Apr 11, 2012

The Bucchere Report

I wasn’t planning on writing about this. I didn’t want to because I felt I’m a bit too close to the conflict and I didn’t feel that this would be accepted as a neutral analysis of the events. But as I saw the anger, and the accusations, and the unfounded speculations flying left and right in comments under every article or blog that mentioned these events, I felt I needed to do it. I must say, the level of journalism and reporting with regard to this event has set the bar extremely low for what I consider news reporting, or even news blogging.

I hope to lay out the facts as we know them, and those facts that we can ascertain from the very strong circumstantial evidence, and take an objective, outside view of what transpired that morning, without assumptions, without hate, without anger, and most importantly, without any preconceived notions of what may have happened. 

I’m not sure if any of the below will make even a dimple in the opinions of the lynch mob that has apparently formed over this, but if it causes at least one person to view the situation in a different light, it’s worth it.

Full disclosure: In 2010 and 2011 I was an official member of Mission Cycling. I am not this year due to other commitments and constraints that I have. I have ridden the MC AM Headlands Raid dozens, and dozens, and dozens of times. I have ridden it as part of a group with Chris Bucchere dozens, and dozens of times (edit: I was not on the ride that morning). We became acquainted through our rides together. I’m not claiming to be his close friend or know everything to know about him. I’m not claiming to have some insight into his personality or who he is as a person. All I have is my impression of him based on our interactions on these morning rides, which is that he’s an intelligent guy, who likes to joke and goof around. He’s always been nice in all our interactions and never did he give me cause to think, “man, this guy is an asshole.” And I’m also a lawyer – but not Chris’ lawyer, obviously.

Now that you know where I’m coming from, here’s my take on the situation.

The facts

The morning of March 29, CB was coming back from an MC morning ride. There is no reason to doubt that he was coming down Divisadero toward Market Street. There is also no reason to doubt that he crossed Market Street and as he was crossing Market Street, he collided with a pedestrian who later died in the hospital.

We know that sometime after the accident, CB sent out an email to a list of recipients close to 1000 detailing the events of that morning. Before I get to that email, I must say that the carve job the papers did on it is absolutely amazing. Additionally, we also know that at the time the email was sent, CB had no idea exactly how serious of a condition the pedestrian was in. He had no way of knowing that the pedestrian would die.

What can be inferred from the email and the early accounts, before any speculation began, is that CB hit his head in the collision, was blacked out and also taken to the hospital -- the same hospital as the pedestrian. 

My point here is the guy hit his head earlier in the day before writing the email. So two flags should come up for anyone reading that email: first, clearly not the best judgment was used in sending it out and definitely in drafting some parts of it; second, it is not to be taken as a picture perfect account of events. Eye-witness testimony is perhaps the most inaccurate testimony a court ever hears. Add to that a traumatic event and possible head trauma, and things get fuzzy.

Another thing I’d like to point out, CB actually mentions the victim twice in the email, not once like most outlets report. He first says: “I really hope he ends up OK.” And then two paragraphs later, after listing his own injuries, he writes: “The guy I hit was not as fortunate. I really hope he makes it.”

What color was the light? That’s a fact we don’t know. CB writes that it was yellow as he entered the intersection, but as I mentioned above, those accounts might not necessarily be accurate due to the trauma during the even. It is unlikely that the light was red when he entered the intersection because I ride through that crossing two times a day and he would have been run over by a car at least twice before he reached the other side. Likely, the truth is somewhere in the middle. I’m not going to guess what the color the light was because the only thing guessing has done in this case is flamed more hatred.

The ode to the helmet. The fact is it was written. Not the best judgment was used in writing it, but it was written before the pedestrian died, before CB realized how serious these events were going to be, and at a time where he most likely was not entirely “with it.” Had I just been to a hospital after losing consciousness and seeing how I just hurt another human being, I’m not sure what my psychological reaction would be. I don’t claim to know what CB’s was, but what I am saying is he shouldn’t be vilified for it, not without more. To say he was dumb to write it is fair, to say he’s an evil, callous human being is in my opinion going a step too far. Which brings us to the next segment of this saga.

The spinathon

From the facts above -- the only facts known or those that can be inferred from circumstantial evidence with any degree of certainty -- a whole other pile of information has come forth, literally out of nowhere. Here are some examples:

He was riding a fixed gear bike with no brakes. This originated in a comment on a forum or on a blog and spun completely out of control. I will admit that currently, there are no public facts (word public is key, read between the lines here) stating what kind of bike he was riding, but there is also absolutely NOTHING to suggest he was riding a bike with no brakes. Why make this assumption and sell it as gospel? Moreover, cops have CB's bike, a part of the email conveniently left out by all the papers and blogs.

He was racing another rider that morning. This came by way of a “witness account.” Someone claims they saw CB and another rider blasting through stop signs and red lights. If there were two riders, wouldn’t one of them still be on the scene? There were no reports of a fleeing rider. All information suggests he was traveling alone down Divisadero. The witness account sounds completely made up. If the witness saw CB and another rider running lights and stop signs, the car would have had to follow them and also run red lights. If the car stopped at the red light, the bikes would have been out of the line of sight, or if they were in the line of sight, wouldn’t the driver had also seen the accident that was at the bottom of the hill? And why did this motorist wait a whole week to come forward?

