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Physician accused of deliberately injuring two bicyclists is con

The Los Angeles Times: Physician accused of deliberately injuring two bicyclists is convicted

Christopher Thompson, 60, is convicted of mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon and other charges in the crash that injured cyclists Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr on Mandeville Canyon Road in 2008.

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By Jack Leonard
November 3, 2009

A physician accused of deliberately injuring two cyclists by slamming on his car’s brakes on a narrow Brentwood road was convicted Monday of mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon and other serious criminal charges.

Dr. Christopher Thompson, 60, slumped forward and held his face in his hands after the verdicts were announced in a courtroom packed mostly with supporters and cyclists.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Mary Stone, who prosecuted the case, asked for Thompson to be jailed immediately, calling him a flight risk and a safety threat to cyclists.

"There’s not a cyclist in Los Angeles who would feel comfortable with this defendant out on the road after this verdict," Stone told the court.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott T. Millington ordered that Thompson be taken into custody. Thompson, wearing a dark blue suit, grimaced and shook his head as a bailiff cuffed his hands behind his back.

The veteran emergency room doctor, who spent more than two decades working at Beverly Hospital in Montebello, was also convicted of battery with serious injury and reckless driving causing injury. He faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 3.

The three-week trial in the Superior Court’s airport branch was watched closely by bicycle riders around the country, many of whom viewed the case as a test of the justice system’s commitment to protecting cyclists. The July 4, 2008, crash also highlighted simmering tensions between cyclists and motorists on Mandeville Canyon Road, the winding five-mile residential street where the crash took place.

Prosecutors alleged that Thompson stopped his car after passing the two cyclists and shouting at them to ride single file. The cyclists testified that they began maneuvering to ride one after the other when they noticed Thompson’s car approaching fast behind them but that the driver passed dangerously close before abruptly stopping.

Ron Peterson, a coach for USC’s and UCLA’s cycling team, was flung face-first into the rear windshield of the doctor’s red Infiniti, breaking his front teeth and nose and lacerating his face. Christian Stoehr, the other cyclist, hurtled to the sidewalk and suffered a separated shoulder.

A police officer testified that Thompson told him soon after the accident that the cyclists had cursed at him and flipped him off, so he slammed on his brakes "to teach them a lesson."

Thompson testified that he never meant to hurt the riders. He said he and other residents were upset at unsafe cycling along the road, which has become an increasingly popular route for bicycle riders in recent years. But they had struggled to identify problem cyclists.

Thompson told jurors that the riders cursed at him and flipped him off when he yelled at them to ride single file. He stopped his car so that he could take a photo of the cyclists and believed he had left enough room for them.

But prosecutors alleged Thompson had a history of run-ins with bike riders, including a similar episode four months before the 2008 incident, when two cyclists told police that the doctor tried to run them off the road and braked hard in front of them. Neither of the riders was injured.

Outside court, the cyclists in the case said they were relieved at the outcome.

"Our hope is that this brings to light how vulnerable cyclists are out there," Peterson, 41, told reporters. His face was permanently scarred from the crash and he underwent reconstructive surgery on his nose, which he said remains numb.

Stoehr, 30, said the crash left him unable to work for months and that he rarely rides his bike anymore. Nevertheless, Stoehr said he felt some sympathy for Thompson as he watched the physician being led away in handcuffs.

"It’s sad for both sides," Stoehr said. "I lost a lot of my time and my life, and he’s losing a lot of his."