Bikelash PART X: Epilogue

On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.

This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.

We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.

This story is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story that happens all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. Media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgment, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.

The narrative is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. To protect the privacy of others, I changed some names. All else is true to my memory of what happened.

I am sharing this not for redemption or personal profit, but because this side of the story rarely gets told. To make sure our justice system treats all defendants fairly, we need to speak up when it doesn’t.

I’m Chris Bucchere.

And this is Bikelash.

PART X: Epilogue

Fall 2018

In the years since the accident, I’ve tried to understand the motivation behind every person who had played a role—and mostly, I do. I may not approve or agree, but I have mostly settled on the reasons why each person made the decisions they did. Each person, that is, except Nathan Pollak, a.k.a. Mr. Several Red Lights and Stop Signs.

Why would a small business owner have fabricated a narrative that claimed I had done reckless, asinine things I hadn’t? Why had he been willing to put his own credibility on the line? I understand wanting to be a Good Samaritan and help the police—but he had knowingly lied, under oath, to do it.

He had risked his reputation and his livelihood by coming forward with an invented narrative giving precisely the ammunition that prosecutors needed to raise my charge from a misdemeanor to a felony. Why? Had he wanted the attention? Did he like being the star witness? Was it a Superman Complex? Or had he been paid off?

No one jeopardizes his own life without the hope of at least something in return. What was in it for Nathan Pollak?

Nathan Pollak (far left) and Heidi Gibson (second from right) receiving $250,000

Four months after Pollak came forward with his narrative about a reckless cyclist he had thought he had seen near Market and Castro, his business became one of twelve small businesses in the country to be awarded a grant of $250,000 from a new program by Chase, LivingSocial, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

What was the groundbreaking and innovative achievement of the business that beat out nearly 70,000 other applicants?

A café that serves grilled cheese sandwiches.

Also, just ninety days after he had testified, Pollak and his business partner and now wife, Heidi Gibson, won the Small Business of the Year award, presented by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

Was The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen the best small business in San Francisco? I don’t know; perhaps it was. I do know, however, that Nathan Pollak was the only small business owner who had volunteered to lie to the prosecutors so they could raise my charge to a felony. The timing of these two prestigious awards seems rather conspicuous, although it doesn’t prove that Pollak received them as direct payouts for his role in ruining my life and reputation.

It just seems fishy.


The Hui family, as one of the conditions of my probation, had asked my probation officer to steer me toward elder care as one of my community service modalities. Technically speaking, however, I was allowed to complete my hours doing any type of service work, as long as I worked exclusively for nonprofits.

After I had completed some hours on projects to benefit the homeless and our national parks, Omid had asked Ted if I could do more work in the field of elder care. Happy to comply, I reached out to a number of senior centers, elder care facilities, different types of assisted living residences, and a few hospices. Ruling out anything that wasn’t a nonprofit left very few choices.

I had some brief phone conversations with the remaining facilities, during which the subject of my felony conviction would invariably come up. It didn’t take long for me to realize that felons aren’t normally given access to the elderly.

I wrote to Ted and my probation officer to explain this dilemma. Ted put a call in to Omid.

Rather than giving up on elder care entirely, Omid told Ted he would like to call the people who had turned me down for community service projects with elders and deliver a personal message about how I was indeed a convicted felon, but somehow I was still a suitable person to work with the elderly.

Why on earth would Omid do something like that?

I suspected that, as part of his negotiations with the Hui family, Omid had promised them that I would do elder care service work—but now I couldn’t, because he made a felon out of me.


From: Chris Bucchere
To: Ann Peabody
Subject: Volunteer Opportunities at the Senior Service Center

Hi Ann,

I just heard from one of my attorneys that the Senior Service Center is going to accept me as a volunteer. That’s great news! I am confused however, because I thought there were strict rules in place about allowing convicted felons to engage in any kind of elder care. I thought this would especially be the case for violent crimes like murder and manslaughter. If you don’t mind my asking, why was there a sudden change of heart/policy?

 

Regardless, I look forward to serving your organization and I hope my felony manslaughter conviction won’t be an issue.

Best regards,

Chris


From: Ann Peabody
To: Chris Bucchere
Subject: Re: Volunteer Opportunities at the Senior Service Center

Good Morning Chris,

You had an advocate. We understand the circumstances. You’ll still be required to register as a regular volunteer, including a free background check. Please give me a call so we can set-up a time frame that’s convenient for you.

Happy Holidays!

Ann Peabody
Director of Volunteer Services, Senior Service Center


The ADA was now my advocate? After all we’ve been through? I tried to quell my anger by appreciating the obvious irony.

After I calmed down a bit, I called and left a voicemail for Ann to tell her I was thrilled to accept the food service position she offered me in Healdsburg.

I never heard back from her.


My insurance company, YNK Insurance, agreed to pay out $2,100,000 to settle the Hui family’s demand.

I didn’t harbor any animosity toward them for demanding this money. Betty Hui knew three versions of the events that transpired on March 29: her story, which was that she and Terry had waited for the WALK symbol (and then some); the DA’s story, which was that I had recklessly sped into the intersection trying to break a land speed record, blowing three red lights and stop signs, making no attempt to stop and violating pedestrian right of way; and finally, the media’s story, which had taken the DA’s press releases and leaks and blown them out of proportion to fan the already-roaring flames of hatred toward cyclists.

The Huis got a large settlement—one that could have caused me complete financial ruin but, thanks to my insurance policy, didn’t—and I’m glad for them. The settlement jibed with Betty’s statement to the police, the DA’s charges, Terry Jr.’s understanding of the case, and it even mostly fit the media narrative. $2.1 million won’t end their tragedy or their suffering. $2.1 million won’t replace Sutchi Hui—nothing can or will.

This settlement released me from all future claims by the family, but it doesn’t absolve me of the burden I carry. It will, however, allow Betty to live more comfortably, and Terry Jr. perhaps to inherit something as well.

I have nothing other than sympathy and contrition for the Hui family, except of course for my one wish that none of this had ever happened.


Meanwhile, I’ve tried to focus on rebuilding my life, personally and professionally.

Every marriage ends for a million reasons, but the toll this accident and its aftermath had taken on us was too much to bear. Carroll and I filed for divorce amicably in 2017, remaining in close contact as we continue to raise our daughter Ashley together.

I took another software job at a company with an office in the financial district—ground zero for bike messengers. Every day I watch them ride on sidewalks, make every kind of illegal turn imaginable, hop over train tracks to weave in and out of traffic, and do track stands in the middle of intersections. I see them ride the wrong way on one-way streets, tearing through crosswalks, treating pedestrians like cones on a slalom course, middle fingers always at the ready.

As far as Gascón’s idea that my felony prosecution would serve as a serious warning to the city’s cyclists? Not so much.


On September 18, 2014—a little more than a year after my case came to a close—a cyclist in New York City’s Central Park collided with a pedestrian who was crossing the street in a crosswalk. Like me, Jason Marshall had been tracking his ride on Strava. He, too, tried to swerve to miss other people crossing the street, but still ended up running into a woman named Jill Tarlov. A few days later, Tarlov died of injuries sustained in the accident.

Like me, Marshall quickly became an international whipping boy for scofflaw cycling. Dozens of stories came out that sounded just like the ones about me. Marshall hadn’t written any loopy emails to friends and family, but popular opinion seemed just as mean and angry as it had been in my case—reckless cyclist, racing on Strava, hang him high. I wondered if he, too, would face vehicular manslaughter charges.

But Marshall was not charged for his role in the accident. In fact, he wasn’t even issued a traffic citation. Perhaps this is because the New York District Attorney knew that—as in my case—the pedestrians were trying to cross against a DON’T WALK signal and failed to yield the right of way to the cyclist.

Or perhaps the truth lies in something Gascon said in the final press conference he held about my case:

“You would probably have seen in many jurisdictions actually no prosecution at all. We would not be having this discussion. It would have simply been deemed an accident.”

An accident. After all, that’s what it was: a horrible, tragic accident.

But San Francisco’s DA decided otherwise—and if this kind of overreach doesn’t scare us all, it should.


On October 2, 2018, George Gascón announced he would not run for re-election, but will serve out the remainder of his term as District Attorney.


 

 

for Aaron


Asiye funzwa na mamae hufunzwa na ulimwengu.

[Ah-see-yay foonzwa nah mama-ye who-foonzwa nah oolim-way-ngoo.]

That’s Swahili for “it takes a village to raise a child.” My name may be on the byline, but it took a village to raise me up from a dark place and help me get here.

First, I had to avoid jail time and financial ruin, which would not have been possible without the work of my legal team: Fred Levine, John Mason, Julie Salamon and the relentless, inimitable Ted Cassman, a man who earned his title of “the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area” many, many times over.

In the other corner, the man who had insisted I become a felon, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, provided the spark that ignited my inner activist. Though his political career may have come to an end, my desire to root out corruption will last a lifetime.

San Francisco is a special place, full of special places. One such place, the Twin Peaks Tavern, will always be extra-special to me. They had the foresight and cared enough about security to install a 360-degree outdoor surveillance rig, the camera that incidentally recorded a clear video of the entire accident. My experience with this case would have been radically different without that video. Defenseless, I would have literally been fed to the trolls on sfgate.com.

But not all media is the sensationalized garbage in the local papers and on the TV news.

Kashmir Hill (who at the time wrote for Forbes magazine) authored a detailed, factually-correct article about me, the only one of its kind.

Pianist Noam Eisen took the barebones score I wrote for the theme music and turned it into something masterful.

Terre Gorham, a stickler for all the details, did the copy editing.

Tara Austen Weaver, my developmental editor, found and extracted this story from the steaming pile of garbage I dumped on her. She taught me how to write all over again—by pointing out how I had made every mistake imaginable, and some mistakes no one could even have imagined. Tara was my Michelangelo. She chipped away everything that wasn’t David, getting rid of all the stone that was weighing this story down, at times even obscuring it completely. I could not have asked for a better ally. Nor could I have ever found anyone else smart enough to produce this narrative, but also brave enough to take on a subject matter of this kind.

Antoinette DiBona, Gary Brown, Bryan Gescuk, and Arnim Polster read early drafts and gave invaluable feedback.

Three cyclists, John Murphy, Dan Connelly, and Vitaly Gashpar wrote blog posts days after the accident to counter the prevailing media narrative. They turned out to be remarkably accurate, and none of them had even seen the video.

A handful of strangers, most of them also probably cyclists, came to my defense on Twitter and fought legions of trolls in the comment forums of local and national publications.

Lawrence Lessig took a break from saving the world to save me from myself—and to save this project. I am without words to describe the warmth of this man’s heart, the depths of his soul, and the endless reach of his generosity.

All of my friends and family listened to my ranting and raving for years about this. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to those of you who didn’t run away screaming. To those who did, I can’t say I blame you, and I beg your forgiveness.

