After saying cyclist fell, police now considering crime in bike crash
By Melissa Pamer | Thursday, Apr 12, 2012
A cyclist rides in the Spring Street bike lane in downtown Los Angeles where Susanna Schick was severely injured after an altercation with a driver.
In a reversal of an earlier decision, police will investigate whether a crime led to bicyclist’s serious injuries after a downtown Los Angeles altercation with a driver.
The cyclist, 42-year-old Los Angeles resident Susanna Schick, was severely injured after she said she was cut off by a white Lexus while riding in Spring Street’s neon-green bike lane on the night of April 6.
The case generated intense interest from media and the bike community, members of which said the incident was an example of driver road rage.
Schick’s friends said she had been rammed behind by a car, though Schick didn’t remember the moment of impact that left her with a broken collarbone, six broken ribs and a shattered pelvis. She was sent to the intensive care unit at County+USC Medical Center.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Paul Vernon said two officers on patrol had witnessed Schick fall on her own – without contact from a car. The case showed no evidence of a crime and was not being investigated as a hit-and-run, he said.
But on Thursday, Sgt. David Krumer, the LAPD’s liaison to the bike community, said the case had been reclassified and was now being examined as a possible crime. That’s because of all the attention, he said.
“There are so many people saying ‘No, there is more to it,’” Krumer said. “It doesn’t harm us to proceed as if a crime occurred, especially given the political ramifications and the media attention.”
Vernon added Thursday afternoon that detectives were looking at the incident as a possible “assault with a vehicle,” and that the investigation was nearly concluded.
“That was an abundance of caution because she and her friends kept intimating – nobody can say directly because she didn’t know and they weren’t there – that she had been hit by car,” Vernon said.
Vernon described a visit to the scene of the crash Thursday, when he was accompanied by the two officers who said they witnessed Schick fall.
The officers described Schick in the bike lane, stopped at a red light. In the right travel lane, the Lexus was waited next to her; behind it was the officers’ patrol car. When the light turned, Schick crossed the intersection going south on Spring Street, Vernon said. The Lexus got a signal from the patrol car that it was OK to turn right, even though the Lexus was not in the right-turn lane. The Lexus then turned right on Fifth Street, Vernon said.
The patrol car followed Schick south on Spring Street, speeding up to her pace — about 30 miles per hour, Vernon said. Then her wheel wobbled and she went down, he said. Officers called paramedics and got Schick’s address so they could return her bike to her home.
“They rolled the bike to their police car,” Vernon said. “We examined the bike today. There is no damage to it.”
Some in the bike community had expressed frustration with LAPD’s response to the situation, and many noted that Schick’s injuries were more consistent with a collision than with her simply falling off her bike. Also, Schick was an experienced cyclist.
“Usually a person with that kind of experience doesn’t go down on her own,” Krumer said. “But I’m not a doctor and not a physicist.”
Krumer is trusted by many in the bike community who may otherwise have an uneasy relationship with the police department. He was off duty until Thursday.
Police were looking at surveillance video and will likely try to contact the occupants of the Lexus that Schick had confronted, Krumer said. She allegedly slapped the side-view mirror of the car.
The Los Angeles Times, located on Spring Street at Second Street, posted its own surveillance videos, but those don’t show what happened at Fifth and Spring streets.
The case comes as there is heightened attention to the recently opened Spring Street bike lane, which generated some controversy for its bright green color. Several highly publicized crashes in which cyclists were injured in recent years have also increased tensions between operators of cars and bikes.