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 VI: The Waiting
12 November 2012—228 days since the accident
It had been more than seven months since the accident at Market and Castro streets—seven months of public ridicule, prosecution, persecution, fear, shame, financial strain, rejection, and loss. Though I knew, somewhere in the city, the Hui family was in mourning, I couldn’t think about that. It took all my energy and focus to keep on top of my own legal struggles, and not to get dragged down by fear and despair.
The prior week’s hearing had resulted in another thirty-day continuation, meaning that our “date to set” hearing wouldn’t happen until early December, meaning that the preliminary examination had a zero percent chance of happening until the next year. Without a resolution, my family’s life hung in the balance.
Thus far—other than surviving the accident itself—nothing had really gone my way. My biggest and most lucrative client had sent me packing. The DA and his unnamed sources could say whatever they wanted and it would be assumed true. And I couldn’t say a word to defend myself without being dumped by the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area.
Because of all the media attention, I was finding it nearly impossible to find a company thick-skinned enough to risk hiring me, despite my credentials and track record of writing and delivering software professionally for fifteen years. With no resolution in sight, people were afraid to enter into any commitments with me—and with my family—because they feared the worst.
Then, my wife received a note telling her we were no longer being considered for a rental property we had applied for. Carroll had been completely upfront with the landlord: When you Google our last name, you’re going to be very surprised about what you see. The landlord seemed fine with it—until she actually did Google our last name, then she sang a different tune.
We also had amassed a pile of debt. I had been looking for consulting work to help offset the legal fees, the bail bond, a security and surveillance system, and hotels to keep us hidden from the TV news. Then I received the following email from a client I had hoped to work for.
Chris, sorry to hear about the situation. I feel very badly for you—not only the injustice of your being charged, but also the delays which prolong the process. I really think that those responsible for the delays are incredibly insensitive to the suffering the delays cause. I hope that you can resolve the issue satisfactorily in the not too distant future.
That said, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to get you involved at this point, with the uncertainty of the situation. From a business standpoint, I will be making an investment in getting you up to speed (both the time it takes to get you fully integrated into the team so you can be a full contributor, and the loss of productivity on the part of the programmers who will be training you). As your situation is unstable at this point, neither of us is clear what your longer term availability will be. So, please stay in touch. When the uncertainty has cleared, we should re-explore a long term relationship.
It felt like everything was either in perpetual limbo, or crashing down around me.
3 December 2012—249 days since the accident
I was in the kitchen, tending to egg sandwiches on the griddle for Ashley and me, when the name “Ted Cassman” lit up on my mobile phone. Hearing from Ted usually meant bad news.
“Hi, Ted, how’s it going?”
“CHRIS. Bad news.”
“Give it to me straight,” I said, wondering what new anvil was about to be dropped on me and my family.
“The DA won’t be offering anything less than a felony.”
“Well, that’s new information. What happened to the misdemeanor-with-jail-time deal you said he promised?”
“Omid didn’t promise that; he said he would run it up the flagpole,” Ted reminded me.
“Omid Talai has two bosses,” Ted continued, “Sharon Woo and George Gascón. Omid wants to offer you a misdemeanor. Even Sharon wants to offer you a misdemeanor! Lori Cadigan told me she wanted you to get a misdemeanor—”
“Hold on!” This time my memory trumped Cassman’s.
“Inspector Cadigan wanted me not to get charged—remember? Same with her partner Inspector Cook and her boss Dean Taylor. Lori said this was no big deal. Dean said that the DA’s office stole evidence from his locked file cabinet. And that they were bungling the whole case!”
“She changed her mind after she talked to one witness after another who all said you ran the red light and that you were speeding,” Ted said. This was new information to me.
“But I didn’t run the red light and the video proves it.”
“I know. But you were probably speeding.”
“According to whom?” I asked, not waiting for an answer. “I went through a yellow light going over 20 mph, maybe even over 25 mph. But I wasn’t doing anything any driver of a car wouldn’t do in a heartbeat. You know what? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what anyone says. There are only three pieces of evidence that reflect what actually happened: the video, my first and only statement to the police, and my leaked email, both of which match the video. Not one other witness can claim that their version of the events matches the video.”
