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By Patrick Brady
Two cyclists were looking for a fight before an incident that led to assault charges being filed against a California driver, the driver’s attorney suggested in court Monday. The attorney for Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson also suggested that one of the cyclists may have simply fallen on his own accord.
Thompson is on trial in Los Angeles Superior Court, charged with assault with a dangerous weapon and other violations in connection with a July 4, 2008, confrontation in a Los Angeles area canyon and an earlier incident involving a cyclist on the same road.
Prosecutors say Thompson, 60, a former emergency room physician, purposely braked in front of the two riders as they descended Mandeville Canyon Road.
Defense attorney Peter Swarth tried to show a jury that injured cyclists Christian Stoehr and Ron Peterson were already looking for trouble before the confrontation and collision last year. Swarth also suggested that at least one of the cyclists may have simply succumbed to the inherent instability of his bicycle, lost balance and fallen over.
In testimony last week, Stoehr told prosecutors that he hit the back of Thompson’s Infiniti sedan, rolled over the top of the car and fell into the left lane of the road. Stoehr suffered a grade-3 shoulder separation and road rash in the incident. Peterson, the more seriously injured of the two, crashed through the car’s rear window. The impact broke his nose, nearly severing it and shattered several of his teeth. Surgeons used more than 90 stitches to reattach his nose.
On Monday, Swarth finished Stoehr’s cross-examination, with questions largely centered on details of his cycling clothing. Swarth questioned Stoehr about his explanation regarding his impact with the rear of the car, wondering aloud how Stoehr ended up on the ground in front of the car. When Stoehr had difficulty explaining the physics involved, Swarth suggested that Stoehr simply lost balance and fell down.
’My face did that.’
Deputy District Attorney Mar Stone then called Peterson to the stand, taking him through his history as a cyclist, his coaching business, the location of the accident and the nature of the holiday ride, before moving on to the incident.
Peterson said that before the impact, Thompson pulled alongside him and spoke through the open passenger window. He said several words before Peterson said he clearly made out, “Ride single file.” He testified that Thompson seemed angry and, because his car was within a foot of Peterson, he felt “he was bullying me.”
Peterson said he responded by saying, “Fuck you.”
Peterson said Thompson then pulled ahead and stopped. The back of the car “felt like a wall,” he said. Stone displayed a photo of the back of the car. Peterson pointed to a hole in the rear window and said, “My face did that.”
Then, pointing at large red drops on the trunk, he said, “That’s my blood.”
Peterson said after he pulled himself out of the window and got off the car, Thompson got out. Peterson responded, “Get the fuck away from me.” Asked about what he said next he admitted he told Thompson, “I’m going to fuck you up.”
“What happened next?” Stone asked.
“I sat down,” Peterson said. “I was hurt and I wasn’t doing anything. I said it. I’m not proud.”
Stone asked if any of Peterson’s injuries resulted in long-term problems.
“I still can’t feel my nose,” Peterson said as he pointed to scars across the bridge of his nose, on his lip and chin. Peterson added that will have to undergo further surgery to remove the scars.
Testimony then turned to his bicycle and for the court some description was required to convey what would be obvious to any cyclist, that the head tube was broken and separated from the top and down tubes. No other damage was discussed.
In cross-examining the witness, Swarth suggested that “bicycles are inherently unstable,” a point Peterson vigorously disputed. Most of the cross-examination focused on Thompson’s proximity to Peterson and the known statement, “Ride single file.”
Swarth spoke rapidly and frequently interrupted Peterson and even sometimes the judge. The court sustained six separate objections from the prosecution that Swarth was mischaracterizing Peterson’s statements or questioning him in an argumentative manner.
“You were out of control,” Swarth told Peterson at one point. “You wanted him to stop. Why shout ‘fuck you?’ There’s something dangerous about saying ‘fuck you,’ isn’t there?”
“Only in this case,” Peterson responded.
’I want justice’
Swarth proceeded to pick apart Peterson’s previous testimony that Thompson’s car was stopped when he hit it. Peterson had conceded in earlier testimony that Thompson’s car probably had not yet come to a full stop by the time he hit it. But Peterson, stuck to his guns, saying, “That was my perception. It felt like I hit a wall.”
Swarth finished his cross-examination by questioning Peterson’s motives for participating in the criminal case. “You’re furious,” he said.
“That’s not the right word,” Peterson responded. “I’m not happy. It’s complex. I want justice.”
’They flipped me off. I slammed on my brakes’
Investigating officer Robert Rodriguez testified that when he arrived at the accident, Thompson told him, “I live up the road. There were bikes in front of me, three across the road. They flipped me off. I stopped in front of them. I wanted to teach them a lesson. I’m tired of them.”
Stone then played Thompson’s 911 call in which Thompson can be heard saying, “Get your bike out of the road, why don’t you?”
“There are three bikers in the road. They flipped me off. I slammed on my brakes.”
When the operator asked if there were any serious injuries, Thompson responded, “not really, but they’ll tell you that.”
Cross-examination of Rodriguez begins on Tuesday.