accident—once by jumping out of the way of a northbound car with a green or yellow light, and a second time by my impulse to pull out of my dive to the left, sending me headlong into Mr. Hui.

I turned abruptly to face the bench. I didn’t want her to recognize me. Amazingly, she walked up to the row of seats directly behind mine and sat down, one seat over to my right, just inches away.

What the hell is Wen-chih doing here? Did she realize that it was her jaywalking that had played a huge role in Mr. Hui’s death? Had she not been three-quarters of the way across the intersection when the WALK signal came on, it’s likely I would have been able to swerve to the left, out of Mr. Hui’s way.

Meanwhile, out of nowhere, a small, elderly woman plunked herself down next to our lead jaywalker. She was bemoaning the disorganized, slipshod way that the city government goes about its business, and rattling off a list of commitments that would be cast into chaos if court ran late. She then started a conversation with Wen-chih. The elderly woman explained that she worked for an advocacy group.

In a cackle of words, she asked Wen-chih where she worked. Wen-chih answered in a barely audible whisper that she does some kind of philanthropy. Based on the shortness of her answers and the diminutive volume of her voice, I could tell that she didn’t have any interest in conversation.

“Why are you here?” the woman asked.

Wen-chih paused for a moment, then, somewhat reluctantly, said, “I witnessed the accident. I testified against the cyclist, and I wanted to see for myself how it turns out.”

The woman gasped loudly. She turned her volume up and launched into a barrage of rapid-fire questions.

“You were there? In the crosswalk? What happened? How close were you? Tell me everything!”

Her line of questioning was mercifully aborted by the bailiff calling court into session.

The judge took care of some procedural matters, then asked the Hui family members if they had anything to say.

Terry Hui Jr. spoke about how much he—and everyone—missed his dad, and about the relationship his young daughter had with her grandpa. How she often asked why he hadn’t been coming over any more. I felt a lump well up in my throat.

I thought about burying Papa Donny on the one year anniversary of the accident. I thought about my daughter and my dad and their relationship, about Terry Jr.’s loss, his daughter’s loss—the whole family’s loss. With the system nearly done having its way with me, I could sense some emotional space opening up, a small place where I could actually start to feel again.

Sticking to praising his late father, Terry Jr. steered clear of any references to my behavior—the behavior the DAs and the media had led him to believe was criminally responsible for his dad’s death. Terry Jr.’s speech was a class act.

Then he turned to me and gave this warning: “Please don’t squander the second chance you have to become a good and compassionate person, not to be the narcissistic person you were when you wrote the insensitive web posting about my father.”

I couldn’t blame Terry—I was sure his opinion of me had started off badly and only gotten worse. His mom had said that she and Sutchi had not only waited for the WALK symbol on March 29, but that she had walked out ahead of Sutchi while he waited an extra few seconds before crossing, something he always did for extra safety.

Furthermore, not only had Terry Jr. read all the horrible things about my character in the newspaper and on the internet, he had to hear those “facts” recited on the TV news, which said that after riding recklessly and killing his father, I blogged that my helmet mattered more to me than the man I killed.

Never mind that I hadn’t blogged; I had never written or even thought anything like it. None of that mattered. Reporters turned loopy allegory about helmet safety into fact and published it all over the world, so at this point it might as well be true.

Terry Jr. couldn’t have known that the DA was using the media as an echo chamber to justify his own politicized ambitions. He couldn’t have known that the witnesses had all given distorted accounts, and that nearly every word Nathan Pollak had spoken was some kind of lie, distortion, or half-truth. He couldn’t have known that the highly certified “expert” was paid to lie on the stand. That Inspector Cadigan misrepresented clear testimony so that it became misleading. That even the coroner had colored outside the lines, ruling the death a homicide, when it wasn’t her job to make that ruling.

Terry Jr.’s perception of me matched the prosecution’s perception of me, the media’s portrayal of me, and, therefore, the world’s understanding of me. But for Terry Jr., it was much, much worse. Not only was I a monster; I was the monster who had slaughtered his law-abiding father. My recklessness, my “need for speed,” my “selfish motivations,” my “pattern” of blowing red lights—those acts killed his father, he had been told. I’m sure nothing could—or ever would—change his perception of me. It explained why he had given the Get Well card I had written for Sutchi to the police, why he had told the DA to throw the book at me, and, perhaps, had even told Omid not to accept my apology letter to his mother, which inexplicably still remained in Ted’s possession.

I found it hard to accept Terry Jr.’s diagnosis—narcissism, insensitivity, lack of compassion, and just general evilness—because he wasn’t actually talking about me. He had been misled, deceived by a city government so manipulative they would create a monster just so they could slay it—giving themselves a political win.

But politicians would also need a way to explain why their demon of such grand proportions didn’t get any jail time. Recalling that Omid had said that the family would do whatever he wanted them to do, I wondered if the DAs had convinced Terry Jr. to emphasize “mercy” in his speech in order to mitigate the inevitable public outcry about the “weakness” of my sentence.

It’s pointless to create a monster and then just let him get away.

CHAPTER SEVENTY-EIGHT

16 August 2013—505 days since the accident

Amid yet another subsequent barrage of public shaming and fresh batch of death threats popping up on my phone, something truly wonderful showed up in my email inbox. A dear friend of Carroll’s, from Washington, DC, wrote her a note, which Carroll forwarded to me.

From: Pam Moran

To: Carroll Bucchere

Subject: Chris

[…]

Since we know Chris, we know that the anger and vitriol aimed at him has nothing to do with him, but more to do with the fears of others who haven’t been involved in a tragedy of this nature, simply because a series of circumstances haven’t landed them there. We judge harshly when we think something could have been avoided, but the truth is that if it could have been avoided, it would have been. We argue with reality daily, and get angry about what we think should not have happened, rather than responding with love, compassion and kindness to what actually did happen.

My husband [also a cyclist] was horrified to see the biking community turn their back on him, and it’s been a great lesson for me as to how easy it is for others to judge when they have no sense of the suffering Chris has been experiencing. The media takes advantage of the human tendency to believe anything they see in writing, especially if it’s been repeated more than once. This is the most excruciatingly frustrating thing about social media, and traditional media for that matter. We are losing the ability to think for ourselves, question “truths” that we instinctively know are wrong. “Spin” sucks.

Those who malign another’s character based on a single tragedy are responding to how they’d feel about themselves if it happened to them. So many of us would judge ourselves to be horrible people, and it’s easier to blame someone else than to face our own lack of self-compassion.

We love you guys, and we know that whatever you’ve learned, and whatever meaning you can take from this, will change your lives and create opportunities for a lot of wonderful things to take root and grow. Meanwhile, during the worst of it, know that there are plenty of people out here who “get it” and who will love up on you until your grief is manageable.

CHAPTER SEVENTY-NINE

6 September 2013—526 days since the accident

Fred Levine, the attorney hired by YNK Insurance to defend me against the forthcoming civil suit, sent me the cover letter of a $2,000,000 demand from the Hui family’s attorney, Rick Johnson.

The letter referred to twenty-two pages of “observations made by members of our jury pool” about me, which consisted of screen captures of internet comments calling for my public humiliation, torture, and/or execution.

