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Doctor sentenced to 5 years in prison for assaulting bicyclists in Brentwood

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A doctor convicted of assaulting two bicyclists by slamming on his car brakes after a confrontation on a narrow Brentwood road was sentenced today to five years in prison.

Christopher Thompson, wearing dark blue jail scrubs, wept as he apologized to the injured cyclists shortly before he was sentenced.

"I would like to apologize deeply, profoundly from the bottom of my heart," he told them, his right hand cuffed to a court chair.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott T. Millington called the case a "wake-up call" to motorists and cyclists and urged local government to provide riders with more bike lanes. He said he believed that Thompson had shown a lack of remorse during the case and that the victims were particularly vulnerable while riding their bicycles.

The case against Thompson, 60, has drawn close scrutiny from bicycle riders around the country, many of whom viewed the outcome as a test of the justice system's commitment to protecting cyclists.

Millington said he did not take into account more than 270 e-mails and letters from cyclists that were filed with the court urging a tough sentence.

The July 4, 2008, crash also highlighted simmering tensions between cyclists and residents along Mandeville Canyon Road, the winding five-mile residential street where the crash took place.

One cyclist was flung face-first into the rear window of Thompson's red Infiniti, breaking his front teeth and nose and cutting his face. The other cyclist slammed into the sidewalk and suffered a separated shoulder.

At his sentencing hearing at the county's airport branch court, Thompson cited the Bible in urging cyclists and residents of Mandeville Canyon to try to resolve their differences peacefully.

"If my incident shows anything it's that confrontation leads to an escalation of hostilities," Thompson said.

Thompson, a former emergency room physician who described the crash as a terrible accident, testified during his trial last year that he and other Mandeville Canyon residents were upset that some cyclists rode dangerously and acted disrespectfully toward residents and motorists along the street, a popular route for bike riders.

On the day of the crash, Thompson said he was driving down the road on his way to work when several cyclists swore at him and flipped him off as he called on them to ride single file. He said he stopped his car to take a photo to identify the riders and never intended to hurt anyone.

But the cyclists said the doctor was acting aggressively from the start. They said he honked loudly from behind them and passed by dangerously close as they moved to ride single file before he pulled in front and braked hard.

A police officer told jurors that shortly after the crash that Thompson said he slammed on his brakes in front of the riders to "teach them a lesson."

Prosecutors said Thompson had a history of run-ins with bike riders, including a similar episode four months before the crash when two cyclists told police that the doctor tried to run them off the road and braked suddenly in front of them. Neither of the riders was injured.

Jurors convicted Thompson in November of mayhem; assault with a deadly weapon, his car; battery with serious injury; and reckless driving causing injury.

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-- Jack Leonard at the L.A. County airport courthouse

Photo: Christopher Thompson weeps as a judge sentences him to five years in prison for assaulting two bicyclists by slamming on his car brakes after a confrontation on a narrow Brentwood road. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (207)

Dennis,

"I wanted to teach them a lesson." A bit different than slowing down on the hiway and being hit from behind by another vehicle.

It is a common misconception that people who drive cars think of cyclists not having any right of way. I recall a guy driving a pickup truck screaming at me to get out of the way when I was in the roadway making a left turn at a stop sign. He kept nudging his vehicle towards my bicycle that I felt so uncomfortable enough that I pulled into traffic and nearly got hit. The motorist then followed me and pulled up beside me while I was riding in a bike lane and shouted obscenities telling me I had no right to be in the road. He turned into my bike lane three times to head me off and stop his vehicle so he could confront me but each time I rode around him and I shouted at him that I had his license number. I am not sure but the last time I read the California Vehicle Code, bicycles were considered a moving vehicle and had the same right of way to be in the road as automobiles, meaning cyclists have to follow the same rules of the road as motorists. Likewise, motorists have to yield right of way to cyclists as though they are automobiles, unless posted otherwise.

Should have put the guy under house arrest for 24 months and 3 years of parole with the condition that he must treat uninusured people at no cost for the five-year period. Punishing this guy with a jail sentence for five years makes him a tax burden (costs about $20K per year) and won't help anyone.

Also, I've been riding on the streets of Pittsburgh since 1971 without incident. People here aren't particularly bike friendly but I don't feel like they're out to get me, either. My high school driver education teacher gave me a good piece of advice and it's kept me accident-free for almost 40 years: "Assume that everyone on the road with you has no idea what they're doing. You'll stay out of trouble and never be far from wrong."