“Look Chris, you already know that I know you’re right. We’re on the same team here.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry, I know I don’t need to sell you on this. The question I’m really asking is: How are you going to convince Gascón to look at the video and back the fuck down?”
“He’s never going to look at the video. The guy’s an ex-cop, way out of his league. In fact, he’s probably never even seen the inside of a courtroom. Look Chris, the facts are on our side. We’re just gonna keep hammering the ADAs with data until they see the light.”
“The traffic light?” I asked, partly in jest, but I got an unexpected, serious answer.
“The time hasn’t yet come to show them the traffic light. But it will,” Ted said with some playful intrigue.
22 December 2012—268 days since the accident
Out of the blue, my IFTTT bots picked up a nice little rant from San Francisco’s former mayor Willie Brown, who pens a column in the San Francisco Chronicle called “Willie’s World.”
“What do I want for Christmas? How about pedestrians assuming a bit more of the responsibility for themselves?” Willie wrote, as he introduced his column with the usual healthy dose of indignation. He went on to write:
Mayor Ed Lee held another news conference to pitch pedestrian safety the other day. I didn’t hear him or anyone else say one thing about pedestrian responsibility, which is too bad. I bet more than half the accidents involving pedestrians are caused by the walkers who can’t be bothered with crossing with the light, or even looking where they are going.
Spend a little time at a busy intersection like Powell and Geary and see how many people stop when the electric hand goes up. Zero. Grant and Post, same thing. As a city, we need to be respectful of pedestrians, but pedestrians also need to be respectful of cars that can take them out.
In my mind, Brown made only one oversight: He forgot to add “and bikes.”
1 January 2013—278 days since the accident
After eight months of delays, mostly caused by discovery issues and foot-dragging by the courts and the prosecutors, I figured that this year would probably bring some resolution to my case. But first, the media had to rehash all that was right and wrong in 2012. What better way to kick off the New Year than to slather readers with superlatives.
I’m no stranger to superlatives. Classmates voted me Most Likely to Succeed on several occasions, a moniker recently turned ironic in light of the felony charges filed against me. But Streetsblog SF editor Aaron Bialick had something else in mind. He reopened an old wound by dragging my name into a year-in-review superlative that was completely new to me: Most Blatant Double Standard.
Last year, 19 pedestrians were killed on San Francisco streets, but the big media fracas centered around the one caused by Chris Bucchere—a bicyclist. The death of 71-year-old Sutchi Hui was tragic and avoidable, but it was impossible to take all the coverage of this exceedingly rare case seriously as public-interest journalism, because the same reporters showed so little interest in covering the violent deaths caused by motor vehicle operators. Before Hui died, CBS 5 sent two reporters to the scene of the crash at Market and Castro Streets, but provided no coverage of the car crash that hospitalized a pedestrian at the same intersection a week before. Law enforcement officials applied their own double standards. Within a few weeks of Hui’s death, DA Gascón told reporters that he’d file charges against Bucchere. Meanwhile, few drivers who weren’t drunk or fleeing the scene faced criminal repercussions. Every San Franciscan would be safer on the streets if the 18 other pedestrians killed and hundreds of others injured by drivers got justice too.
6 January 2013—283 days since the accident
The first Sunday of the year turned out to be far colder than the average San Francisco winter day. The air had a high-altitude crispness you might expect from the mountains, mixed with the sea-saturated mist that wrapped around us, as Carroll, Ashley, and I bundled up and drove to Fort Mason Center for a birthday party for one of Ashley’s classmates. Carroll and I were just shuttling our girl into the warmth of the Fort Mason art studio when I saw Ted Cassman’s name buzzing away on my phone.
I hadn’t spoken with Ted since before the holidays, so we exchanged our holiday well-wishes and got caught up. As we talked I felt anxious, like someone half-listening to a doctor’s words and really just waiting for the diagnosis.
“Andy Ross left me five voicemails, one for each day of the week, Ted told me. “The first four said, ‘Call me back.’ The fifth was a lot longer. He said he knows that we asked for a misdemeanor with no jail time and that Gascón dug his heels in and pushed for a felony. He knows both sides ended the plea bargaining. He said he knows we believe the light was yellow, but the DA thinks that the light was red and that your speed was 25–30 mph.”