I read it, and then sent the following email.

From: Chris Bucchere

To: Fred Levine

Cc: Ted Cassman

Subject: Re: Claim of Hui-Demand pgs.1-6

Hi Fred,

Thank you for sending the cover letter. May I pick up the 100 pages from your office some time today on CD or thumb drive?

Only one part caught my attention:

“At no time since he killed Terry has he shown any remorse or contrition for his acts or offered any sympathy or condolences to the Hui family for their horrific loss.”

Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that Terry Jr. egged Gascón on and asked him to “throw the book at me” and by doing so put me in a position where speaking publicly or privately would have been suicidal. Let’s also ignore the fact that now Betty and Terry Jr. are suing me for $2,000,000, which means that speaking publicly or privately would constitute financial suicide. Discounting both those reasons for my silence, consider that Terry Jr. and Betty either did not receive or have chosen to ignore:

1) the get well card I hand-delivered to the hospital along with an orchid;

2) the daily calls I made to Inspector Cadigan to inquire about the well being of Sutchi—every day from when he was injured until when he died;

3) the lengthy apology I wrote on April 7th, 2012 and sent to Ted; and

4) the apology letter I wrote and that Ted offered to Omid on several occasions, but which he refused to accept.

That obvious issue—the family’s lack of knowledge of my attempts to communicate with them—is the same issue that matched the suspicion that Carroll and I had and the same issue that made us call the meeting last week. The Hui family has ignored or forgotten all of my attempts to express concern, remorse, contrition, and sorrow and now they’re trying to use that against me. The family thinks I’m a cold-hearted killer because no one has communicated to them my attempts to show sympathy, to make amends and to say that I’m sorry.

On top of that, the cover letter’s tone shows that the family bought what the media presented about this case and what the DA told them. And that’s all they heard, facts be damned.

I would like to read the ~100 other pages before making any other comments.

Best regards,

Chris

CHAPTER EIGHTY

1 October 2013—551 days since the accident

Of all the lessons the judges, the prosecutors, the Hui family members who had spoken to the media, and the hundreds of thousands of enraged commenters hoped I would learn during this nightmarish ordeal, I retained exactly none of them. All the legal consequences were sorely lost amid the fiction created by the DA and promulgated by the mainstream and social media.

My contrition, my sadness, my regret had been there from day one—but they were snuffed out by Gascón’s false narrative, the media’s sensationalizing of it, and by a court case that forced me to defend myself and the security of my family. It’s hard to be open to self-improvement lessons when you’re getting death threats.

Now I don’t mean to say that I didn’t learn anything. I learned many things, in fact. Or rather, I unlearned many things that I once thought were true, things I once held dear.

I trusted that I rode on an actual cycling team, not merely a bloated email list.

I trusted in my basic right to privacy.

I trusted in the presumption of innocence.

I trusted in due process, in the sanctity of the justice system.

I trusted the media to responsibly report factual information, to check and double-check sources.

I trusted that the media served as a check-and-balance to government, not a platform that government could use in self-service to influence minds and control outcomes.

I trusted that we had a free press in this country, not one controlled and manipulated by prosecutors—or by anyone.

I trusted that the criminal justice system was based upon a deterministic set of rules and laws.

I trusted that this country’s jails were humane.

I trusted that prosecutors cared about the truth—about getting it right—about knowing that gross errors and irresponsible actions mean the wrong people go to jail.

I trusted that DAs valued correctness, professionalism, and integrity over their own personal prejudices and desires to further their political agendas.

I trusted that things like traffic signals and WALK/DON’T WALK indicators bore relevance to traffic investigations.

I trusted that people cared about facts, not about hearsay, unsubstantiated claims and sensationalized garbage.

I trusted that video evidence mattered more than erroneous, contradictory, and make-believe eyewitness accounts.

I trusted that oaths were sacred, and that people who took oaths and testified under oath were obligated to tell the truth or else be held accountable for their violations.

I trusted that cops told the truth, especially when under oath.

I trusted that expert witnesses were experts.

I trusted that judges were sworn to be fair and able to see through cases fabricated to serve political ambitions.

All of those beliefs that I once held dear now sound foolish, as if I was living in some sort of utopian delusion.

I now live in insurmountable fear of our criminal justice system—and I fear for all those ensnared in its net, especially people of color and those without the resources to defend themselves, or both.

I may never fully come to terms with my moral failings. I will always wish I could have kept Mr. Hui from harm. But I have become a better person because of this. I don’t watch anything on TV. I question everything I read, always on the lookout for other people experiencing what happened to me. I never prejudge any defendant in a Trial-by-Media because I know most of the cards are coming from a loaded deck.

I also know I’m just one example. The criminal justice system in this country has done far, far worse.

I thought we were better than this. We should be better than this.

We can be better than this.


>> Continue to PART X: Epilogue


For a closer look at the research behind Bikelash, visit the companion GitHub project.

Bikelash PART VIII: The Offer

On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.

This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.

We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.

This story is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story that happens all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. Media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgment, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.

The narrative is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. To protect the privacy of others, I changed some names. All else is true to my memory of what happened.

I am sharing this not for redemption or personal profit, but because this side of the story rarely gets told. To make sure our justice system treats all defendants fairly, we need to speak up when it doesn’t.

I’m Chris Bucchere.

And this is Bikelash.

PART VIII: The Offer

CHAPTER SIXTY-THREE

15 March 2013—351 days since the accident

Because the local papers and TV news had treated me like a whipping boy, I had all but written off the ability for the media to report on this accident correctly. But for the first time since the international firestorm began, a national publication printed something that did more than just repeat the lies that the DA, the police, and the media spin doctors had been promulgating for nearly a year now.

Forbes magazine featured an in-depth article written by Kashmir Hill, a well-known technology and privacy blogger, about how we turned the tables on the DA. The article said that Ted pointed out “in a small, barely visible corner of the video, a traffic light.”

“The expert,” the article continued, “to whom the state had paid $200 an hour to analyze the video, hadn’t previously spotted it. The video now seemed to tell a different story. It looks like Bucchere entered the intersection just as the light turned red. Many pedestrians, including the first witness [Wen-chih Yu], were already in the crosswalk despite the 3.5 second “all red.” Three seconds after entering the intersection, Bucchere hit [Sutchi Hui]. He might have been able to swerve left to avoid him, but the first witness [Wen-chih Yu]—who clearly entered the crosswalk very early—left that path blocked.”

Finally, somebody in the media is paying attention.

Kashmir Hill continued: “What I found fascinating though were the contradictions between the eyewitness testimony and the camera’s unbiased eye. Had they all instead been wearing Google Glass—not such a far-fetched concept for this tech-geeky city—each one could have theoretically captured the incident on video (were they in the habit of taping their morning commutes). The witnesses could have played back footage to show whether they had walk signs or not. Bucchere could have played back his tape showing whether he had a yellow or red light. Fallible and biased memories would be replaced by far more reliable documentation. This is part of the reason Russians all have dash cams in their cars.”

Kashmir closed her article with this: “They say truth is the best defense. In this case, a few pairs of Glass—or a bike cam—would have made the truth much easier to discern.”