What do you mean "to tough a sentence"? I think it's a light sentence. He did this intentionally to cause harm and send a message to cyclist. It backfired on him. Why is it that whenever they are found guilty they quote the bible. And by the way a rear end accident is always the fault of the one that rear ends you, its called an accident because it was unintentional, not intended to cause harm. This guy has problem with anger,and he will loose his drivers license forever never again will this guy drive. What I think he is more sorry about is the money he spent on his defense and the loss of his drivers license, and not the injuries he caused these young men. He probably does not care.

Be aware of each other and don't ride on the road like you own it. I'm saying this to drivers and cyclists. Follow the rules of the road: stop at red lights/stop signs, don't ride on sidewalks, and ride single file.

If we're going to demand rights on the road then we have to be responsible/respectful on the road as well. I see too many people on both sides breaking the rules every day.

forcing cyclists to ride single file on the far right of lane encourages drivers to pass without slowing down and is bad transportation policy.

where legal cyclists should ride in the left-center of lane so that cars must slow. cars that slow and follow at a respectful distance should then be allowed to pass when it is safe for the cyclist to move to the right. where not legal, laws should be changed to adopt this.

I am a Cyclist and you guys that don't ride have got to understand that in most cases Cyclist have to take up some portion of the right lane to be safe. Parked cars and no Bike lanes make it dangerous to ride in the Gutter. In some cases we do it itentially to be seen by cars. The law states that if you maintain a speed somewhat close to the posted speed limit then you can ride in a lane like a car does.

Most Importantly a car that just touches a Cyclist at speed will and can kill. That is why we get so mad when it happens. We are hyped up from almost loosing our life.

Very rarely would you see any real cyclist doing 5 mph and in a row of 4 wide. that doesn't happen.

We and I could as cyclist improve on Following rules of road.

This comment is in reply to the persons complaining about cyclist making them go slower on the right lane:
It is now written in california law that cyclist are allowed to use the right car lane, look it up. Motorists can always go around, and really, the average cyclists using the car lanes are going n average of 20 mph unless road conditions are poor or is a steep hill. We all have to get to our destinations, and sharing the road involves patience and courteousness. Perhaps, motorists sit in a 500 lbs. surrounded component protected by metal while cyclists are completely vulnerable and require kinetic energy to keep moving, in other words, motorist will always have the upper hand so their responsibility is greater.
It has to be noted that cyclist do need to be more aware and follow traffic laws, but im sure LAPD doesnt mind the red light ticket revenue.

" I'm not sure Thompson got what he deserved, 5 years doesn't fit the crime when you consider many other serious, pre-meditated crimes receive a lesser sentence"

Dan (and David): He may not have made specific plans to hit those particular cyclists, but his pattern of behavior shows that he was practicing for just such an opportunity.

I hope his medical license gets revoked as a result. Obviously this guy can't be trusted to "do no harm".

This sentence is crazy! My next door neighbor drove drunk, killed 2 people and was sentenced to 3 years (1 year of which he spent on work release). What about Hulk's kid that injured his passenger's brain so badly and only got 8 months? These guys are still living and didn't receive a tramatic brain injury. Seriously, Mr. Thompson has suffered enough and the bikers have suffered enough. Let the guy go.

While i dont aprove of the way the doctor handled the situation in this case, I have had plenty of experience with bicyclists on the road. They have no buisness being on public roads, they dont pay the fuel tax that built the road and they dont have to license and insure the bikes. They are much slower than the traffic is and they usually refuse to pull over and get out of the way. Its dangerous they are often just around some blind curve waiting to get killed and then complain about the car drivers when accidents do happen. They need to get off the road!

Dennis Manual. He can work for 5 years for the uninsured...in prison. You're ridiculous.

To all you that think he was given an unjustified sentence I must agree completely. He should be made to ride a bicycle every day on the same route that he hit the cyclists on. But wait, that could be a death sentence.

This is insanity... 5 years!!! This man saves lives in the ER and we are putting him in jail for road rage. Maybe revoke his license but jail time is obsurred. Even 6 months would be acceptable but this is just plain stupidity.

Cyclists own cars themselves and pay the same taxes that everyone else does that pay for those roads they use. Why not be like Colorado and have green ways that go along the highways and high traffic areas? Those who commute by bicycle are only helping by not wasting the earth's resources by getting around.

I still don't understand how something that doesn't waste gas and promotes exercise and a healthy lifestyle can make people so angry. This is what's wrong with the world, people only accept what they are told.

Just because you have a car and don't want to slow down, doesn't mean you have a license to kill anyone. My ex father in law was almost killed on his motorcycle by a lady who slammed on her breaks in a similar fashion, and he had safety lights, a reflective coat, and was being cautious and courteous.