“Wow. I wasn’t expecting more media,” I said, as I let it all sink in. The media had chased other, fresher prey for the past six months or so, but when we were least expecting it, they moved back in for the kill.
But this time, something didn’t fit. Only the DA’s office, Ted, and I knew the details of the failed plea bargain negotiations. Ted never speaks to reporters, least of all about my case. And I hadn’t told anyone, outside of a very tight circle, anything as specific as what I was hearing in Ted’s recounting of Ross’s voicemail.
If a “source close to the case” really did exist, it had to be someone in the DA’s office. If not Gascón himself, then someone else in his office leaked privileged information directly to Matier & Ross. Again. Just like they had over and over from April to June of last year. And the gossip hounds pounced on it.
This time, I vowed, I’m not going to let it get to me. The media had told the public how guilty I was from the moment Ellen Huet accused me of running the red light. I had already been sentenced to so many different corporal punishments that I had long since stopped taking it personally. It wasn’t in the least fair, but it also didn’t seem avoidable. There are papers and ads that need to be sold; I was just grist for the mill.
What bothered me was not the media doing what the media does, but the leak. It was predictable. To borrow from Gascón’s book, it was avoidable. And unbelievably unethical—as in someone-should-be-disbarred unethical. Whenever Matier & Ross said “source close to the case,” they meant “our mole in the DA’s office.” Maybe they even mean the DA himself?
On at least half a dozen occasions, Ted, my family, and I had been blindsided by leaks from the DA’s office that precipitated a media swarm around me and my case. Just as Inspector Dean Taylor had told me on the day of my booking: San Francisco has a leaky DA’s office. He blamed every one of the early leaks on them. Then the DA turned right around and blamed the leaks on the SFPD. By now, however, the SFPD’s role in this investigation had long since ended, so there was no denying where the information came from.
My only hope was that with every leak—whether the information leaked was true, false, alleged, or otherwise—the DA created a more and more toxic environment in San Francisco, an environment in which I would be unable to have a fair trial, if we even got that far. That meant our first move would probably involve requesting a change of venue.
Unless it was Gascón’s plan just to try the case in the court of public opinion. If so, he was already well on his way to victory.
6 January 2013—283 days since the accident
By the time we got home from the birthday party, my internet search bots had turned up exactly what I’d expected based the voicemails Andy Ross left for Ted.
After nine months, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón shows little sign of backing down on his pursuit of a felony conviction against Chris Bucchere, the bicyclist charged with fatally striking a 71-year-old pedestrian in a Castro neighborhood crosswalk.
Sources familiar with the case tell us Bucchere and his lawyer have rejected talk of pleading guilty to anything more serious than a misdemeanor. Bucchere’s attorney, Ted Cassman, did not return calls seeking comment.
Bucchere has said the light was still yellow when he entered the intersection. But prosecutors reconstructing the March 29 accident concluded even if that were the case, he still had three and a half seconds after the light turned red to safely clear the intersection before the lights going the other direction turned green and Hui stepped off the sidewalk.
All of the above was factual but for one detail—the one that conveniently changed who had been at fault in the accident. Matier & Ross were right about the light timings, again strongly suggesting that they did speak with a legitimate source in the DA’s office. That mole correctly identified the three-and-a-half-second “all red” phase between when my light had turned red and the pedestrians’ light changed to green (or more accurately, to WALK). However, they assumed that the Huis (and perhaps the other pedestrians) had waited for the WALK symbol when they clearly hadn’t, as proven without any doubt by the very video the prosecution was trying to use against me.
It was hard for me to know for sure what to make of these latest leaks, but I had a sneaky suspicion that we might have caught another break. I called Ted’s cellphone.
“Did you see the Matier & Ross piece?” I asked.
“Yes. The DA leaked privileged information again. Every time we do this, I call Omid and Sharon and tell them they should be ashamed of themselves. They usually deny that it’s happening, but this time—”
“Listen, Ted. I’m sorry to cut you off, and I know the leaks in the past haven’t helped us any. I get it, they’re shameful. They’ve destroyed any chance I may have had at a fair trial. But something really interesting is happening with this one.”