As one of my former Mission Cycling teammates pointed out in his response to my email, the moral of my story should have been: Wear Your Fucking Helmetcam. He was right. I was astoundingly lucky that the Twin Peaks security cam had captured the entire event on video. With a camera on my bike or helmet, I might have already produced enough evidence to exonerate me completely.

Without any footage at all, I’d already be in jail.

CHAPTER SIXTY-FOUR

20 March 2013—356 days since the accident

“Chris, it’s Ted.” I could hear my attorney barking as I ducked into a conference room and lifted the phone to my ear. Ted would do that often—start speaking before I said hello—displaying little concern for common phone etiquette or that his name lights up in big letters on my little screen, so there was no need to identify himself.

In light of the events of the previous eleven and a half months, I had long since stopped speculating on the reason for Ted’s calls. Instead, I relegated myself to the new reality in which even the most inconceivable of horrors could befall me at any given moment.

“I met with Omid, and he told me he’s not our problem,” Ted said. He spoke in rapid-fire bursts, sounding like a pistol firing rounds through a silencer.

“How so?” I interrupted. Omid certainly seemed like a big problem in the courtroom.

“Hold on! Let me finish,” Ted demanded. “He said he understands the weaknesses in his case—”

Weaknesses in his case?” I asked. “What case? He has no case!”

“He thinks he can still get you on your speed alone, either prima facie or posted or both, even though he only needs one.”

“You know they can’t do that.”

“Do what, exactly?”

“They can’t make a felony stick because I might have been going a few miles an hour over the speed limit, just like many of the vehicles that travel down that hill every day. That’s not felony-grade negligence, and they know that. On top of that, you and I both know that had I gone more slowly, I might have inflicted even more damage as the pedestrians converged upon me. And had I been traveling just a hair faster, I might have made it out of the other side of the intersection before I got sandwiched. Why can’t we argue this case in light of the actual events that transpired instead of on this whole ‘guilty because cyclist/blogger’ bullshit?”

“If this had anything at all do with the facts of the case or the vehicle code, they would have already dropped the charges,” Ted replied. “But there’s no sense in speculating about what might happen. You know that. You’ve seen how dangerous Gascón is and how much he wants to make an example out of you and your behavior, regardless of what really happened out there. There’s no telling what he’ll do next.”

“So what are we supposed to do next?”

“Well, Omid understands the fact that the pedestrians were jaywalking; he knows the fact that you had the right of way; and he knows that Nathan Pollak lied. If it were only Omid’s call, he would probably agree to a misdemeanor or maybe even drop the charges altogether. But he has to run it by Gascón, who he said has his mind set on a felony.”

“Pardon my French, but what the fuck is going on here, Ted? Are we buying a used car from these motherfuckers, or talking about me watching my daughter grow up from inside a cell for the next six years? All I want is for this case to be about the facts, not about some insane vendetta the DA has against cyclists.”

“Calm down, Chris. You don’t send a five-star general into battle. Gascón’s never seen the inside of a courtroom. Even though he’s calling the shots, he’s not going to get involved in the nitty-gritty.”

“I don’t understand! Gascón wants to create a bicycle felon. He has no knowledge of the case. He only knows what he’s read in the papers, much of which he put there himself through press releases or ‘leaks’ in the first place. Even though Omid attacked us over and over during his pathetic closing arguments, now he’s acting like Mr. Nice Guy and blaming the ‘man behind the curtain’ for all our problems. I don’t buy it. I don’t want a used car. This is bullshit, and you know it.”

“Perhaps it is, but regardless, Gascón won’t take a meeting with me or with you. However, Omid’s going to let me come in and talk to him and Sharon Woo, his boss.”

“Well that’s nice, but I doubt Sharon cares about this case any more than Omid does. If Gascón wants to make a felon out of me as his personal pet project, then he needs to take a fucking meeting with me. I want him to look me in the eye and say to my face that he really believes this accident was my fault and that I deserve to be called a felon for it.”

“He’s never gonna do that.”

“Why not?”

“You know why not.”

No I don’t! Go make it happen!”

I hung up the phone, defiant. On my wild, emotional roller coaster, I had reached a peak of rash confidence and self-righteous indignation. Then I collapsed into a chair in the windowless conference room and started bawling like a four-year-old.

At that moment, I realized that the inscrutable mess I was in had the same likelihood of landing me in jail as it did of driving me foaming-at-the-mouth mad.

It seemed I was already well on my way.

CHAPTER SIXTY-FIVE

21 March 2013—357 days since the accident

Perhaps because my first arraignment hadn’t provided enough entertainment for those who watch the evening news, I needed to have a second one. Ted and I pushed our way past a throng of reporters, sticking their microphones and video cameras in my face and asking questions.

“We heard you tweeted about this accident. What do you have to say now?”

I said nothing and looked the other way. I had never tweeted about the accident. I had deleted my Twitter account along with the rest of my internet contributions in what seemed like a lifetime ago.

“So you have nothing to say at all? Nothing?” some reporter said, nearly hitting me in the face with his microphone. “Nothing to say to the family? Nothing at all?” he pressed on, cameras rolling as he twisted his mic in front of my mouth at various angles. Still, I said nothing, but the thought did register that the media could now use my “saying nothing” against me if they thought it would cause more outrage and sell more ads.

“Why wasn’t the case resolved by today, like the judge said it would be?” asked another reporter.

The judge didn’t say that, I thought, again saying nothing.

We finally made it into the courtroom—a place riddled with other perils, but at least a sanctuary from the reporters outside seeking to do as much harm as possible. We had to wait longer than usual, as several cases had piled up in front of ours. But what I witnessed from the gallery as we waited caused more tears to well up in my eyes. This time, however, I wasn’t crying for myself.

From the gallery, I watched as the bailiff escorted one dark-skinned man after another, each wearing a matching orange jumpsuit, up to the podium. Each inmate’s attorney would mumble a few words, the judge would read how much time the inmate had already served and how much time he had left to serve, and then, with little more than a shuffling of papers, the judge would order the convict back to his cage in the adjacent jail.

Most of these men had the same overworked and underpaid attorney—someone from the public defender’s office, I figured. But some had outside counsel, not that it seemed to make any difference. Those guys had come out of jail to go to court, just to get ordered back into jail.

Now, their crimes may have been heinous and cold-blooded—but why are they all dark-skinned? One third of San Francisco is Asian. Of the remaining two-thirds, only a small fraction is non-white. So where are all the white people? And the women? And moreover, why wasn’t anybody doing anything other than sending these human beings back into animal cages?

Did these men actually commit the crimes they were convicted of? Or did prosecutors simply make up a case based on mistaken witness accounts, paid-off “experts,” and lying police officers, then leak it to the media, like they had for me? After what I had experienced, I knew I’d never assume anyone’s guilt ever again.

There were only two differences that I could see between me and these guys. I had saved—and borrowed—enough money to hire the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area, and I was light-skinned enough to pass for white.

My swirling thoughts were interrupted: My turn had come. The hearing was over just seconds after it started, which is how most arraignments go. Most people, especially attorneys and journalists, know that.