Prince did what no one else could, and what nobody would do anyway even if they could. I hope someday I can be that hero for him—or for anyone.

I stole six good years from my wife and daughter. I can never give them back and I’m sorry.

The Huis suffered a grave, permanent loss and I am dreadfully sorry for my role in it. To Betty, Terry Jr., and the rest of the Hui family: I beg for your forgiveness and I want you to know that I think of you every day, especially so when I use the roads in San Francisco. I hope that we all—myself included—can do a better job keeping everyone safe. It’s a jungle out there.

And to Mr. Sutchi Hui: may you rest in peace. From what I’ve read about you, I know that you were a good and compassionate man, a proud grandfather and a friend and confidant to so many. I didn’t know you, but from what I do know, I suspect you wouldn’t have wanted this circus any more than I did.

Finally, thank you to everyone who found love in their hearts and responded and acted with kindness in the face of this terrible tragedy. I hope and pray that your turn to have an example made out of your actions never comes, but if it does, I promise to treat you with compassion—and never to take anything I ever read about you at face value—unless you, while of sound mind, wrote it or said it yourself.


Copyright © Barefoot Coding, LLC, 2018. All rights reserved.

Bikelash PART IX: The Message

On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.

This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.

We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.

This story is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story that happens all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. Media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgment, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.

The narrative is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. To protect the privacy of others, I changed some names. All else is true to my memory of what happened.

I am sharing this not for redemption or personal profit, but because this side of the story rarely gets told. To make sure our justice system treats all defendants fairly, we need to speak up when it doesn’t.

I’m Chris Bucchere.

And this is Bikelash.

PART IX: The Message

CHAPTER SEVENTY-FOUR

18 July 2013—476 days since the accident

After much reluctance and hesitation, many fits and starts, and after every imaginable human emotion had run its course, I unceremoniously pleaded guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter in exchange for a suspended sentence, three years of probation, and 1,000 hours of community service. The felony—somewhat inexplicably—would get converted to a misdemeanor in six months if I complied with the terms of my probation.

In other words, I would become a convicted felon—but only for six months. I was a reality show felon—quite literally—since the TV news is scripted just like a reality show, but with unwilling participants.

To my relief, the relentless DA finally agreed to drop the red light violation from the conviction. He held firm on speeding, as expected, even though no one could prove it.

Inconceivably, Gascón remained unwilling to budge on the failure-to-yield infraction, even though we and his underling prosecutors recognized that the yellow light gave me the right of way. Ted didn’t fight it—even though he knew it was important to me—knowing that we would soon lose this ostensibly sympathetic judge if we kept negotiating—and knowing that dropping the failure-to-yield charge had no material impact on the important part of this Faustian bargain: my sentence.

Omid promised us that no press would be there. That’s odd, I thought. We have a free press in this country; they can come and go as they please. Perhaps Omid’s promise was the exception that proves the rule. In other words, there would be no press that day because Omid didn’t tip them off this time.

Sure enough, no press attended my hearing, the hearing in which history was made. The only person in this country to get charged with a felony for the way in which he rode his bicycle just got convicted, but no one in the media lifted a finger to write or create a TV segment about it.

This entire hearing was way too easy, I thought as Ted and I exited the courtroom in silence. Still no media in the halls, none outside. I wanted to believe that I had caught a break.

CHAPTER SEVENTY-FIVE

22 July 2013—480 days since the accident

From: Ted Cassman

To: Chris Bucchere

Subject: Here it Comes

Andy Ross left me a voicemail this afternoon wishing to discuss the “plea deal.”

* * *

From: Chris Bucchere

To: Ted Cassman

Subject: Re: Here it Comes

Thanks for the heads up. Did Omid set an expiration date for his “no press” promise?

CHAPTER SEVENTY-SIX

23 July 2013—481 days since the accident

When the DA’s latest media push hit, it hit hard.

We had marveled at how I had been allowed to enter my guilty plea in private. We had walked in, taken care of business, and walked out without needing to navigate a gaggle of reporters with their cameras and their microphones and their inane questions. I had a feeling then that something seemed off about Omid’s promise of a media-free conviction. Perhaps thinking he could fool me with mere distraction, he had made good on his promise—only to let loose a full-strength media assault, five days later, with a press release about the sentencing.

I had known something wasn’t right. But there wasn’t a goddamn thing I—or anyone at this point—could do about it.

So out came the torrent of media attention. Amid much rejoicing, Gascón kept the promise he made a few days after the accident—of justice, of deliverance, of setting an example. And the most ridiculous part of it all was that it was all just for show. A felony conviction with an expiration date! Who’d ever heard of such a thing?

Over the past sixteen months, Gascón had used some ferocious rhetoric—even invoking fictional fighter pilots Maverick and Goose from the film Top Gun to describe my “need for speed.” He called my behavior “reckless” and “completely horrible.” He then slapped me with a charge rarely ever applied to motor vehicle operators in the same situation.

On this day, however, Gascón backed off on his rhetoric, toning down his cinematic prose. The accusations of running one, two, three, or more red lights and stop signs? Notably absent. The accusations of recklessness? Gone. The accusations of racing? Long gone. The movie metaphors? Also gone. In fact, Gascón seemingly reached out an olive branch with this mind-boggling statement: “This was not so much about Mr. Bucchere,” Gascón said. “This was about preventing future collisions and death.”

I read that line over and over, not able to comprehend what I had just read. I read it again. And again. I glared at the loathsome words on my computer screen, stood up, and started screaming like a madman. THIS WAS NOT SO MUCH ABOUT MR. BUCCHERE?

Gascón, are you out of your mind? You ate Mr. Bucchere for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You ruined my reputation, called me a liar, a reckless maniac with a need for speed. You slapped me with charges that could have landed me in jail for six years. You poisoned the media and tainted the hearts and minds of the public to ensure I could never get a fair trial. You caused me to lose friends, jobs, customers, security, money—you DESTROYED me. So please, pray tell, how was this “not so much about Mr. Bucchere”? Am I just your messenger?

Feeling better after that outburst, I sat back down. At once I realized what Gascón was really saying when he claimed that “The People of the State of California vs. Christopher A. Bucchere” was actually “not so much about Mr. Bucchere.”

Just days after the accident and my grossly misinterpreted email, Gascón had told KCBS’s Holly Quan that he was leaning toward felony charges. The police had only just begun their investigation then. They hadn’t announced that they had a video of the entire accident, let alone presented the case to the DA’s office, following the usual protocol. But Gascón already had a vision of the perfect opportunity to set an example. One that that would ostensibly deter other outlaw cyclists from their dastardly behavior—by creating the nation’s first bicycle felon.

Unwilling to let go of this chance, Gascón had refused to accept as relevant or meaningful anything about the case that supported my innocence, something that should have been presumed from the start. By his own admission, he had refused to acknowledge anything I ever did—anything at all about me—if it didn’t mesh perfectly with the evil cyclist archetype he had already created. I would have loved an opportunity to meet with him, to ask him if I really deserved to be a felon and go to jail for this. But he refused to meet with me, or even with Ted.

“Having a felony conviction was important to us,” Gascón had told NPR. “We would have gone to trial if they had not agreed to a felony conviction.”

For Gascón, it wasn’t ever about me—it had nothing to do with the facts of my case at all. For Gascón, it was about creating a felon to set an example, about carving another notch on his political belt, about redeeming his failure not to prosecute Randy Ang more harshly, which hadn’t played well in the court of popular opinion. Maybe it was even about winning future elections. But this case wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about justice, and it had no connection to the reality of what had happened.

I wondered, was this the sort of “justice” that Gascón would want for himself, if he were in my shoes?

CHAPTER SEVENTY-SEVEN

15 August 2013—504 days since the accident

At long last, my sentencing arrived. A few days prior, Omid had moved the sentencing up from Friday to Thursday—I suspected because Thursdays were a better “media day” than Fridays. We didn’t object, knowing that no matter what we did, we would be lined up like a row of sitting ducks for the press.

I arrived at the Hall of Justice uneventfully, located Ted, and, together, we parted a sea of journalists with their microphones and cameras. My skin had thickened to the point that the nagging entourage of the press no longer really bothered me. I walked swiftly into the courtroom with Ted, never looking at my feet. Randy Ang always looked at his feet and it made him look guilty. I took a seat on the right side of the gallery. I have no idea why, but I always sat on the right side. I positioned myself on the end of the row and turned ninety degrees to my left, so I could see the door with one eye and watch Ted flit about the courtroom with the other.

The inner door of the vestibule swung open and an unusually tall woman of Asian descent strode purposefully into the courtroom. I recognized her long, straight black hair, which she wore down, as when I had seen her last. I recognized her lengthy stride. Like a gazelle. I’d watched that lanky figure stride hundreds and hundreds of times, forward and backward across the pavement, crossing Castro Street as it runs east-west alongside Market Street, starting 13.9 seconds ahead of the WALK indicator.

I gazed in disbelief upon Wen-chih Yu, the most flagrant jaywalker. Yu had escaped death or serious injury twice the day of the accident—once by jumping out of the way of a northbound car with a green or yellow light, and a second time by my impulse to pull out of my dive to the left, sending me headlong into Mr. Hui.

I turned abruptly to face the bench. I didn’t want her to recognize me. Amazingly, she walked up to the row of seats directly behind mine and sat down, one seat over to my right, just inches away.

What the hell is Wen-chih doing here? Did she realize that it was her jaywalking that had played a huge role in Mr. Hui’s death? Had she not been three-quarters of the way across the intersection when the WALK signal came on, it’s likely I would have been able to swerve to the left, out of Mr. Hui’s way.

Meanwhile, out of nowhere, a small, elderly woman plunked herself down next to our lead jaywalker. She was bemoaning the disorganized, slipshod way that the city government goes about its business, and rattling off a list of commitments that would be cast into chaos if court ran late. She then started a conversation with Wen-chih. The elderly woman explained that she worked for an advocacy group.

In a cackle of words, she asked Wen-chih where she worked. Wen-chih answered in a barely audible whisper that she does some kind of philanthropy. Based on the shortness of her answers and the diminutive volume of her voice, I could tell that she didn’t have any interest in conversation.

“Why are you here?” the woman asked.

Wen-chih paused for a moment, then, somewhat reluctantly, said, “I witnessed the accident. I testified against the cyclist, and I wanted to see for myself how it turns out.”

The woman gasped loudly. She turned her volume up and launched into a barrage of rapid-fire questions.

“You were there? In the crosswalk? What happened? How close were you? Tell me everything!”

Her line of questioning was mercifully aborted by the bailiff calling court into session.

The judge took care of some procedural matters, then asked the Hui family members if they had anything to say.

Terry Hui Jr. spoke about how much he—and everyone—missed his dad, and about the relationship his young daughter had with her grandpa. How she often asked why he hadn’t been coming over any more. I felt a lump well up in my throat.