“I’m listening. Go on.”
“They got nearly everything right, which all but proves that they have an actual mole in the DA’s office.”
“We already knew that.”
“Yes, we do, but the mole got one critical fact wrong: He said Mr. Hui crossed when the light turned green.”
“We know he didn’t.”
“Yeah, but that’s not the point. The point is that unless the information about Hui’s crossing time was lost in translation between Matier & Ross and their mole, the ADA might actually believe in a timeline that’s three and a half seconds off from the timing in the video, three and a half seconds off from reality.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Look, every fact Matier & Ross dredged up was spot-on. If you assume the mole was correct and not trying to misrepresent anything, then he or she just told the world that the prosecutors have no earthly idea what they’re talking about.”
“Ah, I see. You think they’ve botched the timing of the accident?”
“Yes, they’ve totally botched it—by three and a half seconds. If I entered on yellow and the pedestrians waited for the WALK, there wouldn’t have been an accident. So either I ran the red light egregiously and pedestrians waited for the WALK indicator, or I went through a yellow light and pedestrians crossed egregiously against the DON’T WALK indicator. I’ve been saying this from the very beginning, way before we ever looked at the video. You can’t have it both ways.”
“You might be onto something, but the entire video goes by in less than three seconds, from start to finish. Being off by three and a half seconds? That’s a lot.”
“I know! If I’m right about this, it could be another major break for us. I have a feeling they’re basing their flawed analysis of the video on the accident reconstruction expert’s model. We gotta get our hands on the expert witness’s report.”
“We’re working on that.”
“In the meantime, we gotta make sure there’s no way these leaks are coming from anyone but the DA.”
“I’ll send a note to you and Fred about that.” Fred Levine was my civil defense attorney.
“You know what? If the DAs really blew their whole understanding of the accident by three and a half seconds, we’re going to take that traffic light, and we’re going to bury them with it.”
“Let’s hope you’re right.”
19 February 2013—327 days since the accident
The name Ted Cassman popped up on my phone early afternoon. Hoping for the best—and preparing for the worst—I picked up.
“I have good news! You’ve got to come in right now and look at the report from their expert.” Under normal circumstances, Ted was usually pretty high-strung, but the pitch of his voice indicated a whole different tuning. We’re talking octaves. He sounded like a twelve-year-old boy on Christmas morning.
“Why?” I asked, not really expecting an answer.
“I can’t talk about it. Just come in.”
Having finally convinced someone to hire me, a felon-in-the-making, I was at work when the call came in. I had a full afternoon of code to write ahead of me, but after a few words with my boss, I managed to wiggle out of it with the promise that I would wrap it up that evening. I caught the next BART train from downtown San Francisco to North Berkeley.
I arrived at the ACH offices about an hour later. Ted usually kept me waiting five to ten minutes before inviting me upstairs to his office, but not this time. He came bounding down the stairs holding a stack of documents in one hand and fist-pumping the other hand high over his head like he had just nailed a three-pointer.
“Chris, we’ve been given a gift.”
“What is it?”
“This!” He handed me six pages of numbers and diagrams. I felt like I had just pulled the Get Out of Jail Free card from the Community Chest. Instead, when I looked down, I found I was holding the report from the prosecutor’s expert witness and certified accident reconstruction expert, Michael Joseph Mahoney.
Ted and I walked upstairs. He put his arm on my shoulder and spoke in short bursts.
“We can use this report to prove that the light turned red when you were already well into the intersection.”
“Wait, isn’t this their expert witness? How the fuck are you—”
Ted cut me off. “Read it for yourself.”
So I did. In fact, I read it twice. And I was about to read it a third time but Ted was already peppering me with questions.
“What did you think?” he asked, the corners of his lips curling up to form an eager grin.
“Well, Ted, it appears as though the only thing Mahoney did correctly in this report was convert feet per second to miles per hour—something taught in high school physics. The rest of his report is complete bullshit. But I don’t see how this helps us.”
“You’re not seeing the forest for the trees. Let me walk you through it.”
Ted and I sat down with the report spread between us on a conference table. I rattled off a list of problems I saw, still not quite understanding how this report would help us.
