By Patrick Brady
Published: Oct. 28, 2009
Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson took the stand in his defense on Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles in his trial on assaulting cyclists in 2008.
Thompson answered preliminary questions from his defense attorney, Peter Swarth; Thompson is expected to resume testimony Wednesday, when he is likely to be asked about two or three incidents involving cyclists on his home street, Los Angeles County’s Mandeville Canyon Road.
Thompson is charged with assault with a deadly weapon and other charges stemming from an incident on the Fourth of July, 2008, when he is alleged to have braked in front of two cyclists descending the road. Other charges stem from a similar earlier incident in 2008 involving two other cyclists.
Tuesday’s testimony began with Los Angeles police officer Dave Martin, one of two officers who responded to a call from cyclist Patrick Watson in March, 2008. Watson testified earlier in the trial that Thompson had braked in front of him but he was able to avoid a collision by bunnyhopping over a curb and off the road.
Swarth asked Officer Martin if he had suggested that Watson could file a charge of hit and run against Thompson.
“No,” said Martin.
Also testifying was Roman Beck, an accident reconstruction specialist who analyzed the braking distance of a Specialized Tarmac bicycle similar to the one Ron Peterson rode on July 4. Beck also had inspected Peterson’s actual bicycle.
Beck said Federal requirements demand that any bicycle be able to generate braking force equal to one-half gravity (.5G). In nine tests of varying brake force with the same components, tires and brake shoes, Peterson’s bike achieved a maximum stopping power of .66G. Beck said Peterson’s bike would require two seconds to stop from a speed of 30 mph, which is roughly the speed Peterson was traveling before the incident, according to testimony and GPS data.
Beck said Peterson had equipment sufficient to allow him to either avoid Thompson’s car and brake sufficiently to avoid hitting it.
Under cross examination Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone asked Beck, “If (Thompson) had simply kept going there would have been no accident, correct?”
Beck said, “Yes.”
Jurors also saw two brief videos giving a view of Mandeville Canyon Road from a car’s point of view of the empty road and with Patrick Watson leading the way by bike.
The majority of the day was taken up with testimony from Dr. Mitchell Eisen, a forensic psychologist with UCLA. Swarth asked him about the reliability of the memory of cyclist Patrick Early, who testified earlier in the trial. Early had told jurors about an incident in the winter of 2008 when he was passed by a driver resembling Thompson, in a car similar to Thompson’s. Early said the car passed him quickly and closely and that the driver yelled at him.
Eise told the court, “Our memory is not so perfect as a camera. When we recall information, we have gaps. We use inference to fill in the gaps. Sometimes we don’t do it correctly; sometimes it results in including a mistake.”
Eisen’s testimony was lengthy and several jurors seemed to tune out; one appeared to fall asleep.
Thompson takes the stand
Thompson’s testimony lasted less than a half hour. Swarth asked him questions about where he grew up and where he was educated. Thompson told about his undergraduate and medical education at the University of Oklahoma and joining the emergency room staff at Beverly Hospital in Los Angeles in 1984.
Testimony resumes at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Thompson’s testimony is expected to occupy the entire day.