Bikelash PART IV: Cooperating with the Authorities

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 IV: Cooperating with the Authorities

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

13 June 2012—76 days since the accident

Carroll, Ashley, and I were slowly beginning to adapt to life on the run, trying to leave no trace of our whereabouts. I paid for everything in cash. An acquaintance of mine sold me a police scanner and helped me program it. If anyone was coming for me or my family, I wanted to be the first to know. Despite our precautions, we were too scared to be anywhere near our home, or even within the jurisdiction of the SFPD.

Each time my phone buzzed with an IFTTT alert, I had that sinking feeling in my chest: Would we be sleeping in our own beds tonight, or would we be forced to hit the road?

With the news of my impending “arrest” and booking/arraignment still smelling like fresh meat to the media, I had to be on high alert. I went back to Ted’s office, and he called Inspector Cadigan to arrange the details of my arrest. He put her on speaker. The inspector advised me to use the side entrance to the Hall of Justice. She instructed me to wait inconspicuously in a discreet employee parking lot. She said to arrive at 10 a.m. and call her to come and escort me inside. And she said I should wear a baseball cap.

This whole notion of being “booked” was very foreign to me, but apparently it’s something that the police must do to every person accused of a serious crime. The media seemed to think this was a big deal, as there were several print, internet, and TV news stories explaining this process and how it applied to me. To Vinnie, the bail bondsman, and to Ted, my attorney, this was just a matter of procedure, but not so with the local journalists.

With the prying eyes of the media upon us, we weren’t taking any chances. Carroll, Ashley, and I were hopping from one budget hotel in the East Bay to another on the Peninsula and back again. Ashley asked why we were going on so many “vacations.”

“Because everybody needs a getaway, darling. Aren’t we having so much fun?” I asked, casting a sideways glance at Carroll.

On the evening before the booking, I drove my family through Berkeley while Carroll tried to find us a place to stay for the night. The U.S. Open golf championship was in town that week, so she was having a difficult time. We spent more than an hour meandering about the East Bay as Carroll tried hotel after hotel. Finally, I decided that it was time to call in a favor.

My first call was to an old pal. Clint Lockyer and his wife, Estella, said they would be happy to welcome the three of us into their home. We had a place to stay for the night.

At sixty-eight years old, Clint was the person with whom I had my longest-lasting friendship. We met when I was six, shortly after my parents and I moved to a small neighborhood nestled in the foothills of Mt. Diablo, about thirty miles from San Francisco.

Soon after we had settled in, Clint became our family’s primary care physician, and his former wife, Pollyanna, became our eye doctor. He and his buddies were avid mountain bikers, and Clint taught me how to ride. Under his guidance, we romped along the trails of not only Diablo and Trampas, but ventured out to Tilden Park, China Camp, and up to Lake Tahoe. To me, Clint was more like a stepfather than a friend.

That night, when Clint and Estella turned on the 10 o’clock news, the lead story was about me. I began to flush as the skin on the back of my neck prickled with embarrassment and outrage. I wondered what my lifelong friend and his wife believed as they watched this garbage. Was it different because they knew me? What about people who didn’t know me? They only know the narrative that makes me out to be a monster.

Again I experienced the unsettling feeling of living in two different worlds. On TV, a renegade cyclist was still on the lam; tomorrow he would be hauled in for his booking/arraignment. There was a quote from Randy Ang’s attorney, Tony Brass, about how this cycle-terrorist should be punished for his crimes and how the fact that Ang “stayed at the scene and cooperated with authorities made all the difference.”

As if I had much of a choice, having been taken away from the scene in an ambulance.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

14 June 2012—77 days since the accident

The next morning in Clint and Estella’s living room, the announcer on the morning newscast sounded very concerned. Oakland was on fire, she said. A big construction site close to the West Oakland station had gone up in flames. BART—the rapid transit train I was planning on taking from Walnut Creek to San Francisco—wasn’t running west of downtown. It was seven o’clock. In three hours, Inspector Cadigan would be expecting me to show up at the Hall of Justice and turn myself in.

Clint dropped me off at the Walnut Creek BART station and wished me good luck. I rode BART to downtown Oakland’s 12th Street Station, which on that day more closely resembled the Oakland Zoo. Everywhere I looked, people were running around, trying to find a way to get to San Francisco. A few hundred of them had formed a mob around some sort of charter bus that could probably hold about forty. I now had just over two hours to get to the Hall of Justice, and I didn’t see any options.