But as we left the courtroom, Dave Clark, the anchor for KTVU news, intercepted Ted with his microphone and a barrage of questions. Ted looked him in the eye and asked, “For an arraignment? Really?”

With that, we timidly pressed our way through the throng of reporters again and high-tailed it down the stairs and out of that godforsaken place—at least for the time being.

CHAPTER SIXTY-SIX

21 March 2013—357 days since the accident

Several big news stories broke regarding my uneventful second arraignment. I read all of the thousands of comments, nearly all of which were not worth reading. They boiled down to six archetypes:

1) Cyclists in this city are such entitled assholes, all of them. Bucchere is the mother of all the scofflaw cyclists out there. Guilty! Hang him high.

2) Pedestrians in this city are such entitled assholes, all of them. They do stupid stuff all the time. Let’s wait and see how this plays out.

3) Bikes should require registration or insurance. Or both. Or pay a road tax. Or all of the above. But what about little six-year-old Jimmy with training wheels? Will he need to register his bike too?

4) Drivers kill 99% of the dead pedestrians in SF and probably 99.9% of the pedestrians who die worldwide. Why do the one or two cyclists get all the coverage? And why a felony? Hardly any drivers who are sober and stay at the scene get anything other than a misdemeanor and some community service—if they get charged at all.

5) Bucchere does NOT represent the cycling community. I’m a cyclist, but I’m not that kind of cyclist! Don’t let this one bad apple shape your opinion of all the other law-abiding cyclists out there.

6) I have a high IQ, yet I still comment on news articles. Why is no one paying attention to the fact that Bucchere is getting railroaded by the DA and the media? The Forbes article said that all the eyewitness testimony was debunked and the expert witness was embarrassed off the stand by the video. So now all they have is speed, and even that sounds shaky. So why is Gascón still insisting on a felony? Because he screwed up the Ang case? You shouldn’t hire a cop to do a DA’s job.

CHAPTER SIXTY-SEVEN

29 March 2013—one year since the accident

Easter Week had started badly and only gotten worse. On the Sunday prior, I received a phone call from my mom telling me that her dad, my maternal grandfather, had started hospice. The following Tuesday, March 26, Papa Donny died.

Having spent all of our savings on legal fees, bail, and measures to ensure our privacy and safety, my wife and I had been living paycheck to paycheck, amassing a $65,000-sized hole of credit card debt. We couldn’t afford to ditch work for three days and fly to New York for the wake and funeral.

But this was Papa Donny.

For decades, every Sunday, two dozen relatives, representing four generations of our huge Italian and Jewish family, had gathered along a massive table in Papa Donny’s row house in Brooklyn—often extended with card tables and folding chairs—to dine upon his homemade pizza, rigatoni bolognese, lasagna, and more. He’d recite a three-second blessing, followed by three hours of boisterous conversation, laughter, and feasting. As the host, the chef, and master of ceremonies, Papa Donny was the anchor that kept our family in place, and the ballast that kept us steady.

We found a way to get there. We flew across the country, with our daughter in tow. For Papa Donny.

On March 29, 2013—exactly one year to the day of the accident—my family and I sat on a church pew in Staten Island and choked down tears as my dad eulogized this man who had shaped our family so profoundly. How Papa Donny had immigrated to the states from Castellammare del Golfo as a child, passing through Ellis Island; how he had worked in construction, including pouring cement to build the anchorage for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

During the service at the cemetery, I thought about Papa Donny’s last years and how much he had suffered. How we all had felt so unable to help. My mind wandered and then, when it regained focus, I wasn’t thinking about Papa Donny; I was thinking about Sutchi Hui. Another family had lost their patriarch a year ago, due to actions I had taken, decisions I had made in the blink of an eye. A year ago they had all been plunged into this same darkness.

It was too much to bear. I walked away from the gathering at the headstone, my grandfather’s coffin not yet lowered into the grave. I found a feeble tree, put my arm up against it, lowered my head, and I cried.

I cried for Papa Donny and my family. And I cried for Sutchi Hui and his.

Then I got ahold of myself, wiped away the tears, and walked back to rejoin the burial ceremony. As quickly as these thoughts had come, I banished them. The past year had taught me to compartmentalize everything.

My daughter was about to lose her father to a lengthy jail sentence. Another family would soon be left without their husband and dad. I didn’t have time for emotions.

The case was the only concern I could handle right now.

CHAPTER SIXTY-EIGHT

10 April 2013—377 days since the accident

I hadn’t seen Ted since my second arraignment, so I emailed him to ask if he and I could have a meeting. He emailed back promptly to set one for Monday, April 15, and told me that he had also managed to get a meeting scheduled with Sharon Woo, Omid’s boss. Ted then asked me to tell him more about how I use Strava, asking me to discuss my “previous times for that ride and how March 29th stacked up.” They’re still trying to make it seem like I was racing, I thought.

I wrote back with the following:

Hi Ted,

Great news that your meeting with Sharon Woo is now on the calendar. I believe our other important date is either the 23rd or the 30th for the hearing to argue the 995 motion—not sure if I’m needed for that.

About Strava, if I understand the prosecution’s case correctly (and believe me, it’s been a challenge), they’re using Strava to show that I was “racing.” By that logic, anyone who records their time on foot, bike, car or public transit on any route in any kind of log to compare present times with past times on the same route is also, without a doubt: “racing.”

I can point you to what I think the DA’s primary source of information was to make the startling conclusion that I was “racing:” http://sfcitizen.com/blog/ 2012/04/13/did-cyclist-chris-bucchere-discuss-prizes-for-winning-strava-segments-just-four-days-before-his-castro-collision/

There’s also a line in Cadigan’s chronology where someone (possibly James Herd, who maintains sfcitizen.com, under a fake name) calls in to inform the police that people online are saying I was racing. People online have said lots of things, e.g. that my bike didn’t have brakes. Just because people said it online doesn’t make it true. You can ask Omid about that.

If you think that somehow the prosecution is going to dig through the Strava data and find something incriminating, then you’re giving them more credit than they deserve. In fact, I’m not even sure why they asked Strava for my data, when it seems they didn’t look any further than Strava’s home page, which says:

Track your progress and challenge your friends

Compare your performance against friends, locals and pros

Set personal records and climb the leaderboards

Which meant, to the DA’s office:

Race yourself and your friends

Race your friends, locals and pros

Race yourself and get street cred for better times

I’m happy to show you how I have used Strava to track my performance over the past few years. In particular, I’ve paid attention to certain hill climbs in remote areas (like Hawk Hill) with no stop signs or traffic signals and no traffic, especially not at 7am. Since I know where the climbing segment starts and ends, I put forth my best climbing effort and then when I get home, I compare it to my prior efforts and my teammate’s efforts. If Strava didn’t exist, I would do this anyway with a stopwatch, a piece of paper and a pencil. This practice of recording times and getting better over time (ideally) is an important part of training. But it is NOT racing. Not by a long shot.

