Phillip Matier, Andrew Ross
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón is preparing to file felony vehicular manslaughter charges against Chris Bucchere, the bicyclist who fatally struck a 71-year-old pedestrian in the Castro district last month.
The felony charge – which could result in a 16-month sentence for Bucchere if he is convicted – is a sharp contrast to the misdemeanor count prosecutors filed in a case last year in which a bicyclist struck and killed a woman along the Embarcadero.
The difference this time is prosecutors’ conclusion that Bucchere, 35, was grossly negligent in his riding before he ran into Sutchi Hui in a crosswalk at Market and Castro streets March 29.
“I think the evidence is very strong,” said one source inside the D.A.’s office, who asked not to be named while the charges are still pending.
The problem wasn’t that Bucchere ran a red light – prosecutors think the light was yellow when he rode into the intersection heading south.
But before that, a motorist reported seeing Bucchere fly through several red lights and stop signs along Divisadero Street leading up to the intersection, said police Capt. Denis O’Leary, head of the hit-and-run detail that investigated the collision.
Also, a tracker on Bucchere’s bike allegedly showed he was riding faster than 35 mph in a 25-mph zone.
Finally, a video taken from a surveillance camera at 17th and Market streets reportedly showed a hunched-over Bucchere speeding through the intersection, making little or no attempt to stop before hitting Hui on the far side.
“It really shows his recklessness,” O’Leary said.
In short, prosecutors will argue that – light or no light – Bucchere was traveling at an unsafe speed and failed to yield to Hui in the crosswalk.
On the other hand, O’Leary said the cavalier Internet postings attributed to Bucchere after the collision will probably not figure in the case against him.
“How do you prove that it was he that wrote them?” O’Leary said.
A posting that originated from Bucchere’s mailbox gave the following account of the crash:
“I was already way too committed to stop. … I couldn’t see a line through the crowd and I couldn’t stop, so I laid it down and just plowed through the crowded crosswalk in the least-populated place I could find.”
The e-mail was widely reported in the media and etched the image of Bucchere as one of those self-centered cyclists who routinely scoff at traffic laws.
And while no one will say it on the record, the image did little to garner sympathy with the public, the D.A., the police or even fellow cyclists.
Bucchere’s attorney, Ted Cassman, did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment.
The decision to charge Bucchere with a felony is a sharp turn from how the D.A. handled the case of 23-year-old Randolph Ang, who struck a tourist as she was walking across Mission Street at the Embarcadero on July 15.
The 68-year-old pedestrian, Dionette “Didi” Cherney of Washington, D.C., fell, hit her head and later died.
In that case, Gascón – at the urging of Cherney’s family – opted to file a lesser misdemeanor charge against Ang, resulting in a plea deal last month in which the rider agreed to three years’ probation, $15,375 in restitution to the family and 500 hours of community service on bicycle safety.
“He was young, late for his first job, immediately tried to help and was remorseful and very quickly took full responsibility,” said Ang’s attorney, Tony Brass.
“I think it made a big difference.”