Moreover, anyone who’s a cyclist knows this is BS because all of us had instances where we’ve ridden with someone many times, but when we run into the person on the street in street clothes we don’t recognize him. For some driver in a car at 8 am – when bike traffic is very heavy – to connect the dots between two cyclists traveling together and CB is specious at best. Lastly, this witness report came in about a week after the events, when all tempers were flying high, and it is wholly possible that some “well-intentioned” individual was trying to help the DA make up his mind as to whether charges should be filed.

Strava did it! This is America, and in America no one is responsible for his own actions. The coffee was too hot, the knife was too sharp, the gun was too loaded and the building was too tall – find a scapegoat and sue. That’s the motto! (Feel free to enjoy a bit of irony as this is written by a lawyer)

Yes, we know Chris was on Strava. We know that the segment he was riding used to have a word “bomb” in it. We also know that  “bomb” is part of cycling slang that has at least two meanings. First: I bombed that descent. This means that I went down a hill REALLY fast. Second: That’s a bombing descent. This usually means the descent is steep and has the potential to take you to high speeds. And that’s all we know. Unless someone out there has ESP and can read CB’s mind on March 29, don’t assume he was going down that hill in an attempt to set a new fastest time. And if you are going to assume that, don’t claim that anyone other than he himself made the decision to go down that hill as quickly as he did.

In law, there is a concept called the attractive nuisance doctrine. It applies where a dangerous element is present at a site that would normally attract kids. There is a reason it only applies to minors.

CB is an [insert a demonizing term]. No, he isn’t. If you spend five minutes in conversation with him, you'll know he isn’t. But it’s easy to hate someone based on an image you construe in your head based on inaccurate reports and accounts.

Have we not learned yet? Anyone remember Richard Jewell? He was the man falsely accused and subsequently completely cleared of the 1996 Atlanta bombing. Even now, George Zimmerman has had his life ruined by early accounts of what transpired that night. And now that conflicting accounts of the story have come to light, it might be too late to unring the bell that was rung. In this country, we continuously try people in the press and convict them in the public’s eye. Then we forget about what we have done and move on to other current events, but the scars we leave on a person we condemn without all of the facts before us do not go away. This obviously goes beyond CB and this accident.

The hatred

“Hatred and anger are like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Remember that, you’ll live longer. The level of hatred that I have seen over the last few weeks has been astounding and depressing. It saddens me to know that so many human beings have it within themselves to hate with such strength, or at least that’s what comes through in the comments they post.

On some level, given the information that is funneled to the audience, I can understand a level of disdain for CB. However, I don’t understand why we as cyclists are hated with such ferocity. We don’t all break laws. We aren’t all arrogant assholes who think we’re better than our motorist friends. In fact, most of us cyclists are also drivers and pedestrians, the reverse of which is far from true.

When I ride down the street and someone without signaling cuts me off by turning to the right in front of me, I get mad at the person, but I don’t hold it against any other driver on the road. I cannot understand why this is the complete opposite with cyclists. If one breaks the law, everyone must do it too. If one is reckless, the rest are as well. It’s like we’re all members of the same political party.

I know that as a whole, we as cyclists need to do better with regard to sharing the road, just like motorists need to be better about sharing the road (give me more than 5 inches when you pass me on the road, please). As more and more cyclists flood to the roads, the infrastructure needs to catch up. Lights need to be longer, so that if a cyclist enters on yellow, he has time to cross before the light changes. Or if a cyclists comes to an intersection with a red light that can be only tripped by a heavy metal car, what is he to do but run the red light (assuming no car comes behind to set it off)?

The main point here is that pedestrians, cyclists and motorists need to work together to make our roads safer. This means we have to obey laws, but also put ourselves in the shoes of the other and not lump entire groups of people together as if they are a projection of one person’s actions.

Take an honest look at yourself. If you’re a cyclist who normally rolls through stop signs and disobeys red lights, make an effort to be better. This will keep you safer and will build goodwill for all of us. If you’re a driver who sees a cyclist break a law, don’t extrapolate and don’t vilify. In all likelihood, the drivers in the car behind you and the one in front of you probably exceeded the speed limit, changed lanes or turned without signaling, or ran a sign in the last 20 minutes. Heck, you might be one of those drivers. And if that’s the case, you too try to be better. As pedestrians, understand motorists and cyclists. Give us the right of way if we’re already crossing an intersection. It scares us when you come onto the roadway – we really don’t want to hit you.

All of this seems so common sense that I feel silly writing it out, but as I walk, ride or drive I see these principles violated with extreme regularity by cyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike.

I hope this incident teaches us not only to be safer cyclists and reminds us that our actions can oftentimes have heavy consequences, but that it brings all sides to the table for a calm discussion, resulting in a better environment for everyone. This tragedy already claimed one life, let’s make an effort to stop it there.