I started walking west toward Jack London Square, where I knew there would be at least one passenger ferry to San Francisco. After about a block, I broke into a light jog and worked my way up into a brisk run. When I reached the ferry terminal, there were several hundred people waiting in line for the next boat, which had a capacity of probably around a hundred. From the ferry building, I’d have about a twenty-to-thirty-minute walk to the Hall of Justice, so I still had a chance of showing up for my arrest and incarceration more or less on time.

All of a sudden, one of my worst fears was realized. TV news crews descended upon the long line of waylaid commuters. The fire, BART closure, bridge traffic, and the congestion at the ferry terminal made great fodder for the morning news and, as a result, my cover was about to be blown.

Trying to act as naturally as I could, I turned in such a way that none of the cameras could see my face. I grabbed my pay-as-you-go phone, put it up to my ear, and answered an imaginary call, just so I could think. My eyes darted about the ferry plaza looking for a place to hide. With some semblance of a plan in my head, I put the phone away and started to chat up the guy behind me. He was a rather friendly French software developer in town for a conference. Once we chit-chatted for a bit, I popped the question: “Hey, would you mind holding my place in line?”

I knew the cameras were rolling because I could hear the newscaster right behind me: “There are thousands of people in line waiting for ferries that aren’t here. This has people wondering, ‘Will we ever make it to work?’” I tried to focus on my plan. It was time to make my move. I slinked off toward the restroom.

Once I found a place where I could think, something occurred to me: No one knows that I’m here. The media crews that wanted to film my surrender were waiting for me at the Hall of Justice, if they were anywhere at all. I had managed to strip down every photo and nearly every video of myself from the internet, so no one would recognize me. Plus, I had the world’s greatest disguise—a baseball cap—at the ready.

Gaining my composure, I straightened up my shoulders, walked right back into the fray, and gave my best merci to the Frenchman. Then I turned toward the news cameras and I smiled and waved, because that’s what everyone else was doing.

I boarded the ferry with a throng of antsy commuters, many of whom were calling their offices and rearranging their schedules. Having dodged a bullet with the TV news, I started to worry again about my other problem. There was a warrant out for my arrest. I promised self-surrender at 10 a.m. I didn’t have a very good frame of reference for criminal proceedings, but I imagine that if you promise to turn yourself in and then don’t show up, all sorts of bad things start to happen.

On the upper deck of the ferry, I bumped into an old colleague of mine. After imploring him not to share this with anyone, I told him that I was off to be arrested on felony manslaughter charges. By his reaction, I could tell that he thought I was joking. I wished I had been.

As a regular ferry rider, my friend had a large booklet of tickets. I bought two from him with the twenty-dollar bill I had tucked next to my driver’s license in my back pocket, one of my few possessions. I gave one ticket to the Frenchman and thanked him again for helping me out. I now had about forty minutes to get to the Hall of Justice.

CHAPTER THIRTY

14 June 2012—77 days since the accident

It was 9:45 a.m. by the time I arrived at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. In my pocket I had a few remaining dollars, my driver’s license, and a cheap flip-phone registered under a fake name. I didn’t even consider hailing a taxi, not that I could have found one amid what was probably the most insane commute day since the BART strikes of the late 1990s.

I started to run, making a beeline for the Hall of Justice, which lies about two miles from the Ferry Building. Inspector Cadigan was expecting me at ten. Given that I left San Ramon—a mere thirty miles from San Francisco—almost three hours ago, it was hard to believe that I was in danger of missing my appointment for self-surrender.

As I ran down Howard Street, I tried to avoid thinking about all the horrible things bound to happen if I showed up late for my arrest. Plus, there was this puzzling “baseball cap” business. Why had Inspector Cadigan asked me to bring a baseball cap? Was it supposed to be some sort of disguise? Or was it supposed to help me stand out, so she could lead me into some kind of trap?

I had trusted the inspector in the hospital, but now I wasn’t sure who to trust. I quickly pushed those worries out of my head because I had a list of bigger things to worry about. At the top of that list was the outstanding warrant for my arrest. Next was that I was still two miles from where I needed to be to turn myself over to the authorities.

The fire in West Oakland made for the opposite of a slow news day and the press had more interesting things to cover than my impending incarceration. As I ran, I appreciated this little dose of good fortune. When I was within a few long SOMA blocks of the jail, I stopped, caught my breath, and called Prince. As promised, he was waiting outside of the Hall of Justice, wearing a baseball cap.

