LAPD investigator tells jury in road rage trial he was shocked at a driver’s comments.
By Patrick Brady
Published: Oct. 22, 2009
A traffic investigator told jurors in the Los Angeles road rage trial this week that a driver’s comment at the scene of the incident “was so shocking his words burned into my brain.”
Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson is on trial in Los Angeles Superior Court for assault and other charges related to an incident on a narrow canyon road involving two cyclists on the Fourth of July, 2008. Thompson also faces charges related to a similar, earlier, incident on the same road, involving a different cyclist. If convicted of all charges, Thompson could spend up to five years in prison.
Prosecutors say that after a brief exchange of words on the Fourth, Thompson passed the two cyclists then slammed on his brakes, causing the riders to crash into the rear his car.
On Tuesday, the jury heard testimony from a Los Angeles police traffic investigator, a doctor who treated the cyclists at the scene and a plastic surgeon who operated on one of the cyclists’ broken nose. The testimony was graphic enough that one juror had to leave the court room for a few minutes after feeling faint. Jurors also heard from the cyclist who says he had the earlier encounter with Thompson.
After a break Wednesday, testimony resumes Thursday.
’Burned into my brain’
LAPD traffic investigator Robert Rodriguez said he arrived at the scene on Mandeville Canyon Road with the fire department and asked Thompson what happened.
According to Rodriguez, Thompson said, “I just live up the road. I was driving to go to work. The bikers were in front of me, three across. I honked my horn and yelled ‘ride single file.’ The bicyclists flipped me off and yelled back. I passed them up and stopped in front to teach them a lesson. I’m tired of them. I’ve lived here for years and they always ride like this.”
Thompson’s attorney, Peter Swarth, questioned Rodriguez extensively about how he could recall the exact words, since Rodriguez did not write them down for more than 90 minutes.
Later, Deputy District Attorney Mary Stone asked Rodriguez in re-direct examination how he was able to remember.
Rodriguez replied, “That statement was so shocking his words burned into my brain.”
Stone asked, “Have you ever been to a collision where someone said they wanted to teach that person a lesson?”
“Never,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said that after Thompson’s comments, he decided the incident was assault with a deadly weapon and called the department’s patrol division to take over the investigation.
Physician Bruce Rogen later testified that he came upon the scene while driving up the canyon to his home that morning.
Rogen said he approached Peterson, who was “sitting cross-legged leaning forward dripping blood. The piece of cloth to his face was sodden with blood. There was a fair amount of trauma. I identified myself as a doctor and asked a few questions. I was concerned there could be more damage.”
Rogen checked Peterson for a head injury. He checked the injury to Peterson’s nose and removed his own shirt and used it to apply pressure to the wound.
In listening to the description of Peterson’s blood loss, one juror began feeling faint and court was recessed for five minutes.
On cross-examination, Swarth asked Rogen about any exchange he had with Thompson and with the cyclists regarding Thompson — a former emergency room physician.
“(The cyclists) didn’t want him to treat them,” he said. “They didn’t want him nearby.” Asked to describe Thompson, he said, “He seemed agitated, anxious.”
Geoffrey Keyes is the plastic surgeon who operated on Peterson. In his testimony he said Peterson’s injuries included a broken nose and broken internal structures as well as scars on his lip, chin and nose. He needed nasal septul reconstruction.
The surgery was performed under general anesthesia, required re-breaking the nose and using chisels to shape the bone and took an hour and half to complete. Displays included photographs taken before and after the surgery.
Final testimony on the day came from Patrick Watson, a former professional adventure racer who filed charges against Thompson for an alleged incident that occurred in March, 2008.
Watson said he and training partner Josh Crosby were descending at roughly 30 mph —the speed limit for the road — when Thompson approached from behind. Crosby and Watson moved to ride single file, he said.
Watson said, “The car came so fast and so close I had to jump off the road. I did a bunny hop up the curb into the grass. When I jumped back on the road Thompson slammed on his brakes.”
Watson said he bunny hopped back onto the curb and stopped. He got off his bike and leaned it against a fence.
“(Thompson) drove straight at me and then he drove off,” he said.
Watson contacted the police and attempted to press charges, but ultimately, no charges were filed.
Asked by Stone why he contacted the district attorney, Watson said, “I wanted to make sure they did something this time.”