“First of all, Mahoney never looked at the top of the video, like I said he wouldn’t,” I said, self-righteously.
“You’re right, Chris,” Ted said. “But you’re getting way ahead of yourself. “
He continued, “By far, the most important—and the most egregious—mistake in the report is that Mahoney assumes that all the pedestrians waited for the WALK indicator to start walking. In other words, he used the pedestrians’ behavior to predict the color of the WALK/DON’T WALK signal.”
“And not the other way around, as in how it works in reality!” I said. “Or how it’s supposed to work in reality.”
“Exactly! It’s as ridiculous as Mahoney saying that your light was green because you went through it without stopping.”
“Yes, circular logic. I get it. So okay, he says I ran the light by three and a half seconds, meaning he has me located more than a hundred feet north of Market Street when that light turned red.”
“Yes,” said Ted impatiently. I could tell that he still knew something I didn’t about this report.
“So I guess the real question is: Where does he think I was when the light really does turn red?”
“Now you’re catching on, Chris. You’re a little late to the party, but we’re glad you could make it.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said, wincing.
“Listen to me, Chris. Like you said, this report is complete garbage. Julie and I had to read it five or six times each before we could even figure out what the hell Mahoney was thinking. It makes no sense. Not one bit. His whole timeline is off by at least three and a half or maybe four seconds; his speed calculations are based on Strava—or are they? He put two different derivations of speed in the report, one from eyeballing the Strava speed graph and the other one from eyeballing the distance you traveled from one side of the intersection to the other and then guessing how much actual ground you covered using some measurements he took at the scene. He divided that by the clock time in the video, rounded to the nearest second, divided distance by time, converted to miles per hour, and came up with 32.102 mph. Instead of using the frame counter, he just rounded to the nearest second, which could make it off by 33% in either direction. His methods for determining your speed were even more absurd than his determination of your position when the light turned red, but don’t worry.”
“Why not?” I was already pretty worried. Dumb people can be dangerous. You can’t reason with them—they’re ruled entirely by their affects and emotions. This “expert” would likely stand by his slipshod work, even though its measurements and the conclusions derived from them were factually incorrect, even though he used qualitative, circular logic instead of using the traffic light as a frame of reference.
“Because we’re gonna take his own bullshit, and we’re gonna use it against him.”
Still not entirely understanding the tactics, Ted finally made it plain and simple for me.
“In Mahoney’s report, he stated that at 8:02:14, your bike was in the north crosswalk—in other words, well past the limit line and well into the intersection. He also said the light turned red at 8:02:10. But in the video, you can see that the light changes from yellow to red at 8:02:14.”
“Oh. My. God. I get it! Mahoney’s analysis of the video put me in the intersection when the traffic light in the video turns red. Meaning I must have entered lawfully on a yellow and therefore had the right of way.”
“Exactly! All seven pedestrians who entered that crosswalk against the DON’T WALK indicator were obligated to yield the right of way to you. We can use Mahoney’s bullshit report coupled with the traffic light you found to prove that you entered on yellow and the pedestrians on DON’T WALK.”
“I don’t know how I feel about this, Ted. Mahoney’s report is completely bogus, so I’m not sure we should use it to prove anything; otherwise, it means that we actually take stock in it.”
“Yeah, I thought about that. Down the road, the entire report will eventually get thrown out. They’ll need to get a new expert who actually knows what he’s doing. But at the preliminary hearing, they’ll be so thrown off by the traffic light that they’ll be scrambling to find any part of their case that makes sense.”
“Okay, I buy that. But what about Mr. Several Red Lights and Stop Signs?”
“Nathan Pollak? Wait until you see what I have in store for him!”
“Brace yourself: Nathan Pollak, their star witness. The video proves he wasn’t even there.”
Nathan Pollak. I’ll have to Google him, I thought. I already knew everything he said was fabricated, because I didn’t run any red lights—least of all, three in a row, roaring past an elementary school with children trickling in from all directions. My word versus his wouldn’t amount to much, but now Ted was telling me Pollak wasn’t there?