I thought about burying Papa Donny on the one year anniversary of the accident. I thought about my daughter and my dad and their relationship, about Terry Jr.’s loss, his daughter’s loss—the whole family’s loss. With the system nearly done having its way with me, I could sense some emotional space opening up, a small place where I could actually start to feel again.

Sticking to praising his late father, Terry Jr. steered clear of any references to my behavior—the behavior the DAs and the media had led him to believe was criminally responsible for his dad’s death. Terry Jr.’s speech was a class act.

Then he turned to me and gave this warning: “Please don’t squander the second chance you have to become a good and compassionate person, not to be the narcissistic person you were when you wrote the insensitive web posting about my father.”

I couldn’t blame Terry—I was sure his opinion of me had started off badly and only gotten worse. His mom had said that she and Sutchi had not only waited for the WALK symbol on March 29, but that she had walked out ahead of Sutchi while he waited an extra few seconds before crossing, something he always did for extra safety.

Furthermore, not only had Terry Jr. read all the horrible things about my character in the newspaper and on the internet, he had to hear those “facts” recited on the TV news, which said that after riding recklessly and killing his father, I blogged that my helmet mattered more to me than the man I killed.

Never mind that I hadn’t blogged; I had never written or even thought anything like it. None of that mattered. Reporters turned loopy allegory about helmet safety into fact and published it all over the world, so at this point it might as well be true.

Terry Jr. couldn’t have known that the DA was using the media as an echo chamber to justify his own politicized ambitions. He couldn’t have known that the witnesses had all given distorted accounts, and that nearly every word Nathan Pollak had spoken was some kind of lie, distortion, or half-truth. He couldn’t have known that the highly certified “expert” was paid to lie on the stand. That Inspector Cadigan misrepresented clear testimony so that it became misleading. That even the coroner had colored outside the lines, ruling the death a homicide, when it wasn’t her job to make that ruling.

Terry Jr.’s perception of me matched the prosecution’s perception of me, the media’s portrayal of me, and, therefore, the world’s understanding of me. But for Terry Jr., it was much, much worse. Not only was I a monster; I was the monster who had slaughtered his law-abiding father. My recklessness, my “need for speed,” my “selfish motivations,” my “pattern” of blowing red lights—those acts killed his father, he had been told. I’m sure nothing could—or ever would—change his perception of me. It explained why he had given the Get Well card I had written for Sutchi to the police, why he had told the DA to throw the book at me, and, perhaps, had even told Omid not to accept my apology letter to his mother, which inexplicably still remained in Ted’s possession.

I found it hard to accept Terry Jr.’s diagnosis—narcissism, insensitivity, lack of compassion, and just general evilness—because he wasn’t actually talking about me. He had been misled, deceived by a city government so manipulative they would create a monster just so they could slay it—giving themselves a political win.

But politicians would also need a way to explain why their demon of such grand proportions didn’t get any jail time. Recalling that Omid had said that the family would do whatever he wanted them to do, I wondered if the DAs had convinced Terry Jr. to emphasize “mercy” in his speech in order to mitigate the inevitable public outcry about the “weakness” of my sentence.

It’s pointless to create a monster and then just let him get away.

CHAPTER SEVENTY-EIGHT

16 August 2013—505 days since the accident

Amid yet another subsequent barrage of public shaming and fresh batch of death threats popping up on my phone, something truly wonderful showed up in my email inbox. A dear friend of Carroll’s, from Washington, DC, wrote her a note, which Carroll forwarded to me.

From: Pam Moran

To: Carroll Bucchere

Subject: Chris

[…]

Since we know Chris, we know that the anger and vitriol aimed at him has nothing to do with him, but more to do with the fears of others who haven’t been involved in a tragedy of this nature, simply because a series of circumstances haven’t landed them there. We judge harshly when we think something could have been avoided, but the truth is that if it could have been avoided, it would have been. We argue with reality daily, and get angry about what we think should not have happened, rather than responding with love, compassion and kindness to what actually did happen.

My husband [also a cyclist] was horrified to see the biking community turn their back on him, and it’s been a great lesson for me as to how easy it is for others to judge when they have no sense of the suffering Chris has been experiencing. The media takes advantage of the human tendency to believe anything they see in writing, especially if it’s been repeated more than once. This is the most excruciatingly frustrating thing about social media, and traditional media for that matter. We are losing the ability to think for ourselves, question “truths” that we instinctively know are wrong. “Spin” sucks.

Those who malign another’s character based on a single tragedy are responding to how they’d feel about themselves if it happened to them. So many of us would judge ourselves to be horrible people, and it’s easier to blame someone else than to face our own lack of self-compassion.

We love you guys, and we know that whatever you’ve learned, and whatever meaning you can take from this, will change your lives and create opportunities for a lot of wonderful things to take root and grow. Meanwhile, during the worst of it, know that there are plenty of people out here who “get it” and who will love up on you until your grief is manageable.

CHAPTER SEVENTY-NINE

6 September 2013—526 days since the accident

Fred Levine, the attorney hired by YNK Insurance to defend me against the forthcoming civil suit, sent me the cover letter of a $2,000,000 demand from the Hui family’s attorney, Rick Johnson.

The letter referred to twenty-two pages of “observations made by members of our jury pool” about me, which consisted of screen captures of internet comments calling for my public humiliation, torture, and/or execution.

I read it, and then sent the following email.

From: Chris Bucchere

To: Fred Levine

Cc: Ted Cassman

Subject: Re: Claim of Hui-Demand pgs.1-6

Hi Fred,

Thank you for sending the cover letter. May I pick up the 100 pages from your office some time today on CD or thumb drive?

Only one part caught my attention:

“At no time since he killed Terry has he shown any remorse or contrition for his acts or offered any sympathy or condolences to the Hui family for their horrific loss.”

Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that Terry Jr. egged Gascón on and asked him to “throw the book at me” and by doing so put me in a position where speaking publicly or privately would have been suicidal. Let’s also ignore the fact that now Betty and Terry Jr. are suing me for $2,000,000, which means that speaking publicly or privately would constitute financial suicide. Discounting both those reasons for my silence, consider that Terry Jr. and Betty either did not receive or have chosen to ignore:

1) the get well card I hand-delivered to the hospital along with an orchid;

2) the daily calls I made to Inspector Cadigan to inquire about the well being of Sutchi—every day from when he was injured until when he died;

3) the lengthy apology I wrote on April 7th, 2012 and sent to Ted; and

4) the apology letter I wrote and that Ted offered to Omid on several occasions, but which he refused to accept.

That obvious issue—the family’s lack of knowledge of my attempts to communicate with them—is the same issue that matched the suspicion that Carroll and I had and the same issue that made us call the meeting last week. The Hui family has ignored or forgotten all of my attempts to express concern, remorse, contrition, and sorrow and now they’re trying to use that against me. The family thinks I’m a cold-hearted killer because no one has communicated to them my attempts to show sympathy, to make amends and to say that I’m sorry.

On top of that, the cover letter’s tone shows that the family bought what the media presented about this case and what the DA told them. And that’s all they heard, facts be damned.

I would like to read the ~100 other pages before making any other comments.

Best regards,

Chris

CHAPTER EIGHTY

1 October 2013—551 days since the accident

Of all the lessons the judges, the prosecutors, the Hui family members who had spoken to the media, and the hundreds of thousands of enraged commenters hoped I would learn during this nightmarish ordeal, I retained exactly none of them. All the legal consequences were sorely lost amid the fiction created by the DA and promulgated by the mainstream and social media.

My contrition, my sadness, my regret had been there from day one—but they were snuffed out by Gascón’s false narrative, the media’s sensationalizing of it, and by a court case that forced me to defend myself and the security of my family. It’s hard to be open to self-improvement lessons when you’re getting death threats.

Now I don’t mean to say that I didn’t learn anything. I learned many things, in fact. Or rather, I unlearned many things that I once thought were true, things I once held dear.

I trusted that I rode on an actual cycling team, not merely a bloated email list.

I trusted in my basic right to privacy.

I trusted in the presumption of innocence.

I trusted in due process, in the sanctity of the justice system.

I trusted the media to responsibly report factual information, to check and double-check sources.

I trusted that the media served as a check-and-balance to government, not a platform that government could use in self-service to influence minds and control outcomes.

I trusted that we had a free press in this country, not one controlled and manipulated by prosecutors—or by anyone.

I trusted that the criminal justice system was based upon a deterministic set of rules and laws.

I trusted that this country’s jails were humane.

I trusted that prosecutors cared about the truth—about getting it right—about knowing that gross errors and irresponsible actions mean the wrong people go to jail.

I trusted that DAs valued correctness, professionalism, and integrity over their own personal prejudices and desires to further their political agendas.

I trusted that things like traffic signals and WALK/DON’T WALK indicators bore relevance to traffic investigations.

I trusted that people cared about facts, not about hearsay, unsubstantiated claims and sensationalized garbage.

I trusted that video evidence mattered more than erroneous, contradictory, and make-believe eyewitness accounts.

I trusted that oaths were sacred, and that people who took oaths and testified under oath were obligated to tell the truth or else be held accountable for their violations.

I trusted that cops told the truth, especially when under oath.

I trusted that expert witnesses were experts.

I trusted that judges were sworn to be fair and able to see through cases fabricated to serve political ambitions.

All of those beliefs that I once held dear now sound foolish, as if I was living in some sort of utopian delusion.

I now live in insurmountable fear of our criminal justice system—and I fear for all those ensnared in its net, especially people of color and those without the resources to defend themselves, or both.

I may never fully come to terms with my moral failings. I will always wish I could have kept Mr. Hui from harm. But I have become a better person because of this. I don’t watch anything on TV. I question everything I read, always on the lookout for other people experiencing what happened to me. I never prejudge any defendant in a Trial-by-Media because I know most of the cards are coming from a loaded deck.

I also know I’m just one example. The criminal justice system in this country has done far, far worse.

I thought we were better than this. We should be better than this.

We can be better than this.


The series concludes on October 21, 2018.


For a closer look at the research behind Bikelash, visit the companion GitHub project.

Bikelash PART VIII: The Offer

On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.

This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.

We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.

This story is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story that happens all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. Media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgment, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.

The narrative is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. To protect the privacy of others, I changed some names. All else is true to my memory of what happened.

I am sharing this not for redemption or personal profit, but because this side of the story rarely gets told. To make sure our justice system treats all defendants fairly, we need to speak up when it doesn’t.

I’m Chris Bucchere.

And this is Bikelash.

PART VIII: The Offer

CHAPTER SIXTY-THREE

15 March 2013—351 days since the accident

Because the local papers and TV news had treated me like a whipping boy, I had all but written off the ability for the media to report on this accident correctly. But for the first time since the international firestorm began, a national publication printed something that did more than just repeat the lies that the DA, the police, and the media spin doctors had been promulgating for nearly a year now.

Forbes magazine featured an in-depth article written by Kashmir Hill, a well-known technology and privacy blogger, about how we turned the tables on the DA. The article said that Ted pointed out “in a small, barely visible corner of the video, a traffic light.”