Prince stands about five feet ten inches tall and weighs around 165 pounds. He’s taller, slimmer, and much better built than I am, but with his dark skin and hair, he could potentially be mistaken for me, perhaps if you squint your eyes a bit. Given that I had disappeared myself and my family from the internet just after news of the story broke, there remained a few scant images and videos of me online. Most of them depicted me seventy pounds heavier with a different haircut and facial hair configuration, so most people would be pretty hard-pressed to pick me out of a crowd. And that is precisely why Inspector Cadigan’s “wear a baseball cap” struck me as highly suspicious. With his shoulder-length hair tied up and wearing that aforementioned baseball cap, Prince spent the morning loitering around the Hall of Justice as my near-perfect media decoy, looking as conspicuous as he could.

The plan was simple enough: Prince would give me the lay of the land and, if there were any media personnel anywhere in my path to the Hall of Justice, he would draw them away from me, goad them as much as he could, and then, once I was safely inside, he would take off his baseball cap, unfurl his giant Kenyan mane, and answer their questions—in Swahili.

Prince stood near the entrance of a small parking lot nestled in between the west side of the Hall of Justice and the jail. As I came within a few hundred yards, he turned south, walked to the corner of Bryant Street, and then turned left and walked east toward the main front stairs. If the media were looking for the brown-skinned man in the baseball cap heading toward the Hall of Justice, there he was.

Meanwhile, I walked briskly past the spot where Prince had been standing. I ducked between two parked cars in the employee lot and knelt down where no one could see me. I pulled the baseball cap out from where I had tucked it inside the waist of my pants. Exhaling deeply, I put the cap on my head and dialed Inspector Cadigan’s number. It was nearly 10:30. I had been traveling—by car, train, ferry, and foot—for three and a half hours. This was the first time I had sat down since I disembarked from BART in downtown Oakland—a lifetime ago.

Moments later, a tall, strapping black man in plain clothes opened the side door and asked me to step inside. Inspector Cook led me down a hallway toward SFPD’s Hit and Run Investigation Unit.

“Of course it wasn’t a hit and run; that’s just what they call our unit,” Inspector Cadigan had told me, in what now seemed like a dream. But this was no dream. It was a nightmare.

And it had only just begun.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

14 June 2012—77 days since the accident

I followed Inspector Cook down a short hallway and into a small room crammed with cubicles. Inspector Cadigan swung around in her chair to greet me. As she stood and took my outstretched hand, I took note of her black sweater, black jeans, and black boots. I vaguely recalled our initial meeting in the hospital, where I sat on a bed in a post-concussion fog. “I’m just going to ask you a few questions,” she had told me. “This will only take a minute or two. This is no big deal.”

I had looked into her kind eyes then, as I did now. I had trusted her. I had believed her. How could I have been such a fool?

As I shook her hand, not a word was exchanged between us. There was so much I wanted to say. But there was something in Inspector Cadigan’s eyes that hadn’t been there when we met in the hospital. There was sadness. Her lips curled into a frown and she spoke slowly and deliberately.

“Chris, I am so, so sorry about all of this.”

I breathed in and opened my mouth as if to speak, but no words came out. Had I said anything, it wouldn’t have mattered, because just then Inspector Dean Taylor—Inspector Cadigan’s boss—interjected.

“Look here, son. It’s a good thing I gave this case to Lori. Because if this was my case, I would’ve retired!” Inspector Taylor spoke with the slightest remnant of an Irish accent. Or maybe it was the type of accent that remains in hiding until anger causes just a smidge of it to show through.

He rolled his chair closer to where I was standing. I had just released Inspector Cadigan’s hand. She sat down and motioned to me to do the same. Inspector Taylor had delivered quite a hook with that “I would’ve retired” line, so he had my full attention. Sliding his reading glasses down the bridge of his nose, he pointed at a gunmetal gray file cabinet.

“You see that? That cabinet? That drawer right there? We had the only DVD of the accident video locked right in there. No one had seen the video but Lori and me. Not a soul but Lori and me! Then the DA’s office spoke to the media about what happens in the video. And then? And then they blamed the whole thing on us! On the police. On my department.”

I nodded. Again, I dug deep, searching for the right thing to say and came up empty. Good thing, because Inspector Taylor wasn’t finished.