If felony charges and the ensuing media circus had taught me anything, it was that I needed to learn to expect the unexpected. It turned out this mantra applied to setbacks as well as breakthroughs.
When I blacked out after my head slammed into the pavement, 327 days ago, I didn’t see a tunnel; I didn’t see a white light. Now, today, after navigating through the darkest of darkness, I could begin to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel—or at least I could imagine it. We now had proof that the star witness was lying. We had an “expert” report that was prepared so shoddily that not only did it fail to show any wrongdoing on my part, but it—in combination with the traffic light in the video—actually exonerated me.
We were going to use their evidence to prove my innocence. Finally this case would be put to rest once and for all.
19 February 2013—327 days since the accident
I knew in my heart that I had been riding on the morning of March 29 as I always do—in control of my, ahem, vehicle—and that I didn’t blow any red lights or stop signs or travel at a speed vastly different from any of the other vehicles that traveled through that intersection on that day—or any given day. The police report alleged, however, that I had committed a basic speed violation.
Admittedly, it was easy understand the argument that I was going too fast for the conditions—the “conditions” being that eight pedestrians had entered the roadway suddenly and directly into my path against a DON’T WALK indicator. Along with the speed allegation, Gascón’s charges also included failure to yield and running a red light.
Ever since he had first filed those felony charges nine months prior—despite knowing in my heart that they were filed under false pretenses—I hadn’t felt 100% confident in our ability to show the prosecutors that they were sitting on exculpatory evidence and that, therefore, they should drop the trumped-up charges.
Today, sitting in Ted’s office with the video up on a monitor in front of me and a copy of Mahoney’s report sitting on his desk, I was ready to pick up the phone and call Gascón myself to tell him that this was over.
But Ted—I reckon already feeling like a hero for coming up with the plan to inject the video of the traffic light into Mahoney’s report, thereby using it to “prove” that I was well into the intersection when the light turned red—had yet another ace up his sleeve. He told me he had found hard evidence to prove, once and for all, that Mr. Several Red Lights and Stop Signs—who now had a name, Nathan Pollak—had done what we had known he had done all along: lied through his teeth.
I already knew that Pollak strung together a nonsensical sequence of events that not only didn’t happen—but that definitely couldn’t have happened given the laws of physics that cover the movement of objects through time and space. But that claim wouldn’t provide enough proof that Pollak fabricated his account. Today, however, we discovered there was an even more concrete way to call Pollak out on his lies.
In fact, there were now two ways.
Every utterance of “several red lights and stop signs” online, in newspapers, in magazines, on the radio, and on TV made my blood boil. The untruthfulness of the statements alone—while still ghastly—did not provide sufficient fuel to accomplish this feat. It was the people all over the world who saw it, read it, and believed it, no questions asked. Just because an alleged witness who surfaces ten days after the accident says it, that doesn’t make it true.
When DAs and law enforcement officials issue press-releases—true or false, fact or allegation—the information molds public opinion about the alleged criminals, which in turn can be used to justify unjustified charges, wrongful convictions, and harsh sentences, thereby making an example out of a person the prosecutors told the world was worthy of this treatment in the first place. Caught in the middle of this vicious cycle, I knew I needed to put a stop to it, but I didn’t know how.
The first time I heard about my alleged several-red-lights-and-stop-signs bender was in a Matier & Ross column that ran on April 8, a little over a week after the accident. Much to my dismay, Matier & Ross continued to be the first place where I found out about all aspects of the DA’s understanding of my case. When I first heard this nonsense about “several red lights and stop signs,” I immediately turned to Strava, the website I use to track all my bike rides, looking for some kind of alibi. I found one straight away, giving Ted the first of two data points we were going to use to debunk Pollak’s make-believe statements to the police, which he was bound to repeat—under oath—during the preliminary hearing, now just a few weeks away.
Pollak’s precise claim was that I ran the red lights at the intersections of 14th Street and Castro and 15th Street and Castro, then that I had blown the stop sign at 16th and Castro and the red light at Market and Castro, “whizzing by” his Honda Element as he was stopped lawfully at the limit line on the north side of the intersection. (When this happened, his “jaw dropped,” according to his statement.)
But had I, really?