“The expert,” the article continued, “to whom the state had paid $200 an hour to analyze the video, hadn’t previously spotted it. The video now seemed to tell a different story. It looks like Bucchere entered the intersection just as the light turned red. Many pedestrians, including the first witness [Wen-chih Yu], were already in the crosswalk despite the 3.5 second “all red.” Three seconds after entering the intersection, Bucchere hit [Sutchi Hui]. He might have been able to swerve left to avoid him, but the first witness [Wen-chih Yu]—who clearly entered the crosswalk very early—left that path blocked.”

Finally, somebody in the media is paying attention.

Kashmir Hill continued: “What I found fascinating though were the contradictions between the eyewitness testimony and the camera’s unbiased eye. Had they all instead been wearing Google Glass—not such a far-fetched concept for this tech-geeky city—each one could have theoretically captured the incident on video (were they in the habit of taping their morning commutes). The witnesses could have played back footage to show whether they had walk signs or not. Bucchere could have played back his tape showing whether he had a yellow or red light. Fallible and biased memories would be replaced by far more reliable documentation. This is part of the reason Russians all have dash cams in their cars.”

Kashmir closed her article with this: “They say truth is the best defense. In this case, a few pairs of Glass—or a bike cam—would have made the truth much easier to discern.”

As one of my former Mission Cycling teammates pointed out in his response to my email, the moral of my story should have been: Wear Your Fucking Helmetcam. He was right. I was astoundingly lucky that the Twin Peaks security cam had captured the entire event on video. With a camera on my bike or helmet, I might have already produced enough evidence to exonerate me completely.

Without any footage at all, I’d already be in jail.

CHAPTER SIXTY-FOUR

20 March 2013—356 days since the accident

“Chris, it’s Ted.” I could hear my attorney barking as I ducked into a conference room and lifted the phone to my ear. Ted would do that often—start speaking before I said hello—displaying little concern for common phone etiquette or that his name lights up in big letters on my little screen, so there was no need to identify himself.

In light of the events of the previous eleven and a half months, I had long since stopped speculating on the reason for Ted’s calls. Instead, I relegated myself to the new reality in which even the most inconceivable of horrors could befall me at any given moment.

“I met with Omid, and he told me he’s not our problem,” Ted said. He spoke in rapid-fire bursts, sounding like a pistol firing rounds through a silencer.

“How so?” I interrupted. Omid certainly seemed like a big problem in the courtroom.

“Hold on! Let me finish,” Ted demanded. “He said he understands the weaknesses in his case—”

Weaknesses in his case?” I asked. “What case? He has no case!”

“He thinks he can still get you on your speed alone, either prima facie or posted or both, even though he only needs one.”

“You know they can’t do that.”

“Do what, exactly?”

“They can’t make a felony stick because I might have been going a few miles an hour over the speed limit, just like many of the vehicles that travel down that hill every day. That’s not felony-grade negligence, and they know that. On top of that, you and I both know that had I gone more slowly, I might have inflicted even more damage as the pedestrians converged upon me. And had I been traveling just a hair faster, I might have made it out of the other side of the intersection before I got sandwiched. Why can’t we argue this case in light of the actual events that transpired instead of on this whole ‘guilty because cyclist/blogger’ bullshit?”

“If this had anything at all do with the facts of the case or the vehicle code, they would have already dropped the charges,” Ted replied. “But there’s no sense in speculating about what might happen. You know that. You’ve seen how dangerous Gascón is and how much he wants to make an example out of you and your behavior, regardless of what really happened out there. There’s no telling what he’ll do next.”

“So what are we supposed to do next?”

“Well, Omid understands the fact that the pedestrians were jaywalking; he knows the fact that you had the right of way; and he knows that Nathan Pollak lied. If it were only Omid’s call, he would probably agree to a misdemeanor or maybe even drop the charges altogether. But he has to run it by Gascón, who he said has his mind set on a felony.”

“Pardon my French, but what the fuck is going on here, Ted? Are we buying a used car from these motherfuckers, or talking about me watching my daughter grow up from inside a cell for the next six years? All I want is for this case to be about the facts, not about some insane vendetta the DA has against cyclists.”

“Calm down, Chris. You don’t send a five-star general into battle. Gascón’s never seen the inside of a courtroom. Even though he’s calling the shots, he’s not going to get involved in the nitty-gritty.”

“I don’t understand! Gascón wants to create a bicycle felon. He has no knowledge of the case. He only knows what he’s read in the papers, much of which he put there himself through press releases or ‘leaks’ in the first place. Even though Omid attacked us over and over during his pathetic closing arguments, now he’s acting like Mr. Nice Guy and blaming the ‘man behind the curtain’ for all our problems. I don’t buy it. I don’t want a used car. This is bullshit, and you know it.”

“Perhaps it is, but regardless, Gascón won’t take a meeting with me or with you. However, Omid’s going to let me come in and talk to him and Sharon Woo, his boss.”

“Well that’s nice, but I doubt Sharon cares about this case any more than Omid does. If Gascón wants to make a felon out of me as his personal pet project, then he needs to take a fucking meeting with me. I want him to look me in the eye and say to my face that he really believes this accident was my fault and that I deserve to be called a felon for it.”

“He’s never gonna do that.”

“Why not?”

“You know why not.”

No I don’t! Go make it happen!”

I hung up the phone, defiant. On my wild, emotional roller coaster, I had reached a peak of rash confidence and self-righteous indignation. Then I collapsed into a chair in the windowless conference room and started bawling like a four-year-old.

At that moment, I realized that the inscrutable mess I was in had the same likelihood of landing me in jail as it did of driving me foaming-at-the-mouth mad.

It seemed I was already well on my way.

CHAPTER SIXTY-FIVE

21 March 2013—357 days since the accident

Perhaps because my first arraignment hadn’t provided enough entertainment for those who watch the evening news, I needed to have a second one. Ted and I pushed our way past a throng of reporters, sticking their microphones and video cameras in my face and asking questions.

“We heard you tweeted about this accident. What do you have to say now?”

I said nothing and looked the other way. I had never tweeted about the accident. I had deleted my Twitter account along with the rest of my internet contributions in what seemed like a lifetime ago.

“So you have nothing to say at all? Nothing?” some reporter said, nearly hitting me in the face with his microphone. “Nothing to say to the family? Nothing at all?” he pressed on, cameras rolling as he twisted his mic in front of my mouth at various angles. Still, I said nothing, but the thought did register that the media could now use my “saying nothing” against me if they thought it would cause more outrage and sell more ads.

“Why wasn’t the case resolved by today, like the judge said it would be?” asked another reporter.

The judge didn’t say that, I thought, again saying nothing.

We finally made it into the courtroom—a place riddled with other perils, but at least a sanctuary from the reporters outside seeking to do as much harm as possible. We had to wait longer than usual, as several cases had piled up in front of ours. But what I witnessed from the gallery as we waited caused more tears to well up in my eyes. This time, however, I wasn’t crying for myself.

From the gallery, I watched as the bailiff escorted one dark-skinned man after another, each wearing a matching orange jumpsuit, up to the podium. Each inmate’s attorney would mumble a few words, the judge would read how much time the inmate had already served and how much time he had left to serve, and then, with little more than a shuffling of papers, the judge would order the convict back to his cage in the adjacent jail.

Most of these men had the same overworked and underpaid attorney—someone from the public defender’s office, I figured. But some had outside counsel, not that it seemed to make any difference. Those guys had come out of jail to go to court, just to get ordered back into jail.

Now, their crimes may have been heinous and cold-blooded—but why are they all dark-skinned? One third of San Francisco is Asian. Of the remaining two-thirds, only a small fraction is non-white. So where are all the white people? And the women? And moreover, why wasn’t anybody doing anything other than sending these human beings back into animal cages?

Did these men actually commit the crimes they were convicted of? Or did prosecutors simply make up a case based on mistaken witness accounts, paid-off “experts,” and lying police officers, then leak it to the media, like they had for me? After what I had experienced, I knew I’d never assume anyone’s guilt ever again.

There were only two differences that I could see between me and these guys. I had saved—and borrowed—enough money to hire the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area, and I was light-skinned enough to pass for white.

My swirling thoughts were interrupted: My turn had come. The hearing was over just seconds after it started, which is how most arraignments go. Most people, especially attorneys and journalists, know that.

But as we left the courtroom, Dave Clark, the anchor for KTVU news, intercepted Ted with his microphone and a barrage of questions. Ted looked him in the eye and asked, “For an arraignment? Really?”

With that, we timidly pressed our way through the throng of reporters again and high-tailed it down the stairs and out of that godforsaken place—at least for the time being.

CHAPTER SIXTY-SIX

21 March 2013—357 days since the accident

Several big news stories broke regarding my uneventful second arraignment. I read all of the thousands of comments, nearly all of which were not worth reading. They boiled down to six archetypes:

1) Cyclists in this city are such entitled assholes, all of them. Bucchere is the mother of all the scofflaw cyclists out there. Guilty! Hang him high.

2) Pedestrians in this city are such entitled assholes, all of them. They do stupid stuff all the time. Let’s wait and see how this plays out.

3) Bikes should require registration or insurance. Or both. Or pay a road tax. Or all of the above. But what about little six-year-old Jimmy with training wheels? Will he need to register his bike too?

4) Drivers kill 99% of the dead pedestrians in SF and probably 99.9% of the pedestrians who die worldwide. Why do the one or two cyclists get all the coverage? And why a felony? Hardly any drivers who are sober and stay at the scene get anything other than a misdemeanor and some community service—if they get charged at all.

5) Bucchere does NOT represent the cycling community. I’m a cyclist, but I’m not that kind of cyclist! Don’t let this one bad apple shape your opinion of all the other law-abiding cyclists out there.

6) I have a high IQ, yet I still comment on news articles. Why is no one paying attention to the fact that Bucchere is getting railroaded by the DA and the media? The Forbes article said that all the eyewitness testimony was debunked and the expert witness was embarrassed off the stand by the video. So now all they have is speed, and even that sounds shaky. So why is Gascón still insisting on a felony? Because he screwed up the Ang case? You shouldn’t hire a cop to do a DA’s job.

CHAPTER SIXTY-SEVEN

29 March 2013—one year since the accident

Easter Week had started badly and only gotten worse. On the Sunday prior, I received a phone call from my mom telling me that her dad, my maternal grandfather, had started hospice. The following Tuesday, March 26, Papa Donny died.

Having spent all of our savings on legal fees, bail, and measures to ensure our privacy and safety, my wife and I had been living paycheck to paycheck, amassing a $65,000-sized hole of credit card debt. We couldn’t afford to ditch work for three days and fly to New York for the wake and funeral.

But this was Papa Donny.