“It’s not fair what’s happening to you, Chris. Really, it’s not fair. It’s bowlshit. What the DA’s doing to you? That’s bowlshit. What the media’s doing to you? Bowlshit!”

The more Inspector Taylor got spun up, the more his accent showed through. He moved his finger from the direction of the file cabinet, pointed it directly at me, and continued.

“This was a routine accident and it shoulda been handled as such. We process dozens of cases like this every year. If you was in a car, no charges woulda been filed. This is all bowlshit! Complete bowlshit.”

Suddenly, Inspector Cadigan’s eyes darted up and focused directly on Inspector Taylor’s. She tilted her head to one side, pushed a few strands of hair off of her forehead, cleared her throat, and gave Inspector Taylor a death-stare. Clearly, she was warning him to stop talking. But this was her boss, so there was no way she could say anything, especially with me sitting right there.

With the air getting heavier and heavier amid the staring contest I was witnessing between Inspector Taylor and Inspector Cadigan, I struggled to think of something to say, something to break the ice.

“Would you be willing to go on the record about any of this?” I asked with a sheepish grin. I wanted Inspector Taylor to think I was just kidding. But, of course, I wasn’t.

“Well, I’m close to retiring, my boy—but not that close,” Inspector Taylor said with a hearty chuckle. And with that, he spun his chair back around, pushed his reading glasses up the bridge of his nose, and dove back into whatever it is an inspector does.

I nodded, feeling defeated. But at the same time, new energy welled up inside me. I could feel the back of my neck starting to get hot. Inspector Taylor might not be willing to testify or speak to the media about this, but knowing that the SFPD thought I was getting a raw deal gave me more reasons to suspect that the DA wasn’t playing fair.

Inspector Taylor had said his piece; now Inspector Cadigan was doing the talking.

“We’re going to walk you over to the jail together. Before we go inside, I have to handcuff you.”

I handed her a bag containing my ID, my pay-as-you-go flip phone, a few dollars, and the cap I had borrowed from Clint.

Then Inspector Cadigan cuffed me behind my back and led me to jail.

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

14 June 2012—77 days since the accident

The first thing I found out about being in jail was that I wasn’t actually in jail. I was in a holding pen of sorts inside or adjacent to the jail—where people get booked. Basically, it’s like the DMV—a bunch of cubes chock-full of government employees with bad attitudes and a ring around them of disheveled, miserable people looking even more disgusted than the employees do about having to be in this awful place.

This strange sort-of-jail was crawling with all sorts of people in uniform, most of them probably sheriff deputies. As is the case with the DMV, the goal of the “customer” here is to get the hell out as quickly as possible without pissing anyone off. But unlike the DMV, which makes people wait, sitting uncomfortably close to one another on rows of chairs buckled together, here they make people wait in soundproof, locked cells, alone.

In this tiny cell, I had a narrow bench I could sit on and a toilet with a half wall in front of it. I took a piss, the half wall obscuring my business but not the upper half of my body. It felt weird, but so did everything about this experience. I flushed the toilet. Water also came out of the sink, so I rinsed my hands and face. There was no soap. I took a drink of the water from my hand. Then, since I had pretty much exhausted all of the things I could do in this pen of mine, I rolled up my sweater to form a makeshift neck pillow, and I laid down on my back and closed my eyes.

Fingerprinting. It was time for fingerprinting. Somebody led me over to a gentleman who greeted me pleasantly with an accent I thought I recognized.

“Are you Bahamian or Jamaican?” I asked. I spent a year living on Grand Bahama Island as a kid, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Bahamians, some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I knew he was a West Indian Islander, but I couldn’t nail the island.

“Very good guesses. I’m a Creole from Haiti.”

This trilingual islander—hours away from the end of his sixteen-hour shift—was patient enough to tell me all about the fingerprinting process as he gently pressed my hands against the glass while images of my fingerprints turned up on screen. I had my mug shots taken too. I was thirsty and hungry and tired and strung out, but the simple motions of doing something helped break up the monotony.

After fingerprinting, I was put in a group cell, where I sat, head in hand, again not really knowing what to do with myself. This larger group cell also sported a telephone. I played around with it a bit; it had this foreboding voice-intro loop that warned the receiving party that they were about to get a call from an SF county jail inmate, giving them the option to drop the call.