I know this is not racing because I do, in fact, race. I have raced mountain bikes since I was a kid and road bikes dozen and dozens and dozens times on closed courses in the twenty years before the incident. I have raced in bicycle, foot and swim races in the year since the incident. I know what a closed course is. And, more importantly, I know what is NOT a closed course. I know what timing chips are and how they work. I know the difference between an “official time” and an “unofficial time” per widely accepted racing nomenclature. I recognize how Strava on your iPhone or Garmin is not the same thing as a timing chip. I know that using an iPhone or a Garmin to collect data does not mean you’re racing any more than it does when you’re using these devices in a car. And when I ride through the city in typical traffic while I’m commuting or when I’m riding for fitness, I am NOT racing. If I treated this city like a closed-course race, I would die fifteen times per week, at least. Any person who says “I have a whole stack of data from Strava” and uses that statement to imply that I was racing is a fucking idiot.

I’m happy to show you how I have used and how I continue to use Strava to track my progress and how Strava is used in general. But if I claimed I somehow knew what part of Strava is relevant to my case, I would have to be completely psychotic.

3pm on Monday works for me.

See you then.

CB

CHAPTER SIXTY-NINE

10 April 2013—377 days since the accident

Ted called me that evening to discuss why Gascón seemed so hung up on Strava.

“After the expert and Pollak failed him, Strava is the only thing Gascón has left in his arsenal to raise your behavior to a felony,” Ted said.

“But recording a ride on Strava doesn’t equal racing. I record all my rides, even my commutes. And I only race on closed courses under supervision.”

“I know, Chris. Look, we have to stop using the word racing. I don’t want to hear anything else about why Gascón thinks you were racing. I don’t want to hear about your past, present, or future racing career. All I want to hear about is how we can prove you weren’t racing on March 29th.”

Jesus.”

“He’s probably not gonna help us either.”

“Wait, I have an idea: Let’s consider the Strava track for that ride as a whole. It will show that I stopped and waited for Tobias at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It will show that I waited again at the Hawk Hill summit. It will show that I stopped at several traffic lights coming back down Arguello. It will show I stopped at lights on Oak and on Divisadero and at 14th and Castro, the first of three that Pollak said I ran. That’s hardly a race.”

“No, it’s not.”

“By analyzing the GPX waypoints, we can get a total stationary time for the ride. I would estimate it to be around fifteen minutes. A two-hour ride with fifteen minutes of stopping is not a race.”

“Let’s give it a try.”

“Okay. Gimme ten minutes.”

I hung up, crunched the numbers, and sent the results to Ted. The GPS trail for March 29th showed sixteen minutes and twenty-three seconds of stationary time on a ride that covered twenty-some miles in two hours and fifteen minutes—not race conditions by any stretch of the imagination. I didn’t find it difficult to convince Ted that I wasn’t racing; he was one of a few people already on my side.

Gascón, however, presented a much bigger challenge. He refused to meet with Ted or me. He refused to talk to us on the phone. Gascón found this case important enough to his career and his politics to hold press conferences about it, write up press releases about it, and, through a series of orchestrated leaks, provide all the soundbites the media could possibly need to fan the flames of cyclist hatred in San Francisco. But Gascón wouldn’t deign to speak with my attorney or me—the person most impacted by his relentless prosecution.

As Ted and I remained befuddled by this intractable DA, I began to think that we needed to consider a different approach.

CHAPTER SEVENTY

30 April 2013—397 days since the accident

There was a continuation hearing today—one of many, with undoubtedly more to follow. Ted and I went to the Hall of Justice, always expecting (but these days, rarely encountering) media. Per the custom, I sat in the gallery while my attorney went back into chambers with Omid and spoke with the judge.

With the preliminary hearing behind us, we had a new judge: the Honorable Justice James P. Collins. Another former cop, he had practiced, of all things, criminal defense for thirty-one years before being appointed to his judgeship. He and Ted were contemporaries, if not colleagues. In fact, the Chronicle once named Cris Arguedas (one of Ted’s two partners) as one of the top ten lawyers in the Bay Area alongside Collins. Judge Collins, back in his attorney days, had such a formidable reputation that it led one “veteran legal observer” to tell the Chronicle that if he got in trouble with the law, he would “call Collins even before he would call his wife.”

I had high hopes for Judge Collins. I figured he’d quickly see that the prosecution’s case was a joke and dismiss the charges as frivolous and unwarranted. Because our last judge, the Honorable Andrew Cheng, denied our 17(b) motion “without prejudice,” that meant that Judge Collins couldn’t reduce the charges to a misdemeanor—even if he wanted to do so—until sentencing (i.e., until I pleaded out or was found guilty). But he could still throw out the charges completely.

Ted and Omid emerged from the door that led to chambers—and also presumably to the jail, since that was the same door that the men in orange jumpsuits and shackles emerged from and returned through. I couldn’t get a sense for how things went from Ted’s disposition—he looked affable and wired on a lot of coffee, as per usual. We dispensed with our hearing in thirty seconds, agreeing to put new dates on the calendar. Then we abruptly left the courthouse. When we reached the exterior stairs that led down to Bryant Street, Ted broke the silence.

“You’ll never believe what Judge Collins did.”

What? Tell me.”

“He flipped through the felony complaint, then looked up at us and said, ‘Oh yeah, this is the guy who killed an old man with his bike and blogged about his helmet, right?’”

The color drained out of my face. “You’re fucking kidding me, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m afraid I’m not.”

“I told you we needed to do something about all the outrageous coverage in the media. You told me it didn’t matter.”

“I never said it didn’t matter!” snapped Ted. “I said there was nothing we could do about it. Not without making things worse.”

“Well things are pretty fucking bad when this allegedly sympathetic judge—with his outstanding reputation and criminal defense background and all that shit—recites to you a false media narrative. I get that your average Joe doesn’t know any better, but isn’t Judge Collins smart enough to call bullshit on this?”

Ted let that question hang in the air long enough that it became rhetorical. Then, he continued: “You know what else happened?”

“I can’t wait. Lay it on me.”

“Judge Collins asked Omid, point blank, what the Hui family thought of the charges and the prosecution.”

“And how did Omid reply?” I asked, recalling the story we had heard from Rick Johnson, the Hui family’s attorney, about how the wife Betty wanted no criminal charges so that she could collect as much money from me as possible in civil court, per the advice of her counsel. In contrast, the son Terry Jr. wanted the book thrown at me, long and hard. Apparently he didn’t care about the money; he wanted revenge.

“Omid said that the family would do whatever he told them to do.”

What?

“You heard me.”

“Yeah, I heard you, but I’m not believing what I’m hearing. You know why? Because it’s fucking unbelievable! Did Collins say anything about that?”

“Not a word.”

Omid’s manipulating the grieving family? That’s unfathomable.You know what? That’s fucking gross! It’s repulsive. Omid, Sharon, Gascón, all of them, they’re repugnant. They’re foul. They disgust me.”

“Well, now we know who’s really calling the shots.”

“These DAs and ADAs should be ashamed of themselves and their conduct. They’re gonna get the outcome they want even if the family wants the opposite.”

“I think they think they’re just doing their jobs, Chris.”