For decades, every Sunday, two dozen relatives, representing four generations of our huge Italian and Jewish family, had gathered along a massive table in Papa Donny’s row house in Brooklyn—often extended with card tables and folding chairs—to dine upon his homemade pizza, rigatoni bolognese, lasagna, and more. He’d recite a three-second blessing, followed by three hours of boisterous conversation, laughter, and feasting. As the host, the chef, and master of ceremonies, Papa Donny was the anchor that kept our family in place, and the ballast that kept us steady.

We found a way to get there. We flew across the country, with our daughter in tow. For Papa Donny.

On March 29, 2013—exactly one year to the day of the accident—my family and I sat on a church pew in Staten Island and choked down tears as my dad eulogized this man who had shaped our family so profoundly. How Papa Donny had immigrated to the states from Castellammare del Golfo as a child, passing through Ellis Island; how he had worked in construction, including pouring cement to build the anchorage for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

During the service at the cemetery, I thought about Papa Donny’s last years and how much he had suffered. How we all had felt so unable to help. My mind wandered and then, when it regained focus, I wasn’t thinking about Papa Donny; I was thinking about Sutchi Hui. Another family had lost their patriarch a year ago, due to actions I had taken, decisions I had made in the blink of an eye. A year ago they had all been plunged into this same darkness.

It was too much to bear. I walked away from the gathering at the headstone, my grandfather’s coffin not yet lowered into the grave. I found a feeble tree, put my arm up against it, lowered my head, and I cried.

I cried for Papa Donny and my family. And I cried for Sutchi Hui and his.

Then I got ahold of myself, wiped away the tears, and walked back to rejoin the burial ceremony. As quickly as these thoughts had come, I banished them. The past year had taught me to compartmentalize everything.

My daughter was about to lose her father to a lengthy jail sentence. Another family would soon be left without their husband and dad. I didn’t have time for emotions.

The case was the only concern I could handle right now.

CHAPTER SIXTY-EIGHT

10 April 2013—377 days since the accident

I hadn’t seen Ted since my second arraignment, so I emailed him to ask if he and I could have a meeting. He emailed back promptly to set one for Monday, April 15, and told me that he had also managed to get a meeting scheduled with Sharon Woo, Omid’s boss. Ted then asked me to tell him more about how I use Strava, asking me to discuss my “previous times for that ride and how March 29th stacked up.” They’re still trying to make it seem like I was racing, I thought.

I wrote back with the following:

Hi Ted,

Great news that your meeting with Sharon Woo is now on the calendar. I believe our other important date is either the 23rd or the 30th for the hearing to argue the 995 motion—not sure if I’m needed for that.

About Strava, if I understand the prosecution’s case correctly (and believe me, it’s been a challenge), they’re using Strava to show that I was “racing.” By that logic, anyone who records their time on foot, bike, car or public transit on any route in any kind of log to compare present times with past times on the same route is also, without a doubt: “racing.”

I can point you to what I think the DA’s primary source of information was to make the startling conclusion that I was “racing:” http://sfcitizen.com/blog/ 2012/04/13/did-cyclist-chris-bucchere-discuss-prizes-for-winning-strava-segments-just-four-days-before-his-castro-collision/

There’s also a line in Cadigan’s chronology where someone (possibly James Herd, who maintains sfcitizen.com, under a fake name) calls in to inform the police that people online are saying I was racing. People online have said lots of things, e.g. that my bike didn’t have brakes. Just because people said it online doesn’t make it true. You can ask Omid about that.

If you think that somehow the prosecution is going to dig through the Strava data and find something incriminating, then you’re giving them more credit than they deserve. In fact, I’m not even sure why they asked Strava for my data, when it seems they didn’t look any further than Strava’s home page, which says:

Track your progress and challenge your friends

Compare your performance against friends, locals and pros

Set personal records and climb the leaderboards

Which meant, to the DA’s office:

Race yourself and your friends

Race your friends, locals and pros

Race yourself and get street cred for better times

I’m happy to show you how I have used Strava to track my performance over the past few years. In particular, I’ve paid attention to certain hill climbs in remote areas (like Hawk Hill) with no stop signs or traffic signals and no traffic, especially not at 7am. Since I know where the climbing segment starts and ends, I put forth my best climbing effort and then when I get home, I compare it to my prior efforts and my teammate’s efforts. If Strava didn’t exist, I would do this anyway with a stopwatch, a piece of paper and a pencil. This practice of recording times and getting better over time (ideally) is an important part of training. But it is NOT racing. Not by a long shot.

I know this is not racing because I do, in fact, race. I have raced mountain bikes since I was a kid and road bikes dozen and dozens and dozens times on closed courses in the twenty years before the incident. I have raced in bicycle, foot and swim races in the year since the incident. I know what a closed course is. And, more importantly, I know what is NOT a closed course. I know what timing chips are and how they work. I know the difference between an “official time” and an “unofficial time” per widely accepted racing nomenclature. I recognize how Strava on your iPhone or Garmin is not the same thing as a timing chip. I know that using an iPhone or a Garmin to collect data does not mean you’re racing any more than it does when you’re using these devices in a car. And when I ride through the city in typical traffic while I’m commuting or when I’m riding for fitness, I am NOT racing. If I treated this city like a closed-course race, I would die fifteen times per week, at least. Any person who says “I have a whole stack of data from Strava” and uses that statement to imply that I was racing is a fucking idiot.

I’m happy to show you how I have used and how I continue to use Strava to track my progress and how Strava is used in general. But if I claimed I somehow knew what part of Strava is relevant to my case, I would have to be completely psychotic.

3pm on Monday works for me.

See you then.

CB

CHAPTER SIXTY-NINE

10 April 2013—377 days since the accident

Ted called me that evening to discuss why Gascón seemed so hung up on Strava.

“After the expert and Pollak failed him, Strava is the only thing Gascón has left in his arsenal to raise your behavior to a felony,” Ted said.

“But recording a ride on Strava doesn’t equal racing. I record all my rides, even my commutes. And I only race on closed courses under supervision.”

“I know, Chris. Look, we have to stop using the word racing. I don’t want to hear anything else about why Gascón thinks you were racing. I don’t want to hear about your past, present, or future racing career. All I want to hear about is how we can prove you weren’t racing on March 29th.”

Jesus.”

“He’s probably not gonna help us either.”

“Wait, I have an idea: Let’s consider the Strava track for that ride as a whole. It will show that I stopped and waited for Tobias at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It will show that I waited again at the Hawk Hill summit. It will show that I stopped at several traffic lights coming back down Arguello. It will show I stopped at lights on Oak and on Divisadero and at 14th and Castro, the first of three that Pollak said I ran. That’s hardly a race.”

“No, it’s not.”

“By analyzing the GPX waypoints, we can get a total stationary time for the ride. I would estimate it to be around fifteen minutes. A two-hour ride with fifteen minutes of stopping is not a race.”

“Let’s give it a try.”

“Okay. Gimme ten minutes.”

I hung up, crunched the numbers, and sent the results to Ted. The GPS trail for March 29th showed sixteen minutes and twenty-three seconds of stationary time on a ride that covered twenty-some miles in two hours and fifteen minutes—not race conditions by any stretch of the imagination. I didn’t find it difficult to convince Ted that I wasn’t racing; he was one of a few people already on my side.

Gascón, however, presented a much bigger challenge. He refused to meet with Ted or me. He refused to talk to us on the phone. Gascón found this case important enough to his career and his politics to hold press conferences about it, write up press releases about it, and, through a series of orchestrated leaks, provide all the soundbites the media could possibly need to fan the flames of cyclist hatred in San Francisco. But Gascón wouldn’t deign to speak with my attorney or me—the person most impacted by his relentless prosecution.

As Ted and I remained befuddled by this intractable DA, I began to think that we needed to consider a different approach.

CHAPTER SEVENTY

30 April 2013—397 days since the accident

There was a continuation hearing today—one of many, with undoubtedly more to follow. Ted and I went to the Hall of Justice, always expecting (but these days, rarely encountering) media. Per the custom, I sat in the gallery while my attorney went back into chambers with Omid and spoke with the judge.

With the preliminary hearing behind us, we had a new judge: the Honorable Justice James P. Collins. Another former cop, he had practiced, of all things, criminal defense for thirty-one years before being appointed to his judgeship. He and Ted were contemporaries, if not colleagues. In fact, the Chronicle once named Cris Arguedas (one of Ted’s two partners) as one of the top ten lawyers in the Bay Area alongside Collins. Judge Collins, back in his attorney days, had such a formidable reputation that it led one “veteran legal observer” to tell the Chronicle that if he got in trouble with the law, he would “call Collins even before he would call his wife.”

I had high hopes for Judge Collins. I figured he’d quickly see that the prosecution’s case was a joke and dismiss the charges as frivolous and unwarranted. Because our last judge, the Honorable Andrew Cheng, denied our 17(b) motion “without prejudice,” that meant that Judge Collins couldn’t reduce the charges to a misdemeanor—even if he wanted to do so—until sentencing (i.e., until I pleaded out or was found guilty). But he could still throw out the charges completely.

Ted and Omid emerged from the door that led to chambers—and also presumably to the jail, since that was the same door that the men in orange jumpsuits and shackles emerged from and returned through. I couldn’t get a sense for how things went from Ted’s disposition—he looked affable and wired on a lot of coffee, as per usual. We dispensed with our hearing in thirty seconds, agreeing to put new dates on the calendar. Then we abruptly left the courthouse. When we reached the exterior stairs that led down to Bryant Street, Ted broke the silence.

“You’ll never believe what Judge Collins did.”

What? Tell me.”

“He flipped through the felony complaint, then looked up at us and said, ‘Oh yeah, this is the guy who killed an old man with his bike and blogged about his helmet, right?’”

The color drained out of my face. “You’re fucking kidding me, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m afraid I’m not.”

“I told you we needed to do something about all the outrageous coverage in the media. You told me it didn’t matter.”

“I never said it didn’t matter!” snapped Ted. “I said there was nothing we could do about it. Not without making things worse.”

“Well things are pretty fucking bad when this allegedly sympathetic judge—with his outstanding reputation and criminal defense background and all that shit—recites to you a false media narrative. I get that your average Joe doesn’t know any better, but isn’t Judge Collins smart enough to call bullshit on this?”

Ted let that question hang in the air long enough that it became rhetorical. Then, he continued: “You know what else happened?”

“I can’t wait. Lay it on me.”

“Judge Collins asked Omid, point blank, what the Hui family thought of the charges and the prosecution.”

“And how did Omid reply?” I asked, recalling the story we had heard from Rick Johnson, the Hui family’s attorney, about how the wife Betty wanted no criminal charges so that she could collect as much money from me as possible in civil court, per the advice of her counsel. In contrast, the son Terry Jr. wanted the book thrown at me, long and hard. Apparently he didn’t care about the money; he wanted revenge.

“Omid said that the family would do whatever he told them to do.”

What?

“You heard me.”

