Defendant says he was trying to photograph people who were riding dangerously on narrow Mandeville Canyon Road.
By Jack Leonard
October 28, 2009 | 7:24 p.m.
A doctor charged with assault for allegedly slamming on his car brakes in front of two cyclists in Brentwood testified Wednesday that he never intended to hurt anyone but stopped his vehicle to photograph riders who were cycling dangerously.
Christopher Thompson, a veteran emergency room physician, said a group of cyclists flipped him off and yelled profanities when he overtook them last year as they rode three abreast down Mandeville Canyon Road, a narrow residential street that is popular with bike riders.
Thompson, 60, said he objected to cyclists blocking traffic by riding in tandem or running stop signs along Mandeville, where he has lived for more than two decades. He said many neighbors were concerned about the problems but had struggled to identify the scofflaws.
His voice shaking at one point, Thompson said he had never forgotten learning when he was 14 that a close friend had been run over and killed while riding a bicycle. He testified that he felt uncomfortable driving behind cyclists and would never try to injure one.
“I wake up every night . . . with this accident in my head,” he told jurors, near tears. “I lived my life trying to help people and I injured people. And I’ll never get over that.”
Thompson’s testimony marked the first time he has spoken publicly about his actions in the moments before the July 4, 2008, crash. The incident outraged cyclists and highlighted tensions between bike riders and residents along the road.
One of the cyclists was propelled through the rear windshield of the doctor’s luxury car, breaking his front teeth and nose and leaving his face scarred. The second cyclist was thrown to the ground and suffered a separated shoulder.
Thompson is charged with mayhem, reckless driving, assault with a deadly weapon — his car — and other charges that together carry a possible prison sentence.
Prosecutors allege that the emergency room doctor acted deliberately and has a history of dangerous run-ins with cyclists on the same road.
Thompson denied threatening cyclists and said he never slammed on his brakes during the July 2008 incident.
He said he stopped to take a photograph for members of his homeowners association in the hopes they could contact cyclist groups to warn about riding dangerously.
“We’ve been dealing with this ongoing problem for years and it’s impossible to do anything without being able to identify anyone,” he told the court.
Immediately after the crash, Thompson said, one of the cyclists rejected his help but he nevertheless watched to assess the condition of the injured riders.
But Deputy Dist. Atty. Mary Stone questioned Thompson’s account, noting that a police officer testified that the doctor said soon after the crash that he had slammed on his brakes in front of the cyclists “to teach them a lesson.” Thompson denied making the remark.
Stone played a 911 call in which Thompson told an operator that the cyclists had yelled a profanity at him. “I slammed on my brakes,” he told the operator. “They went into me. There are two injuries.”
Also on the call, Thompson could be heard telling someone, “Get your bike out of the road.”
When the operator asked whether the injuries were serious, Thompson replied: “Not really. But they’ll tell you that.”
Thompson testified that he was not trying to downplay the injuries but was explaining as a doctor that they were not life-threatening.