CHAPTER SEVENTY-ONE

21 May 2013—418 days since the accident

Today Ted, Judge Collins and ADA Omid went back into chambers at the Hall of Justice and discussed my case, off the court record. Meanwhile, I sat just across the street from the giant cinderblock in Café Roma, where it seemed that every customer either wore a dark suit and carried a briefcase or wore a blue uniform and carried a firearm. I never could seem to relax in this place, so I grabbed a seat with my back in a corner, and faced the entrance so I could watch people coming and going. I pulled out my laptop and tried to look busy.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and nearly jumped out of my seat. A stocky man with stark white hair, a matching white mustache, and a navy suit was trying to get my attention. How did he sneak up on me like that? At first glance, I thought it was Michael Mahoney, the “expert” witness.

“Chris, I want to wish you the best of luck,” he said. “I also want you to know that you’ve got the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area. If I were in your shoes, I would go straight to Ted.”

About halfway through his words of encouragement, it dawned on me that this was one of my attorney’s many professional contacts; I had seen them chatting earlier that morning.

“Thank you, I know—but it never hurts to hear it again,” I said with a smile, bidding farewell to the nameless man who looked a lot like Mahoney.

I tried to re-immerse myself in busywork, but moments later, I got a text from the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area. Time to head into my least favorite building in San Francisco.

Thankfully, the TV news hadn’t turned up at the Hall of Justice. And Ted was beaming, a rarity in his line of work.

There must be some good news.

Ted told me that the prosecution had finally conceded that they didn’t have enough evidence to prove that my light was red. During the preliminary hearing, they had introduced video evidence that proved that my light was yellow, thereby disproving that it was red (or any other conceivable color besides yellow). But that was a distant memory, quite meaningless at this point.

So, after fifteen months of fighting against my city’s government, and legal fees approaching six figures, they had finally dropped the red light charge. It seemed like a small victory, but I didn’t much feel like celebrating. It still wasn’t clear to me how—by conceding the red light allegation—their whole house of cards hadn’t come tumbling down, resulting in a dropping of charges.

On the way out of the Hall of Justice, Ted asked me a question I hadn’t heard before.

“Have you ever made eye contact with the family?”

“No. I’ve noticed that they’re there, but I’ve never looked at them. Why do you ask?”

“They said that you’re not showing any signs of remorse. Perhaps you could try to look more sorry.”

I didn’t really know what to say.

Fifteen months earlier, I had narrowly escaped death in a horrific bike accident. An hour after I got home from the hospital, the media coverage hit in full force. Blowing several red lights and stop signs! Blogging about the accident! Riding a fixie without brakes! Felony charges! Need for speed! Racing on Strava! Those bells had all been rung—and, as my former teammate Vitaly Gashpar wrote so many months ago, we couldn’t un-ring them. Now, inconceivably, my light—the light—which should determine how the scales of justice would tip—finally, it seemed—had been yellow all along. That meant that the right of way I claimed from the start—predicated upon entering the intersection on a yellow—was finally mine to be had.

Yet in this very same conversation, Ted asked me to look “more sorry.”

The DA had just handed me the right of way, clearing the path for my complete exoneration, but I was so jaded from so many battles that I didn’t even know how to celebrate a victory anymore. I had been on the defensive for so long, it was hard to remember other feelings—like being sorry.

I had been deeply sorry fifteen months ago. Being sorry was there right from the very beginning—but that emotion had gotten crowded out by fear and anger and frustration from months of death threats, financial peril, personal attacks from a DA out for my hide, and from being ambushed by the local media, always looking to make a buck on the salacious details.

Finally, after a pregnant pause, I responded.

“Ted,” I said, slowly and calmly, “you know how I feel about you. You know I think you’re the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area, something I would believe anyway, even if a dozen other people hadn’t told me so. That being said, you’re still a lawyer. And lawyers have the uncanny ability to emotionally distance themselves from any shred of human integrity. You can argue either side of an issue with equal fervor, even if you know that one side is completely wrong. But me? I don’t have that skill. For better or worse, I am who I am. I can’t look sorry and remorseful if I didn’t do the things I’m supposed to be sorry for. I’m not a goddamn actor.”

Ted opened his mouth to speak, but I cut him off. For once, he didn’t protest.

“Sutchi Hui, Betty Hui, and Wen-chih Yu, three people crossing against a DON’T WALK symbol, sandwiched me between them. I did everything I could to avoid all the jaywalking pedestrians, but they didn’t have the right of way—I did. And in the end, I avoided all but one of them. And that nearly killed me as well. Now I’m under siege by the crazy-ass city government and the media, facing a jail sentence, and undoubtedly a massive civil suit for something I didn’t even do. It’s all because no one could wait for the motherfucking WALK symbol, Ted. And now you, of all people, want me to look sorry?”

“But you were still speeding.”

“Jesus! Who do you work for? Me or the DA? Nobody can prove I was speeding with any reasonable amount of accuracy.”

“What about the video?”

“It’s too low-res so you can’t determine my position accurately enough to deduce speed. Even if they managed to get a speed, it would end up somewhere in the mid-to-high twenties. Even someone as corrupt as Gascón couldn’t possibly send me to jail for even a day for going twenty-seven in a twenty-five and then not being able to avoid jaywalking pedestrians—let alone for six years.”

“You already spent a day in jail.”

You little fucker! You know what I mean.”

“You know you were going too fast.”

How the hell else was I going to get myself out of that intersection? I had three and a half seconds. If I held my speed and everyone waited his or her turn, I would have crossed into the southern crosswalk when the WALK symbol came on and well on my way down toward 18th Street by the time pedestrians started walking.”

“Or you could have stopped.”

Where? That would have just guaranteed more people getting hurt—or me getting hit by a car as I skidded into the intersection causing a massive pile-up. Or hitting even more pedestrians.”

“Then you admit you were going too fast to stop, which is a basic speed violation.”

“Okay, fine, you got me! I’m guilty of a basic speed violation. That’s what the responding officers put in the police report, isn’t it? Looks like they actually got one thing right. Still not worthy of a felony.”

“And you know your speed could affect your right of way?”

What? I’ve pored over the entire California Vehicle Code, cover to cover, and I promise you, there’s no law in there that says it does.”

“If it’s not specified in the CVC, then it’s open to interpretation.”

“So let’s force a trial and find out!”

“Let’s not and say we didn’t.”


At dusk, needing to calm my raging thoughts, I went for a run in the open space near our home. As I emerged from the trees, I sat down where I could see for maybe thirty miles. Though it seemed no bigger than a postage stamp, I could see San Francisco nestled between the water and the clouds.

Why had Ted grilled me like that earlier?

I thought we were fighting on the same team, but now he was hung up on basic speed and questioning my right of way.

The city looked like a castle in the sky. I had grown up in the Bay Area and spent most of my adult life here, too. In 1999, I had fallen in love in San Francisco, with a woman I would later marry. We’d raise a child together. Such good memories.

I caught my breath as my thoughts did battle with one another.

San Francisco betrayed me. But was it her fault? San Franciscans didn’t know they were being told a fairy tale by a prosecutor who was manipulating the media to make a statement. They didn’t know all the things I had to do to defend myself, I—

At that instant instant, time stopped. Everything froze around me. The world had gone silent; all I could hear was the sound of my own thoughts.