“Yeah, I heard you, but I’m not believing what I’m hearing. You know why? Because it’s fucking unbelievable! Did Collins say anything about that?”

“Not a word.”

Omid’s manipulating the grieving family? That’s unfathomable.You know what? That’s fucking gross! It’s repulsive. Omid, Sharon, Gascón, all of them, they’re repugnant. They’re foul. They disgust me.”

“Well, now we know who’s really calling the shots.”

“These DAs and ADAs should be ashamed of themselves and their conduct. They’re gonna get the outcome they want even if the family wants the opposite.”

“I think they think they’re just doing their jobs, Chris.”

CHAPTER SEVENTY-ONE

21 May 2013—418 days since the accident

Today Ted, Judge Collins and ADA Omid went back into chambers at the Hall of Justice and discussed my case, off the court record. Meanwhile, I sat just across the street from the giant cinderblock in Café Roma, where it seemed that every customer either wore a dark suit and carried a briefcase or wore a blue uniform and carried a firearm. I never could seem to relax in this place, so I grabbed a seat with my back in a corner, and faced the entrance so I could watch people coming and going. I pulled out my laptop and tried to look busy.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and nearly jumped out of my seat. A stocky man with stark white hair, a matching white mustache, and a navy suit was trying to get my attention. How did he sneak up on me like that? At first glance, I thought it was Michael Mahoney, the “expert” witness.

“Chris, I want to wish you the best of luck,” he said. “I also want you to know that you’ve got the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area. If I were in your shoes, I would go straight to Ted.”

About halfway through his words of encouragement, it dawned on me that this was one of my attorney’s many professional contacts; I had seen them chatting earlier that morning.

“Thank you, I know—but it never hurts to hear it again,” I said with a smile, bidding farewell to the nameless man who looked a lot like Mahoney.

I tried to re-immerse myself in busywork, but moments later, I got a text from the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area. Time to head into my least favorite building in San Francisco.

Thankfully, the TV news hadn’t turned up at the Hall of Justice. And Ted was beaming, a rarity in his line of work.

There must be some good news.

Ted told me that the prosecution had finally conceded that they didn’t have enough evidence to prove that my light was red. During the preliminary hearing, they had introduced video evidence that proved that my light was yellow, thereby disproving that it was red (or any other conceivable color besides yellow). But that was a distant memory, quite meaningless at this point.

So, after fifteen months of fighting against my city’s government, and legal fees approaching six figures, they had finally dropped the red light charge. It seemed like a small victory, but I didn’t much feel like celebrating. It still wasn’t clear to me how—by conceding the red light allegation—their whole house of cards hadn’t come tumbling down, resulting in a dropping of charges.

On the way out of the Hall of Justice, Ted asked me a question I hadn’t heard before.

“Have you ever made eye contact with the family?”

“No. I’ve noticed that they’re there, but I’ve never looked at them. Why do you ask?”

“They said that you’re not showing any signs of remorse. Perhaps you could try to look more sorry.”

I didn’t really know what to say.

Fifteen months earlier, I had narrowly escaped death in a horrific bike accident. An hour after I got home from the hospital, the media coverage hit in full force. Blowing several red lights and stop signs! Blogging about the accident! Riding a fixie without brakes! Felony charges! Need for speed! Racing on Strava! Those bells had all been rung—and, as my former teammate Vitaly Gashpar wrote so many months ago, we couldn’t un-ring them. Now, inconceivably, my light—the light—which should determine how the scales of justice would tip—finally, it seemed—had been yellow all along. That meant that the right of way I claimed from the start—predicated upon entering the intersection on a yellow—was finally mine to be had.

Yet in this very same conversation, Ted asked me to look “more sorry.”

The DA had just handed me the right of way, clearing the path for my complete exoneration, but I was so jaded from so many battles that I didn’t even know how to celebrate a victory anymore. I had been on the defensive for so long, it was hard to remember other feelings—like being sorry.

I had been deeply sorry fifteen months ago. Being sorry was there right from the very beginning—but that emotion had gotten crowded out by fear and anger and frustration from months of death threats, financial peril, personal attacks from a DA out for my hide, and from being ambushed by the local media, always looking to make a buck on the salacious details.

Finally, after a pregnant pause, I responded.

“Ted,” I said, slowly and calmly, “you know how I feel about you. You know I think you’re the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area, something I would believe anyway, even if a dozen other people hadn’t told me so. That being said, you’re still a lawyer. And lawyers have the uncanny ability to emotionally distance themselves from any shred of human integrity. You can argue either side of an issue with equal fervor, even if you know that one side is completely wrong. But me? I don’t have that skill. For better or worse, I am who I am. I can’t look sorry and remorseful if I didn’t do the things I’m supposed to be sorry for. I’m not a goddamn actor.”

Ted opened his mouth to speak, but I cut him off. For once, he didn’t protest.

“Sutchi Hui, Betty Hui, and Wen-chih Yu, three people crossing against a DON’T WALK symbol, sandwiched me between them. I did everything I could to avoid all the jaywalking pedestrians, but they didn’t have the right of way—I did. And in the end, I avoided all but one of them. And that nearly killed me as well. Now I’m under siege by the crazy-ass city government and the media, facing a jail sentence, and undoubtedly a massive civil suit for something I didn’t even do. It’s all because no one could wait for the motherfucking WALK symbol, Ted. And now you, of all people, want me to look sorry?”

“But you were still speeding.”

“Jesus! Who do you work for? Me or the DA? Nobody can prove I was speeding with any reasonable amount of accuracy.”

“What about the video?”

“It’s too low-res so you can’t determine my position accurately enough to deduce speed. Even if they managed to get a speed, it would end up somewhere in the mid-to-high twenties. Even someone as corrupt as Gascón couldn’t possibly send me to jail for even a day for going twenty-seven in a twenty-five and then not being able to avoid jaywalking pedestrians—let alone for six years.”

“You already spent a day in jail.”

You little fucker! You know what I mean.”

“You know you were going too fast.”

How the hell else was I going to get myself out of that intersection? I had three and a half seconds. If I held my speed and everyone waited his or her turn, I would have crossed into the southern crosswalk when the WALK symbol came on and well on my way down toward 18th Street by the time pedestrians started walking.”

“Or you could have stopped.”

Where? That would have just guaranteed more people getting hurt—or me getting hit by a car as I skidded into the intersection causing a massive pile-up. Or hitting even more pedestrians.”

“Then you admit you were going too fast to stop, which is a basic speed violation.”

“Okay, fine, you got me! I’m guilty of a basic speed violation. That’s what the responding officers put in the police report, isn’t it? Looks like they actually got one thing right. Still not worthy of a felony.”

“And you know your speed could affect your right of way?”

What? I’ve pored over the entire California Vehicle Code, cover to cover, and I promise you, there’s no law in there that says it does.”

“If it’s not specified in the CVC, then it’s open to interpretation.”

“So let’s force a trial and find out!”

“Let’s not and say we didn’t.”


At dusk, needing to calm my raging thoughts, I went for a run in the open space near our home. As I emerged from the trees, I sat down where I could see for maybe thirty miles. Though it seemed no bigger than a postage stamp, I could see San Francisco nestled between the water and the clouds.

Why had Ted grilled me like that earlier?

I thought we were fighting on the same team, but now he was hung up on basic speed and questioning my right of way.

The city looked like a castle in the sky. I had grown up in the Bay Area and spent most of my adult life here, too. In 1999, I had fallen in love in San Francisco, with a woman I would later marry. We’d raise a child together. Such good memories.

I caught my breath as my thoughts did battle with one another.

San Francisco betrayed me. But was it her fault? San Franciscans didn’t know they were being told a fairy tale by a prosecutor who was manipulating the media to make a statement. They didn’t know all the things I had to do to defend myself, I—

At that instant instant, time stopped. Everything froze around me. The world had gone silent; all I could hear was the sound of my own thoughts.

Finally, 418 days after I smashed my head into the pavement, I arrived at the heart of the matter: No matter what, I’m guilty. Guilty of killing a man with my bicycle. And that’s the only thing that matters. The rest of this is just a distraction, mere made-for-TV bullshit.

I realized in that moment that I had let the bullshit consume me. I was so hung up on keeping myself out of jail—because I needed to be there for my wife and daughter. But they had lost me long ago. So many nights, instead of reading my daughter a bedtime story and curling up with my wife in bed, I had stayed up until two or three in the morning, poring over the same facts and reports, obsessed with every minute detail.

In trying so hard to avoid jail, I couldn’t see that I was a prisoner of my own compulsions. I could think about nothing other than winning this absurd case, proving my innocence, disproving these ridiculous charges, and keeping myself out of the news. If only proving that I had entered the intersection on a yellow light would take away the pain of what had happened next. But nothing could. Nothing would ever heal that wound.

In my obsession, I had lost sight of the only part that mattered. Regardless of what anyone was saying about me, or doing to me, or how the laws were—and weren’t—being applied to me, I was guilty of not riding safely enough to save Sutchi Hui from harm. I wasn’t defensive enough. I wasn’t careful enough, quick enough, skilled enough. Even if there hadn’t been a right decision to make, I had still made the wrong decision. And an innocent man—a grandpa, a husband, a father—had died. Despite thirty years of riding safely, I had failed at riding safely that morning.

And that is the only thing that matters.

I stood up and time started moving again. I need to make this stop, now. I need to focus on what’s important.

When I got home, I wrote a long email to Ted. Then I wrote a heartfelt private apology letter to Mrs. Hui, expressing my remorse over the role I played in her husband’s death, which went far beyond the sentiments of the card I left in the hospital. I printed it, signed it, and planned to give it to Ted at our next meeting.

CHAPTER SEVENTY-TWO

20 June 2013—448 days since the accident

“So, it’s over?”

“Yes.”

“We have a deal? Just like that? It’s really over?”

“Yes.”

“So, how exactly does this whole felony-to-misdemeanor conversion work?”

I sat, one leg tucked under the other, leaning forward toward the desk of Ted Cassman, the “C” in ACH, Arguedas, Cassman & Headley, L.L.P., the law firm I had retained more than a year ago to represent me. My expenses had exceeded six figures, but right then I didn’t care who was on the clock and who wasn’t. I needed to understand what was happening to me.

Ted stood behind his desk, arms crossed, holding a compostable cup of coffee in his left hand. He eyes were red and bleary. He’d been traveling. Pittsburgh. And before that, his son’s graduation from Stanford Law.

In Ted’s right hand, he held my apology letter to Mrs. Hui. After a read, he had given it his approval and promised to pass the letter on to Omid to give to the family. Then he looked me right in the eye, as he always did, and proceeded to explain this bizarre arrangement.

“Gascón gets his felony conviction. He gets a big media win. Then, after eighteen months—or whatever term we agree to—your felony becomes a misdemeanor.” Ted spoke exuberantly, like we had won the lottery or something. We were interrupted by an urgent phone call and a story from Ted about a laptop left on a plane.