After who knows how long—maybe an hour, maybe two or three—a young Caucasian woman in a sweatshirt came calling for me. “It’s time to getcha outta here,” she said with a half smile. “We just need to wrap up some paperwork and then you can go.” That meant the $150,000 bail had been processed and that they had received confirmation that my fingerprints hadn’t resulted in arrest warrants from Interpol or whatever. The woman left, and I continued to wait.

The minutes turned into hours. Suddenly, a black man in a blue uniform holding a small brown bag walked by the holding pen. I jumped up and hurled myself at the door, knocking wildly. The deputy opened the little slot so we could hear one another through the soundproof wall.

“Whaddya want?” he asked. I had a feeling that whatever I wanted, I wasn’t going to get it.

“Well, this nice woman in a white sweatshirt came over and told me I could go. But that was more than an hour ago and I’m still here.”

“Hmmmmm, let’s see. You want to go, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s nice. But do you see this bag of coffee?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, making coffee is important. You, on the other hand, are not important. Do you understand?”

With that, the little window snapped shut.

Finally, a deputy arrived and cooly told me that my time here would soon come to an end. Officer Kim led me back to where I had started my day, when I walked past the front desk. We passed the intake nurse and a few other desk workers. Officer Kim directed me to sign some documents, as he stepped around the office partition to a small desk. After signing one of the documents and feeling a bit uncomfortable about where to put my hands, I rested them, slightly folded on the counter, and leaned forward and crossed my legs.

At that moment, another man in uniform sauntered out of the nearby breakroom, pointed aggressively at me, and barked, “Get your hands off the table!”

I gently lifted up my hands and held them over my shoulders, palms facing Officer Kim.

But the angry cop wasn’t finished.

“What do you think this is, a bank or something?”

I did not respond.

“Put your hands down! By your side!”

I put my hands down by my side, feeling the tension build up inside me and trying desperately to figure out how to make the officer stop.

“Not like that! Like a normal person,” he growled.

He sneered the word “normal,” as if to imply that I had never heard it before or could possibly comprehend what it meant. I relaxed my arms a bit. And then, this civil servant took a few steps closer, looked me squarely in the eye, pointed at me with his index finger, and said slowly and provocatively.

“You look like an idiot.”

I turned to face the officer of the peace, and I stared at him with a puzzled look. I didn’t know what to say.

Trying to keep in mind what Vinnie the bail bondsman had advised, I said nothing. Vinnie knows best.

At this point, the angry cop stormed off and returned to eating cake and drinking coffee in the breakroom.

I turned back to face Officer Kim and politely asked, “There’s just one more quick thing before I leave: Could I please have the name and badge number of the officer who was just here?”

“Yeah, you can,” Officer Kim said.

“Can I have it now?”

“I said I would give it to you!” Officer Kim was visibly annoyed. His brows were furrowed, and his face was turning red.

“Yes, you said you would give it to me,” I said slowly and calmly.

There was a pregnant pause, and then I was escorted into an airlock. Because there was a big sign that read, “WAIT BEHIND THE RED LINE,” I dared not do anything other than wait behind the red line. Suddenly, two deputies escorted a four-person chain gang in orange jumpsuits into the airlock to join me. Then the deputies uncuffed the prisoners’ wrists and unshackled their ankles. This was the first time during my booking that I was in a room with real prisoners. If booking was Level One, these guys looked like they were Level Eleven. Orange jumpsuits, cuffs, shackles, and everything. I felt petrified, afraid to move a single muscle. I was outnumbered, but that hardly mattered. They were all very large and mean-looking, and any one of them could have easily beaten me to a pulp.

Suddenly, a buzzer inside the airlock rang, nearly giving me a heart attack. One of the inmates—the meanest and scariest looking of them all—looked directly at me and kindly said, “I think that’s for you, sir,” while he politely pushed the door open. I thanked him and walked through.

My jail experience, however, was not yet complete. On the outside of the buzzing door, behind a thick wall of glass, stood Officer Kim and one extremely red-in-the-face officer, arms crossed in defiance.

“So, you want my name and badge number, ha?”

He stood with an aggressive stance and snickered, making me feel that whatever I was going to say was going to be exactly the wrong thing to say.

“You want my name?” he snapped. “Ha! Here’s my name!” He pointed self-righteously and indignantly at the words “J. DUTTO” on the right breast pocket of his blue uniform. He sharply poked himself several times in the chest. “D-U-T-T-O,” he said, spelling out his name for me.