Finally, 418 days after I smashed my head into the pavement, I arrived at the heart of the matter: No matter what, I’m guilty. Guilty of killing a man with my bicycle. And that’s the only thing that matters. The rest of this is just a distraction, mere made-for-TV bullshit.

I realized in that moment that I had let the bullshit consume me. I was so hung up on keeping myself out of jail—because I needed to be there for my wife and daughter. But they had lost me long ago. So many nights, instead of reading my daughter a bedtime story and curling up with my wife in bed, I had stayed up until two or three in the morning, poring over the same facts and reports, obsessed with every minute detail.

In trying so hard to avoid jail, I couldn’t see that I was a prisoner of my own compulsions. I could think about nothing other than winning this absurd case, proving my innocence, disproving these ridiculous charges, and keeping myself out of the news. If only proving that I had entered the intersection on a yellow light would take away the pain of what had happened next. But nothing could. Nothing would ever heal that wound.

In my obsession, I had lost sight of the only part that mattered. Regardless of what anyone was saying about me, or doing to me, or how the laws were—and weren’t—being applied to me, I was guilty of not riding safely enough to save Sutchi Hui from harm. I wasn’t defensive enough. I wasn’t careful enough, quick enough, skilled enough. Even if there hadn’t been a right decision to make, I had still made the wrong decision. And an innocent man—a grandpa, a husband, a father—had died. Despite thirty years of riding safely, I had failed at riding safely that morning.

And that is the only thing that matters.

I stood up and time started moving again. I need to make this stop, now. I need to focus on what’s important.

When I got home, I wrote a long email to Ted. Then I wrote a heartfelt private apology letter to Mrs. Hui, expressing my remorse over the role I played in her husband’s death, which went far beyond the sentiments of the card I left in the hospital. I printed it, signed it, and planned to give it to Ted at our next meeting.

CHAPTER SEVENTY-TWO

20 June 2013—448 days since the accident

“So, it’s over?”

“Yes.”

“We have a deal? Just like that? It’s really over?”

“Yes.”

“So, how exactly does this whole felony-to-misdemeanor conversion work?”

I sat, one leg tucked under the other, leaning forward toward the desk of Ted Cassman, the “C” in ACH, Arguedas, Cassman & Headley, L.L.P., the law firm I had retained more than a year ago to represent me. My expenses had exceeded six figures, but right then I didn’t care who was on the clock and who wasn’t. I needed to understand what was happening to me.

Ted stood behind his desk, arms crossed, holding a compostable cup of coffee in his left hand. He eyes were red and bleary. He’d been traveling. Pittsburgh. And before that, his son’s graduation from Stanford Law.

In Ted’s right hand, he held my apology letter to Mrs. Hui. After a read, he had given it his approval and promised to pass the letter on to Omid to give to the family. Then he looked me right in the eye, as he always did, and proceeded to explain this bizarre arrangement.

“Gascón gets his felony conviction. He gets a big media win. Then, after eighteen months—or whatever term we agree to—your felony becomes a misdemeanor.” Ted spoke exuberantly, like we had won the lottery or something. We were interrupted by an urgent phone call and a story from Ted about a laptop left on a plane.

“So what about the conversion-to-misdemeanor part?” I tried to put us back on the rails.

“What about it?”

“Is it out there in public? Will the media write about it?”

“No. No one will hear about that.”

“So I’m gonna be a felon. As far as the world is concerned, a felon for life.”

“I know, Chris. This is what Gascón has wanted since the beginning. He wanted his felony. Now he gets his felony.”

“He told KCBS that he was gonna go for felony fewer than two weeks after the accident. I think it was April 10th. Before the video even came out! Before the SFPD had presented the case to his office. Jesus! I remember sitting in the car, listening to him on the radio, recording it for you and thinking, what the fuck am I hearing?

“I know, Chris. I know. What a long, strange trip it’s been,” Ted said.

Usually, evoking the Grateful Dead had a way of putting a nice little bookend on the topic of conversation, but not this time.

“He was prejudiced from the start, Ted. He can’t get away with this! And you and I both know that the law is on our side. He can’t do this!”

“He just did,” said Ted, with a tone of resignation.

“So Gascón gets a felony, exactly what he wanted all along,” I said. “Exactly what he told the media would happen before he even knew what the hell he was talking about—and by saying that, I’m not implying that he ever knows what he’s talking about, just to be perfectly clear. The burden of proof lies with the DAs, yet they still haven’t shown us anything to support any of their claims. And they’ve leaked all manner of crooked things to the media, destroying my reputation, my credibility—my future. And me? What do I get out of this?”

“You. Don’t. Have. To. Go. To. Jail.” Ted spoke slowly and sternly, pausing between each word.

And I knew he was right.

A big, roaring heat wave inside me still yearned for these outlandish charges to be dropped. In fact, I still wanted a public apology for wasting my time and money and destroying my reputation. But Gascón—through a series of cold, calculated leaks of false information to the media—had sealed my fate long ago.

“I want a trial, Ted. I want a goddamn trial.”

“We can’t go to trial, Chris.” Ted looked at me, no doubt feeling a bit exasperated. We’d had this conversation before, and it always ended the same way. My emotions had thrown in the towel, but my compulsive side remained stubborn; I couldn’t let go.

“We can win this, Ted! We’ve already gotten them to drop the red light charge. With the red light charge gone, I had the right of way, so then they should drop failure-to-yield. So what do they have left? Speed? Their ‘expert’ said thirty-two miles per hour, right? We know he’s wrong, but worst case, they get me at seven miles per hour over the posted speed limit. And that’s it? Eight jaywalking pedestrians jump out in front of a bike going SEVEN MILES PER HOUR over the speed limit with the unquestionable right of way. You think I’ll get convicted on that?”

“I don’t think you’ll get convicted. I know you’ll get convicted. And you’ll risk getting jail time, too. We’ve talked about this before, Chris. To have the right of way, you need to have entered the intersection lawfully.”

“I did. The light was yellow.”

“But you were speeding.”

Ted was probably right, but I had to make sure he was sure. If I sensed a weakness in his argument, I would exploit it. It had taken me many months of sparring with Ted to understand how to argue with him. Leave out the emotion; stick to the facts. He still won every argument, but at least I could keep up with him a bit better now.

“Do you remember that section of Virginia’s vehicle code? In that state, speed above the posted limit nullifies right of way. But there’s no such law in the California Vehicle Code,” I said. I had done my homework.

“That means it can go either way.” Ted answered. He always has all the answers.

“So you’re saying they could use my alleged speed infraction to cancel my right of way and hit me with failure to yield?”

“Yes. They’ll hit you with everything they’ve got.”

“Well, they’ve already burned three eyewitnesses, one of whom perjured himself so badly—it was hard to believe how he just shrugged it off—he was such a mess, he probably didn’t even know what he did to himself up there.”

“Yeah, Nathan Pollak was most likely on drugs,” Ted said. “I can’t explain his behavior any other way.”

“Yeah, probably crank, plus maybe a bad hangover. Or maybe he’s a pathological liar, just can’t help it, even if he tried. So, anyway, they’ve got three eyewitness accounts that were flatly contradicted by the surveillance video, an ‘expert’ who was embarrassed off the stand, and all they’ve got left is speed, which they still haven’t proven. What are they going to do to me now?” It was an honest question.