“So what about the conversion-to-misdemeanor part?” I tried to put us back on the rails.

“What about it?”

“Is it out there in public? Will the media write about it?”

“No. No one will hear about that.”

“So I’m gonna be a felon. As far as the world is concerned, a felon for life.”

“I know, Chris. This is what Gascón has wanted since the beginning. He wanted his felony. Now he gets his felony.”

“He told KCBS that he was gonna go for felony fewer than two weeks after the accident. I think it was April 10th. Before the video even came out! Before the SFPD had presented the case to his office. Jesus! I remember sitting in the car, listening to him on the radio, recording it for you and thinking, what the fuck am I hearing?

“I know, Chris. I know. What a long, strange trip it’s been,” Ted said.

Usually, evoking the Grateful Dead had a way of putting a nice little bookend on the topic of conversation, but not this time.

“He was prejudiced from the start, Ted. He can’t get away with this! And you and I both know that the law is on our side. He can’t do this!”

“He just did,” said Ted, with a tone of resignation.

“So Gascón gets a felony, exactly what he wanted all along,” I said. “Exactly what he told the media would happen before he even knew what the hell he was talking about—and by saying that, I’m not implying that he ever knows what he’s talking about, just to be perfectly clear. The burden of proof lies with the DAs, yet they still haven’t shown us anything to support any of their claims. And they’ve leaked all manner of crooked things to the media, destroying my reputation, my credibility—my future. And me? What do I get out of this?”

“You. Don’t. Have. To. Go. To. Jail.” Ted spoke slowly and sternly, pausing between each word.

And I knew he was right.

A big, roaring heat wave inside me still yearned for these outlandish charges to be dropped. In fact, I still wanted a public apology for wasting my time and money and destroying my reputation. But Gascón—through a series of cold, calculated leaks of false information to the media—had sealed my fate long ago.

“I want a trial, Ted. I want a goddamn trial.”

“We can’t go to trial, Chris.” Ted looked at me, no doubt feeling a bit exasperated. We’d had this conversation before, and it always ended the same way. My emotions had thrown in the towel, but my compulsive side remained stubborn; I couldn’t let go.

“We can win this, Ted! We’ve already gotten them to drop the red light charge. With the red light charge gone, I had the right of way, so then they should drop failure-to-yield. So what do they have left? Speed? Their ‘expert’ said thirty-two miles per hour, right? We know he’s wrong, but worst case, they get me at seven miles per hour over the posted speed limit. And that’s it? Eight jaywalking pedestrians jump out in front of a bike going SEVEN MILES PER HOUR over the speed limit with the unquestionable right of way. You think I’ll get convicted on that?”

“I don’t think you’ll get convicted. I know you’ll get convicted. And you’ll risk getting jail time, too. We’ve talked about this before, Chris. To have the right of way, you need to have entered the intersection lawfully.”

“I did. The light was yellow.”

“But you were speeding.”

Ted was probably right, but I had to make sure he was sure. If I sensed a weakness in his argument, I would exploit it. It had taken me many months of sparring with Ted to understand how to argue with him. Leave out the emotion; stick to the facts. He still won every argument, but at least I could keep up with him a bit better now.

“Do you remember that section of Virginia’s vehicle code? In that state, speed above the posted limit nullifies right of way. But there’s no such law in the California Vehicle Code,” I said. I had done my homework.

“That means it can go either way.” Ted answered. He always has all the answers.

“So you’re saying they could use my alleged speed infraction to cancel my right of way and hit me with failure to yield?”

“Yes. They’ll hit you with everything they’ve got.”

“Well, they’ve already burned three eyewitnesses, one of whom perjured himself so badly—it was hard to believe how he just shrugged it off—he was such a mess, he probably didn’t even know what he did to himself up there.”

“Yeah, Nathan Pollak was most likely on drugs,” Ted said. “I can’t explain his behavior any other way.”

“Yeah, probably crank, plus maybe a bad hangover. Or maybe he’s a pathological liar, just can’t help it, even if he tried. So, anyway, they’ve got three eyewitness accounts that were flatly contradicted by the surveillance video, an ‘expert’ who was embarrassed off the stand, and all they’ve got left is speed, which they still haven’t proven. What are they going to do to me now?” It was an honest question.

“They’ll find more witnesses. They’ll get a new expert, someone less incompetent than Mahoney. And they can go for basic speed, too.”

Basic speed law—the often-neglected stepchild of the prima facie (posted) speed laws—states that your speed should be appropriate for the conditions, e.g., if the posted speed is sixty-five but a dense fog limits visibility, then the basic speed law might mean that you can only safely go twenty-five. Other conditions—like rush hour traffic, a bus, steep hills, train tracks, potholes or, say, being on a bike—could all play into a potential basic speed violation. Every one of those factors applied to my case.

“Yeah, they could really get me on basic speed. I still can’t believe we’re talking about six years in jail for going seven miles over the posted speed limit or violating the basic speed law.”

“You’re not going to jail for six years. Or at all. Not if you take the deal. Why do you still want a trial? Why risk it?” I could see that Ted was getting frustrated.

“Because I’m right! Because I still think we can win! The facts are on our side. We can get an acquittal! We can show Gascón that overcharging me was a terrible mistake.”

“No, we’ll lose. Plus it’s going to cost you another $35,000, and that doesn’t even include paying for our own accident reconstruction expert, PI hours, and a PR firm to do the market research to support our motion to change venue.”

“We were out of money $50,000 ago.”

“Well then that’s another reason you shouldn’t go to trial. You want another?” I suspected that Ted was going to tell me anyway, so I just gave him a blank stare.

“The autopsy photos, Chris. You’ve seen the autopsy photos, and you know we couldn’t stop them from being admitted as evidence during the PX. Those jurors will take one look at those autopsy photos and, no matter how many facts we put in front of them, no matter how many sections of the vehicle code we read, no matter that the pedestrians all crossed too early, no matter that you had the right of way, no matter that you have no criminal record, no driving record and 30,000 safe cycling miles under your belt and more than a dozen mitigating letters from all sorts of prestigious people—including a California attorney general—no matter what: You’re getting convicted. And then you’re going to jail. Gascón repeatedly and shamelessly leaked false information to the press in order to destroy you, so you’re already guilty in the public’s eye. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that you’ll get a fair trial. Think about what your family will have to go through. More publicity. More leaks of false information. More death threats. Think about your wife. Think about your daughter.”

My wife and daughter were my #1 and my #1; Ted knew how to hit where it hurt.

“So lemme get this straight. I’m going to be punished for operating my bike like a vehicle in adherence with most, if not all, applicable sections of the vehicle code at a speed at which a vehicle would normally travel through that intersection. So I guess the vehicle code doesn’t matter anymore; perhaps it never did. Nor did the color of the light make any difference. Speed? No, it’s not really about that either.”

“You’re catching on now, finally.” Ted twisted his face into a wry grin.

“It doesn’t matter if that light was red, orange, yellow, green, or purple. You killed a pedestrian with your bike. Gascón’s got us backed into a corner. And when Judge Cheng denied the 17(b) motion without prejudice, we took it on the chin, again. Now no one can mention misdemeanor again until sentencing, meaning that a judge wouldn’t even give the misdemeanor-conversion option to a jury. Gascón gets his felony no matter what. He needs to make an example out of you—and that’s what’s happening. Like it or not, you’re the fall guy for every bad cycling behavior in the Bay Area, Chris. You need to get over it and take the deal.”

Get over it? This is bullshit, Ted! What Gascón’s doing is vile. And it’s politically motivated! It’s about reversing the damage he did by not charging Randy Ang with a felony and throwing his ass in jail. This is fucking bullshit, Ted, and you know it. They’re forcing our hand. You’re acting like you’re empowering me to make some kind of decision, yet in this contrived scenario, there’s only one possible choice: I have to take the deal.”

“That’s the right decision,” Ted said, with a smirk, surely observing that I had slipped down the precipice from facts to emotion.

“You made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” I said with a sigh of resignation.

Taking this deal would keep me out of jail. Any other decision would be stupid and costly—reckless, even. Not taking the deal would cause this madness to continue for months or even years, giving the DA more opportunities to slander me, and distracting everyone from what was important.

“I’ll do everything I can to shrink the duration of the felony. I think I can get one year or less on that and maybe 500 to 1,000 hours of community service.”

“It doesn’t really matter to me how many community service hours I get. I’ll do whatever community service they want me to do—in fact, I’ll do whatever the hell they want me to do. The bottom line is that I don’t have to go to jail. And I’m not staying a felon for any longer than I have to in order to give Gascón the media narrative he so desires. Then maybe I can rebuild my life and start to process what actually happened here, something that got lost because of this circus. Thank you, Ted, for keeping me out of jail. This has been really hard on me. And my girls, too. But it would be much worse if I had to go to jail. One day was more than enough!”

And with that, Ted ushered me out of the law offices of Arguedas, Cassman & Headley. It might be my last visit here, I thought. I rode my bike to North Berkeley BART to catch a train back to my office in the San Francisco’s Financial District. Soon after, I would tell my wife, my brother, my parents, and eventually my coworkers, that the end was near.

Without a doubt, in just a few days, in the library in the Hall of Justice reserved for press conferences, DA George Gascón would step up to the podium, in front of a half-dozen microphones and video cameras, and proceed to tell the world exactly how swiftly and deftly he charged, apprehended, processed, and punished the nation’s first bicycle felon. He would win his vehicular manslaughter case and make a felon out of me, a software developer, long-time Bay Area resident, and guy who likes to ride his bike—and who had been doing so safely and uneventfully for almost his entire life.

Gascón would undoubtedly speak of justice. And somehow—through ignoring the law, leaking false information to the media, and manipulating the Hui family—”justice had been served,” whatever that meant. He would tell the cycling community—from tourists to occasional commuters, from hardcore roadies to hipsters on brakeless fixies, from daredevil downhill mountain bikers to the patently insane messengers—that they should heed his warning: The rules of the road apply to everyone.

And if you’re on a bike, those rules apply—doubly so.

CHAPTER SEVENTY-THREE

25 June 2013—453 days since the accident

Though I still felt very uncomfortable about pleading guilty to a felony, I needed this all-consuming nightmare to end. Ted implored me, over the phone, for the last time, to accept the plea bargain being offered, which they called “their final offer:” a bizarre deal in which I would get three years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service, but in which my “felony” would get converted to a misdemeanor six months after the date of sentencing.

My wife and I had already spent well beyond our means to fight back at this relentless bullying by the DA. As much as we wanted the facts to come to light in a trial, we couldn’t afford the financial and the emotional toll it would entail. Ted simply wanted me to hurry up and make up my mind.

“We have until the 18th of July to settle before we lose Judge Collins,” he warned.

“He’s been a huge help so far,” I said sarcastically. “Big. HUGE.”

“Come on, that’s not fair. It could be much worse, and you know that, Chris.”