The Strava application works in tandem with the GPS chip on a user’s smartphone or other device, collecting latitude, longitude, elevation, and the current time every three seconds, saving each record in a format known as a GPX waypoint. When I extracted the raw data out of Strava and plotted the original waypoints that my iPhone had collected in Google Earth, it created a blue trail on a series of satellite images with arrows or squares drawn in with black outlines for each waypoint. The results are shown in the image below.
The first two waypoints from the north (the topmost downward-facing blue arrows, visible in the center of the top third of the image) on the blue GPX trail shows a gap between them of maybe three of four car lengths, let’s say about fifty feet. This means I covered fifty feet in three seconds; hence I was traveling at about seventeen feet per second, or around 12 mph, which sounded reasonable to me.
A similar pattern continues through the intersection, but in between, something changes. Four waypoints (marked by red arrows) stack up nearly on top of one another, showing that I covered perhaps two car lengths in twelve seconds. In other words, I was either stationary or barely moving.
One of the waypoints (the square one) has no heading displayed, meaning that—if GPS were perfect and Google Earth’s smoothing algorithms also worked perfectly—I had stopped cold for at least three seconds. My recollection—helped a bit by the GPS trail from Strava and Google Earth—was that the light at 14th Street glowed red when I approached it with my riding buddy Tobias on that fateful morning. We waited—positioned two or three car lengths north of the crosswalk demarcating the 14th Street intersection—at least twelve seconds for it to turn green, then, once it did, we proceeded south on Castro Street.
Bottom line: Pollak lied about seeing me blow the red light at 14th Street; I did no such thing, and the GPX data—the same data the DA was using to frame me for allegedly racing (“his need for speed”)—proved that I stopped for twelve seconds at the red on 14th. Hardly racing, I know.
At the intersection of 15th Street and Castro, the GPS trail (not shown) clearly indicates that I went through the light at a speed a bit faster than I did for 14th. In my recollection—which I later confirmed by recording all the light timings on a sheet of paper—was that I went through a green light. I observed that the signals at 14th and 15th streets—like the one at Market and Castro—run on a constant timing program. The light at 15th turns green shortly after the light at 14th, which was consistent with the rest of the Strava track that showed me maintaining my speed across 15th.
Further analysis shows that I slowed a bit for the stop sign at 16th and then rolled through, not coming to a complete stop, probably doing so in tandem with another car, as I remember there being light traffic on Castro that day. So with that, I felt pretty confident that we had finally debunked the Mr. Several Red Lights and Stop Signs myth.
What Pollak should have said, had he really been able to see all that he said he did, was that he saw me:
- Stopping lawfully two car-lengths behind the 14th Street limit line,
- Proceeding lawfully through a green light at 15th,
- Safely rolling the stop sign at 16th in tandem with another car, and
- Proceeding lawfully through a yellow light at Market Street.
Despite this Strava evidence that strongly suggests that Pollak had fabricated his entire story, Ted still wasn’t satisfied. After I outlined this plan to him, he came at me with guns ablaze.
“I don’t care how convincing you think all that is, but there’s no way we can use GPS alone to prove that Pollak lied,” Ted said to me.
“Well, their ‘expert’ tried to use Strava and GPS to determine your speed; therefore, we need to debunk its accuracy. We can’t call Strava inaccurate in one breath and then use it to prove our point in the next.”
“But that’s apples and oranges, Ted. Everyone knows that GPS can’t accurately measure speed, but it can get a pretty good lock on position, albeit with some rate of error, but still close enough for government work. That’s what it’s for, for goodness’ sake. The P in GPS stands for Positioning. And the S doesn’t stand for Speed.”
“Not everyone knows that. You know that. You’re a software developer. You live and breathe this stuff.”
“Fine, but it’s not like this is rocket science or brain surgery. Speedometers measure speed by counting wheel revolutions, multiplying by the wheel diameter and pi and dividing by time. That’s how you measure speed reliably. GPS units don’t work that way at all. They collect data points from seven or more satellites and triangulate—”
“Look, Chris,” Ted cut me off. “I know you know how GPS works, and you know I know how it works. So there’s no need to talk about it. It’s just way too subtle for people—especially the people we’re dealing with—to make the distinction between using GPS to interpolate velocity versus simply using it to measure position. Either GPS and Strava are accurate or they’re not. Black or white, no gray area.”