“They’ll find more witnesses. They’ll get a new expert, someone less incompetent than Mahoney. And they can go for basic speed, too.”

Basic speed law—the often-neglected stepchild of the prima facie (posted) speed laws—states that your speed should be appropriate for the conditions, e.g., if the posted speed is sixty-five but a dense fog limits visibility, then the basic speed law might mean that you can only safely go twenty-five. Other conditions—like rush hour traffic, a bus, steep hills, train tracks, potholes or, say, being on a bike—could all play into a potential basic speed violation. Every one of those factors applied to my case.

“Yeah, they could really get me on basic speed. I still can’t believe we’re talking about six years in jail for going seven miles over the posted speed limit or violating the basic speed law.”

“You’re not going to jail for six years. Or at all. Not if you take the deal. Why do you still want a trial? Why risk it?” I could see that Ted was getting frustrated.

“Because I’m right! Because I still think we can win! The facts are on our side. We can get an acquittal! We can show Gascón that overcharging me was a terrible mistake.”

“No, we’ll lose. Plus it’s going to cost you another $35,000, and that doesn’t even include paying for our own accident reconstruction expert, PI hours, and a PR firm to do the market research to support our motion to change venue.”

“We were out of money $50,000 ago.”

“Well then that’s another reason you shouldn’t go to trial. You want another?” I suspected that Ted was going to tell me anyway, so I just gave him a blank stare.

“The autopsy photos, Chris. You’ve seen the autopsy photos, and you know we couldn’t stop them from being admitted as evidence during the PX. Those jurors will take one look at those autopsy photos and, no matter how many facts we put in front of them, no matter how many sections of the vehicle code we read, no matter that the pedestrians all crossed too early, no matter that you had the right of way, no matter that you have no criminal record, no driving record and 30,000 safe cycling miles under your belt and more than a dozen mitigating letters from all sorts of prestigious people—including a California attorney general—no matter what: You’re getting convicted. And then you’re going to jail. Gascón repeatedly and shamelessly leaked false information to the press in order to destroy you, so you’re already guilty in the public’s eye. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that you’ll get a fair trial. Think about what your family will have to go through. More publicity. More leaks of false information. More death threats. Think about your wife. Think about your daughter.”

My wife and daughter were my #1 and my #1; Ted knew how to hit where it hurt.

“So lemme get this straight. I’m going to be punished for operating my bike like a vehicle in adherence with most, if not all, applicable sections of the vehicle code at a speed at which a vehicle would normally travel through that intersection. So I guess the vehicle code doesn’t matter anymore; perhaps it never did. Nor did the color of the light make any difference. Speed? No, it’s not really about that either.”

“You’re catching on now, finally.” Ted twisted his face into a wry grin.

“It doesn’t matter if that light was red, orange, yellow, green, or purple. You killed a pedestrian with your bike. Gascón’s got us backed into a corner. And when Judge Cheng denied the 17(b) motion without prejudice, we took it on the chin, again. Now no one can mention misdemeanor again until sentencing, meaning that a judge wouldn’t even give the misdemeanor-conversion option to a jury. Gascón gets his felony no matter what. He needs to make an example out of you—and that’s what’s happening. Like it or not, you’re the fall guy for every bad cycling behavior in the Bay Area, Chris. You need to get over it and take the deal.”

Get over it? This is bullshit, Ted! What Gascón’s doing is vile. And it’s politically motivated! It’s about reversing the damage he did by not charging Randy Ang with a felony and throwing his ass in jail. This is fucking bullshit, Ted, and you know it. They’re forcing our hand. You’re acting like you’re empowering me to make some kind of decision, yet in this contrived scenario, there’s only one possible choice: I have to take the deal.”

“That’s the right decision,” Ted said, with a smirk, surely observing that I had slipped down the precipice from facts to emotion.

“You made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” I said with a sigh of resignation.

Taking this deal would keep me out of jail. Any other decision would be stupid and costly—reckless, even. Not taking the deal would cause this madness to continue for months or even years, giving the DA more opportunities to slander me, and distracting everyone from what was important.

“I’ll do everything I can to shrink the duration of the felony. I think I can get one year or less on that and maybe 500 to 1,000 hours of community service.”

“It doesn’t really matter to me how many community service hours I get. I’ll do whatever community service they want me to do—in fact, I’ll do whatever the hell they want me to do. The bottom line is that I don’t have to go to jail. And I’m not staying a felon for any longer than I have to in order to give Gascón the media narrative he so desires. Then maybe I can rebuild my life and start to process what actually happened here, something that got lost because of this circus. Thank you, Ted, for keeping me out of jail. This has been really hard on me. And my girls, too. But it would be much worse if I had to go to jail. One day was more than enough!”

And with that, Ted ushered me out of the law offices of Arguedas, Cassman & Headley. It might be my last visit here, I thought. I rode my bike to North Berkeley BART to catch a train back to my office in the San Francisco’s Financial District. Soon after, I would tell my wife, my brother, my parents, and eventually my coworkers, that the end was near.

Without a doubt, in just a few days, in the library in the Hall of Justice reserved for press conferences, DA George Gascón would step up to the podium, in front of a half-dozen microphones and video cameras, and proceed to tell the world exactly how swiftly and deftly he charged, apprehended, processed, and punished the nation’s first bicycle felon. He would win his vehicular manslaughter case and make a felon out of me, a software developer, long-time Bay Area resident, and guy who likes to ride his bike—and who had been doing so safely and uneventfully for almost his entire life.

Gascón would undoubtedly speak of justice. And somehow—through ignoring the law, leaking false information to the media, and manipulating the Hui family—”justice had been served,” whatever that meant. He would tell the cycling community—from tourists to occasional commuters, from hardcore roadies to hipsters on brakeless fixies, from daredevil downhill mountain bikers to the patently insane messengers—that they should heed his warning: The rules of the road apply to everyone.

And if you’re on a bike, those rules apply—doubly so.

CHAPTER SEVENTY-THREE

25 June 2013—453 days since the accident

Though I still felt very uncomfortable about pleading guilty to a felony, I needed this all-consuming nightmare to end. Ted implored me, over the phone, for the last time, to accept the plea bargain being offered, which they called “their final offer:” a bizarre deal in which I would get three years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service, but in which my “felony” would get converted to a misdemeanor six months after the date of sentencing.

My wife and I had already spent well beyond our means to fight back at this relentless bullying by the DA. As much as we wanted the facts to come to light in a trial, we couldn’t afford the financial and the emotional toll it would entail. Ted simply wanted me to hurry up and make up my mind.

“We have until the 18th of July to settle before we lose Judge Collins,” he warned.

“He’s been a huge help so far,” I said sarcastically. “Big. HUGE.”

“Come on, that’s not fair. It could be much worse, and you know that, Chris.”

“Okay, fine. But if I plead out, the 995 motion will never be heard.”

“You’re right, it won’t. But it will remain on the court record.”

“I need to talk to Carroll. We need to think this through.”

“Of course.”


>> Continue to PART IX: The Message


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