“You want my badge number? Here’s my badge number!” He repeated the pointing/poking routine on the gold star pinned on his opposite breast pocket, which read #1235. “ONE TWO THREE FIVE.”

“See now? You got it. Ha! Name and badge number.”

“Can I please have a pen?” I asked.

“No, you can’t, ha!” he sneered. “Now get the fuck outta here!”

I turned around slowly and walked toward the lobby. I was pretty sure this nightmare was finally over, but I found out—yet again—that it wasn’t.

“You know what?”

I turned back around to look at Officer Dutto.

“You ARE a fuckin’ idiot!” He stormed off, chuckling and seeming very proud of himself.

I walked away. I felt ashamed, confused, exhausted, hungry, and thirsty.

I feebly turned my focus to the matter at hand: how to use the five-odd dollar bills I had in my pocket to find my way out of the jurisdiction of the SFPD. With downcast eyes, I walked north on 7th Street, bought a BART ticket at Powell Station, and boarded the next eastbound train.

For the first time in my life, I was being completely honest when I told the panhandlers who solicited me that I had nothing to give them.

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

14 June 2012—77 days since the accident

I disembarked from BART at the Dublin/Pleasanton Station, some thirty-five miles southeast of San Francisco. Carroll had managed to find us some slightly nicer digs at a great price, so a new hotel on a large property that included an outdoor pool and a hot tub awaited me. After a shower, twenty minutes in the hot tub, a few laps in the pool, thirty more minutes in the hot tub, and then another shower, I felt I had sufficiently cleansed myself of the rotten stench of the holding pen.

Try as I might, however, I couldn’t shake the memory of the behavior of officers Kim and Dutto. Should I file a complaint? Should I seek retribution for the way I was treated? I considered it, but decided against it. If Internal Affairs operated anything like the other parts of this city’s government, then filing a complaint would be a waste of everyone’s time.

Expecting the worst, I sat down in front of my laptop and was greeted with something even worse than the worst. It turns out that while I was busy getting locked up, pushed around, and taunted in jail, the DA’s office had produced the following press release.

DA George Gascón Charging Bicyclist with Felony Vehicular Manslaughter

For Immediate Release

Thursday, June 14, 2012

CONTACT: Stephanie Ong Stillman, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-1167 or (415) 740-5134 Alex Bastian, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-1931

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – District Attorney George Gascón announced today that a felony vehicular manslaughter charge will be filed against Chris Bucchere, age 36, a bicyclist who struck Sutchi Hui, a 71 year old man who was crossing the street with his wife on Market and Castro.

“Mr. Hui was a husband and a father and he was killed because of a bicyclist’s need for speed,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “This incident could have been avoided and we can do better as a city to avoid these tragic consequences. In order to preserve our diverse transit community, everyone has to follow the rules of the road.”

On the morning of Thursday, March 29, Hui was crossing the street with his wife on Market and Castro when he was struck by Bucchere, who was riding his bicycle through the intersection of Market and Castro. Hui sustained blunt force trauma injuries from the collision that led to the cause of his death on Monday, April 2.

“This tragic death caused by a bicyclist illustrates the worst case scenario when traffic laws are not obeyed,” said District Attorney Gascón. He explained that Bucchere displayed gross negligence in operating his bicycle warranting a felony vehicular manslaughter charge. His office intends to prove that there was a pattern of traffic laws being broken by Bucchere leading up to the accident.

According to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, since 2006, there has been a 71% increase in the number of people biking in San Francisco. The District Attorney is asking the public to respect pedestrians’ right-of-way and to avoid behaviors that could lead to accidents. For information on pedestrian safety, visit http://www.walksf.org. For information on bicycle safety, visit http://www.sfbike.org/edu.

Chris Bucchere is scheduled to be arraigned early next week. San Francisco Police Department Inspector Lori Cadigan is assigned to this case. Assistant District Attorney Omid Talai is the prosecutor on this case.

Gascón had held multiple press conferences earlier in the day in which he augmented the press release by adding a litany of other accusations, including this stunning conclusion: “I think that when you look at the totality of this case, you’re looking at someone that really doesn’t care for anybody except himself.”

Has any DA ever made a value judgment as outrageous as that after any vehicle accident, no matter how egregious?

Gascón continued, claiming, “the tragedy that occurred here did not need to occur. It was predictable. It was avoidable.” And, “his selfish motivation, you know, his need for speed and his behavior were completely, uh, horrible.” And furthermore, Gascon wanted “to send a very clear message here that we believe that the conduct in this case was gross, was very egregious,” claiming that I was interested in “beating [my] own record on that course” and that I “was bragging about it online.”