“Okay, fine; we can’t use Strava. Now what do we do?”
Ted went on to explain that he and Julie had found the fatal flaw in Pollak’s fabricated narrative. Pollak made a very big deal about being stopped at the limit line on the northern end of the Market and Castro intersection when I “whizzed by” him and his “jaw dropped.” For that to have happened, we must assume that Pollak was in fact stopped at the limit line where he said he was. Ted found Pollak’s Honda Element in the video in the aftermath of the crash, then backed up the video to the exact frame when the Element arrives at the limit line. The frame number, shown below, is #4629.
The ultimate incongruity between Pollak’s false statements and the irrefutable videographic evidence was that the video showed Pollak’s car arriving at the limit line almost thirty seconds after the accident. At the time of the accident, frame #4452, shown below, Pollak’s car is not visible, of course, because he was driving his car toward the intersection, but he was still almost thirty seconds away.
Assuming he was traveling at 25 mph and maintaining his speed, at the time of the accident, he would have been about a fifth of a mile up the hill, probably close to the stop sign he said I blew at 16th. This location might have given Pollak a bird’s-eye view of the accident, but it most definitely did not match his version of the events, where we leap-frogged one another down Castro and then he stopped at the limit line while I went “whizzing by,” at which point his “jaw dropped.”
Once again, Ted was undeniably correct. The video evidence told a more compelling story than Strava. It was literally impossible, at least as far as we could tell, to argue against a video record showing that Pollak simply wasn’t there.
At this point, Ted, Julie, and I felt ready to tackle the preliminary hearing. Ted had printed every relevant frame in the video, in color, lugging around a giant accordion file holding a stack of still images two inches high, hundreds of pages of notes on how to cross-examine each witness, and a variety of other documentation, along with a laptop and a projector so we could play the video to the witnesses and the judge.
We had done our homework and we were ready to fight.
5 March 2013—341 days since the accident
Through careful planning, I had arranged for some modest protective measures—should things get out of hand. It had been almost a year since I had been forced to annihilate my online identity. Everything I put on the internet had become fuel for the press and bloggers hoping to burn me at the stake, so I took it all down. But my address was also online. Despite my best efforts, I could not divorce the Buccheres from Cumberland Street.
We had to accept that the address was a lost cause. I opened a P.O. Box, forwarded our Cumberland mail to it, and moved out of San Francisco. For all intents and purposes, we had disappeared. More accurately: We disappeared ourselves. If the media came looking, they would not be able to find us.
Living in this strange world in which the DA and the media had me in their crosshairs left little time for anything but compulsively preparing for everything—even the previously inconceivable. If I stopped to think about it, the very-much-justified paranoia would kick in, paralyzing me with fear and self-doubt. I needed to stay in motion, to try to stay one step ahead of what felt like insanity; I needed to make sure it didn’t catch me unaware.
My father-in-law, Edward, and his partner, Rhonda, flew in from the East Coast a few days before the trial started and stayed ten minutes away from our new home. They had rented a car, as well, so, if need be, Carroll and Ashley could escape the media and stay with them. TV crews from several news establishments had already been to Cumberland Street. They filmed themselves knocking on our door, but they couldn’t find me except in and around the courthouse. They certainly wouldn’t find us now in our new hideout. And if they did, we had another hiding place with Edward and Rhonda. And another one, just in case.
In light of all this, my family, my attorneys, and I felt ready—at least we thought we were ready.
But any comfort I felt was outstripped by a sinking feeling that the DA and the ADAs had already envisioned an outcome for me, regardless of the exonerating evidence that would now get to see the light of day. After months of leaks and media manipulation, I feared what they might do next to ensure the inevitability of their expectations: the first-ever felony conviction for a cyclist, with two to six years of jail time.
Clearly, they wanted to send a message to the cycling community that lawless, reckless riding would not be tolerated.
In me, they seemed to have found the perfect delivery mechanism.
>> Continue to PART VII (a): Kangaroo Court
For a closer look at the research behind Bikelash, visit the companion GitHub project.