In a hurry? Why don't you people consider leaving for your destinations at an earlier time? You can't be irresponsible in your own life and blame others for it.

@ Carol Munoz: you should read the handbook, please. It doesn't matter how fast a cyclist is going, he has the right to be on the road and he doesn't have to ride in the gutter. If he is going slower than you, you are required by law to either slow down and give him the road, or pass safely if you can. Rather than getting emotional about it (cyclists verses people who can't tolerate cyclists on the road for whatever reason), I'm pointing this out to try to help. There is far to much hypocracy in this thread: think if it were your child or loved one who suffered the road rage of this man. You'd be screaming for the death penalty. Every cyclist knows the feeling of being menaced by enraged drivers with no "incitement" (the finger pops up usually after they almost took you out).

I agree that 5 years will teach him a lesson. I hope both party's learned a lesson. I cycle all the time, not in LA but in Northern Calif. We have a lot of cycle haters here too. All it takes is one group of cyclist to not ride with proper cycling educate on the roads and it affects all of us. I have been pissed at cyclist too riding 4 abreast and not going single file when there is a "car back".

A quick question for motorists complaining about cyclists riding 2 abreast on a 2 lane road. If a group of cyclists are riding in the right lane/right tire track and a vehicle is coming towards you in the other lane are you going to pass? If so, you now have 2 cars and a bicycle occupying the same area of road which is completely unsafe for everyone involved. So, your decision to pass should carry the same criteria as if you are passing a vehicle which involves going completely into the other lane when the oncoming lane is clear. The best solution to this controversy is to educate motorists how to interact with cyclists and vice versa. I have had pleasant conversations with perfect strangers where they ask, "what should I have done". To which I explained our side of the story.
I really don't get all the anger directed towards cyclists (actually with some I do understand). That cyclist could be your son or daughter, mother or father, etc. To you that post here expressing such hatred what would you do if your son decided to be the next Lance Armstrong or just a bicylc commuter trying to get to their minimum wage job since they cannot afford a car, or that person recovering from open heart surgery that is trying to improve their health and lifestyle. cycling is more popular than ever. the law supports their rights to occupy public streets (with some restriction. Cars are not going away anytime soon. Everybody should just mellow out.

Overall this case points out a major issue around this city. I love to ride my bike, as traffic and parking around the beach is ridiculous. Bike riding is also better for the environment, and if more people rode instead of drove, there would be less traffic. Unfortunately, though, most roads do not accommodate bikers + drivers very well. I've feared for my life on my bike, and I've been equally weary driving while next to other bikers. More needs to be done so both can co-exist. Regardless, you have more power in your car, and need to respect that responsibility and be considerate. Those few minutes while you have to drive 5 mph to accommodate a bicycler is really nothing to get so upset over. Unfortunately, in the case of the Doctor, passions escalated to the point where people got hurt. Regardless of bikers monopolizing the lane, a car is a deadly weapon and the Doctor used it as such. He caused serious injury to these people, and while it was a stupid action done out of haste, it in turn inflicted serious consequences. Take away that there may have been a dispute, just think about this: if he used his car to injure a young kid, your kid, say, he sped up just to hit them, you would be pushing for maximum sentencing. The fact that there was a possible squabble makes no difference. He hurt people on purpose. End of story. I can't just walk up to someone and take them out with a baseball bat because I don't like that their maybe singing too loud to themselves in the ATM line. Take away the conflict of bicycler vs. motorist and its really quite simple: This guy acted maliciously and was punished for it. Hopefully, in addition to pointing out the need for a truce between bicyclers and motorists this case can also bring attention the issue of people being to angry in general and acting stupidly because of it.

This makes me very happy. I dont feel one bit bad for this guy.

Yo, Christopher W.
The civil suits are long ago settled.
DR

I can't say much about the sentence, as I am not familiar with American sentencing standards.

However, that the judge "urged local government to provide riders with more bike lanes" annoys me. What good is that supposed to do?

"Dennis Manuel - No wonder our prisons are filled with too many people." Our prisons are filled with poor, uneducated drug users.

Anyone using a vehicle in such a manner should get that sentence and he'll probably get out in 2, so don't feel to bad for him... him, who tried to killed two people to "teach them a lesson." The guy was an ER doctor from christs sakes!

why were those bicyclists riding so close to the car? they could've avoided the accident just as much as the driver shouldn't have braked so abruptly. and, why the heck are there so many bicyclist groups who don't have the common courtesy to ride in single file. yes, motorists and bicyclists share the road, but, no one should be impeding traffic.

 
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