The feeling of listening to a person of authority tell the media, thereby telling the world—that I don’t care for anybody but myself, that I was racing during rush hour past an elementary school and in a busy intersection, that I have a “need for speed,” and that my behavior was “completely horrible”—was infuriating, especially when I knew not a word of it was true.

My teeth and fists clenched in rage, I stared at the glowing screen of my laptop.

At some point, at least some of the stories about this accident might have had something to do with me, I thought. However, that no longer seemed to be the case. The larger narrative had become less and less about what happened in that intersection; it wasn’t even about the accident—or me—anymore.

This was about a DA sending a clear message that he hates cyclists, using me as the messenger.

It wasn’t my fault that some cyclists flaunt the rules of the road and it wasn’t my fault that Randy Ang had been given a supposedly light punishment, but it seemed—regardless of what I did or didn’t do—I was going to have an example made out of me. Was there any hope of getting a fair shake in this situation?

Any confidence I might have had was fading quickly.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

21 June 2012—84 days since the accident

It was late in the afternoon on my first full week back at work that my manager, Pradeep, whom I respected immensely as a technologist and also really liked as a person, came over to my cube.

“Chris, can I borrow you for second?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Um, let’s go grab a conference room.”

It was at this point that I realized something was awry. If this were anything related to normal, tactical work, we would have had the conversation right there in my cube. I had a sinking feeling about this impromptu meeting already, and I hadn’t even gotten out of my chair yet.

Pradeep led me over to a nearby conference room and shut the door, leaving us inside a room with a dozen chairs, a long boardroom-style table, and bunch of “world clocks” set to different time zones.

“Chris, I’m really sorry to have to do this. You’ve been a real asset to our team.”

“What’s going on, Pradeep?”

“I’m afraid that we’ve had to terminate your contract.”

“Wow. I don’t really know what to say. When does my contract end, exactly?”

“Two weeks. I want you to schedule knowledge-transfer sessions with each person on the team for a couple of hours each day for the remainder of your time here.”

“Is this negotiable?” I asked. It seemed like a fair question.

“I’m afraid not.”

“Well, I’ve really enjoyed working with you guys, and I’m going to miss you all dearly. I’ve learned so much from all of you.”

“It’s mutual. You’re leaving really big shoes to fill, and we were happy to have you for as long as we did.”

“If that’s the case, why are you terminating me?”

“You know I can’t say anything other than that it’s for no official reason.”

“Uh-huh. Is the ‘unofficial reason’ what I think it is?” I asked, with air-quotes around “unofficial reason.”

Pradeep got flustered and started to turn red in the face. His eyes darted from corner to corner, as if to see if anyone else was in the empty conference room with us. He had once told me—over a homemade lunch of rice, mung dal, and naan, which he ate with his bare hands—that he grew up in a village in southern India that lacked any kind of refrigeration. Sometime in the mid-1980s, someone managed to get their hands on a freezer. He recalled how he and the other kids came from miles around to see this marvel of modern technology. They experimented by putting all sorts of liquids in the freezer to see what would freeze and what wouldn’t. Water? Yes. Milk? Yes, but badly. Gasoline? No.

Pradeep and I, other than the fact that we worked together, had very little in common. He emigrated from his village a little over ten years ago. Eating with his bare hands was more than just a lingering cultural difference; he once told me he felt as if he couldn’t taste the food properly if he used utensils to eat it.

With my last question still lingering in the air, I decided to try a different, more direct approach.

“I’ve done nothing but great work for you guys, Pradeep. You know that. I’ve personally made millions upon millions of dollars for this company through search optimizations. It’s obvious you’re not canning me because of my performance. So this is about the crazy charges and the media circus, isn’t it?”

“You know I can’t say anything about that.”

“Fair enough. But you know they’re complete bullshit, right?”

Of course I know that! In India, there would just be another dead guy in the street. No one would even blink an eye.”

“But here, it’s like the whole goddamn world is revolving around it! The press is having a field day with it. And the DA is playing along! Now you guys, too?”

Pradeep threw his hands up in the air and shook his head. Then, he pushed his chair back and stood up.

“I don’t know what to say, Chris. This is America.”


>> Continue to PART V: The Light


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


Also published on Medium.