“Okay, fine. But if I plead out, the 995 motion will never be heard.”

“You’re right, it won’t. But it will remain on the court record.”

“I need to talk to Carroll. We need to think this through.”

“Of course.”


>> Continue to PART IX: The Message


For a closer look at the research behind Bikelash, visit the companion GitHub project.

Bikelash PART VII (c): Kangaroo Court, Concluded

On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.

This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.

We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.

This story is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story that happens all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. Media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgment, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.

The narrative is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. To protect the privacy of others, I changed some names. All else is true to my memory of what happened.

I am sharing this not for redemption or personal profit, but because this side of the story rarely gets told. To make sure our justice system treats all defendants fairly, we need to speak up when it doesn’t.

I’m Chris Bucchere.

And this is Bikelash.

PART VII (c): Kangaroo Court, Concluded

CHAPTER FIFTY-NINE

7 March 2013—343 days since the accident

The very next morning, I experienced a moment of déjà vu as almost the same cast of characters—Ted, Julie, Fred, and now PI John Mason—huddled with me in the Hall of Justice. Everyone sported a slightly different look—suits of slightly different colors, different shirts, different colored ties—but aside from that, everything felt just like it had the day before. I maintained a pretty high level of confidence that once we settled the existential debate over the traffic light—and once Judge Cheng acknowledged that traffic light—he would find me not at fault in this accident and either outright dismiss the ridiculous charges based on false testimony, or, worst case, knock the charges down to a misdemeanor.

My confidence was shaken a bit when I realized we had a major problem on our hands: No media had turned out for day two of the PX—no antenna trucks, no camera crews, no microphones. Normally, I would have appreciated this, but today was the day our PI would present incontrovertible video evidence, and the media weren’t going to be here to see it. Ted would deliver an eloquent closing argument that would convince Judge Cheng to let me walk. But the media wouldn’t be there to hear that either, so they wouldn’t report on it, thereby missing the opportunity, for the first time, to tell the other side of this story.

Julie and I gave a quick pep talk to Ted and asked him to slow down, way, way down. The accident is complicated; everything in the video happens so fast, you’ve gotta walk the judge through this slowly, methodically; make sure it all sinks in, we begged. Ted took it well, even though he had at least fifteen years more relevant experience in these matters than anybody else in the huddle.

After one delay and another, the bailiff finally called court into session. “All right. Are we ready for your first witness?” asked Judge Cheng.

“We are, Your Honor. We call John Mason,” Ted said, but while echoes of the name still reverberated in the courtroom, Omid spoke up, sounding perturbed.

“I do want to make a record that the first time I ever heard the name John Mason was seconds ago when Mr. Cassman called his witness,” he said.

“That’s true,” Ted replied, as I suddenly remembered that Ted had agreed to call Omid with the name of our one and only witness. “I forgot to call him last night.”

“All right,” said Judge Cheng, and, without further ado, the court swore in our private investigator.

“Mr. Mason, how are you employed?” Ted asked.

“I’m a private investigator,” John replied.

“And are you licensed with the State of California?”

“Yes.”

“Last night, did you go to the intersection of Castro Street and Market Street?”

“Yes.”

“Where specifically did you go?”

“I was standing beneath the sign for Twin Peaks Tavern, beneath and slightly to the right on the sidewalk.”

“Do you know what corner of the street that is?”

“Yeah. That’s where Castro meets 17th and just before it meets Market Street.”

“Okay. So it’s the southeast corner?”

“Objection. Leading,” interjected Omid.

He can object all he wants, I thought, but nothing is going to stop Ted and John from proving the obvious.

“Sustained,” said Judge Cheng.

“So, do you know what corner?” asked Ted.

“Yes. The compass direction would be the southeast corner,” John said calmly. He didn’t need Ted to ask leading questions; he already knew the obvious—the light in question was one of six that work in tandem to control traffic at Market and Castro. Ted wanted to make sure there couldn’t be even a shadow of doubt.

“Of Market [and] Castro?” asked Ted.

“Yes.”

Ted showed John a photograph (Defense Exhibit E) taken from under the Twin Peaks Tavern sign, just below where the 360-degree security camera was mounted. John perfunctorily identified the photo and the traffic light contained there. Everyone—even Nathan Pollak, Mahoney, Omid, and maybe even his boss Sharon and her boss George—knew about the traffic light. But of course Mahoney, in his expert opinion, had tried to explain to the court how this traffic signal controlled traffic somewhere else other than the very intersection in which was located. This game of hide-the-traffic-light ended here.

“Were you able to determine the direction of traffic that is controlled by that traffic signal?” asked Ted.

“Yes. Northbound traffic on Castro,” said John, matter-of-factly.

“So it controls the traffic that’s flowing from south to north on Castro, through the intersection at Market Street?” Ted asked, restating John’s testimony almost word for word.

“Objection. Leading, misstates the testimony,” Omid spoke up, trying to derail a truth train that was very much still on track. Strangely, Judge Cheng cooperated.

“Sustained as to leading,” the judge said.

“So, I thought I was just repeating his testimony, Your Honor,” Ted said, sounding exasperated. “I’ll try again.”

“So, what traffic flow does it control?”

“Northbound traffic from Castro.”

“And does it control it as northbound traffic at Castro approaches an intersection?”

“Yes.”

“And what intersection is that?”

“Market and Castro.”

“Okay. So to be clear, the signal that’s depicted in Defense Exhibit E and that you saw last night controls northbound traffic on Castro Street as it approaches Market Street?”

“Yes.”

“How were you able to determine that?”

“By observation. When the light turned red, traffic moving in the northbound direction stopped, and the traffic on Market Street, after a brief pause, would pick up and move in an east or west direction.”

“And what happened when the traffic signal depicted in Defense Exhibit E and that you saw last night turned green?”

“Then traffic would begin to flow northbound and southbound on Castro.”

“You noticed that when the traffic light you saw last night and is depicted in Defense Exhibit E turned green, that traffic on Castro Street flowed simultaneously both northbound and southbound?”

“Yes.”

“Did you take a video of the scene?”

“Yes.”

Defendant’s Exhibit F, a thumb drive containing a video, was brought before the court. “Your Honor, we have the video. We were rushed last night so it’s actually on a USB drive,” Ted said.

“Also, for the record,” Omid said, “Mr. Cassman first told me about this video about ninety seconds before the Court came out, didn’t tell me about this last night. When we had a conference at sidebar, there was no mention that this video would be taking place.” Omid sounded like someone had taken away his candy. “I just want to make that record,” he added—unnecessarily, because the stenographer had already done so.

“All right,” said Judge Cheng, this time more sternly than the last. “It’s noted for the record. You may proceed.”

“And, Your Honor, I also offered to give him five minutes to look at it and he said, no, this morning,” said Ted.

I suspected that Omid refused just so that he could make this on-the-record objection to distract the court from the important part: the contents of the video that proved the relevance of the traffic signal.

“So playing for you what’s been marked as Defense Exhibit F, do you see a still photograph that’s up on the screen?” Ted asked.

“Yes.” John Mason responded.

“And can you tell us what that depicts?”

Ted and John continued their back-and-forth until what was was already obvious became abundantly clear. The traffic signal in the intersection controlled traffic in the intersection.

You can’t make this stuff up!

As the court called for a cross-examination, I wondered what on earth Omid was going to ask John. What sort of stunt will he try to pull? Will he ask about John being on Ted’s (or, ultimately, my) payroll? Will he insist that his expert somehow knows more than ours? Or will he ask something so outlandish that I can’t even imagine what it might be? I feared the worst.

“Please,” Omid said to John, sounding disgusted. “You can take a seat.”

“The video was taken last night, correct?” Omid asked.

“Yes.”

“Not March 29th of last year, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Not at any point in the entire year of 2012, correct?”

“Correct.”

“It was taken conservatively eleven months after the date of the incident; is that correct?”

“Yes.”

So what’s he gonna do—say that plate tectonics moved the traffic light to some other part of the city in the past eleven months? Nothing was beyond absurdity with these people. Thankfully, Omid moved on to a more predictable line of questioning.

“You’ve never been certified as an accident reconstruction expert, have you?”

“No.”

“You don’t have extensive training in accident reconstruction, do you?”

“No.”

“Do you have training in traffic, specifically investigation?”

“No.” Omid had asked the same question three times, but before I had time to get mad, he moved on.

“When you did this little video, was Mr. Cassman there with you?” Omid shook his finger at Ted, Julie, and me, using “little” in the most pejorative way possible.

“Yes.”

“Objection to the question, Your Honor. Argumentative,” said Ted. The question wasn’t even really that argumentative, but Omid’s tone tipped the scales.

“Overruled,” said the judge.

“Mr. Cassman was with you?” Omid said, like it was some kind of accusation, not a question.

“Yes,” said John.

“And Mr. Cassman was having a conversation with you?”

“Not while I was taking the video.”

“Okay. Before the video was taken, you guys were discussing this case, correct?

“Yes.”

“He was telling you what he wanted you to do, correct?”

“Yes.”

“He was telling you what he wanted you to specifically look for, right?”

“Yes.”

“And because he told you that, then you made a point to look for certain things, correct?”

“Yes.”

“And that the light that’s depicted I think in People’s E—”

“Defense Exhibit E,” Ted interjected.

“Defense E, that controls northbound traffic on Castro Street, correct?” asked Omid.

“Yes.”

“In addition to Mr. Cassman being with you, who else was with you?”

“Julie Salamon.”

“So, was she also having conversations with you before the video was taken about this case?”

“Perhaps, but probably to a lesser degree than Ted.”

“It’s fair to say that both of them were having conversations with you specifically about what they wanted you to look for, right?”

“Yes.”

“I have nothing further.”

“Any redirect?” asked Judge Cheng.

“Nothing, Your Honor,” said Ted.

Omid had steered clear of the important assertion that John Mason made about the traffic light by nibbling around the edges—Mason’s qualifications, the passage of time between the accident and the video he took, and that my attorneys had instructed him to do what he had done at Market and Castro the previous night. John held up pretty well. There were scant few people in the courtroom that day—nothing like the day before—yet I didn’t think anyone doubted that the traffic light Mahoney tried to deny out of existence fired in exact sequence with the same light the DA was accusing me of running.

As far as I could tell, the phase of calling witnesses had ended, and the closing arguments were about to begin. Based on the rules of engagement, Ted’s closing argument came first. I sat up in my chair and inched forward, the sweat on my back causing my shirt and sport coat to stick to the back of the seat.

This is it, I thought. The crazy train stops here.

CHAPTER SIXTY

7 March 2013—343 days since the accident

As we closed in on the one-year anniversary of the fateful accident, the world had heard nothing but the DA’s and the police’s side of the story—along with an even more outrageous version that the media had simply willed into existence. With each passing moment, this story grew more and more disconnected from the events that actually took place on March 29.

Meanwhile, the story also became more predictable: I rode my bike recklessly—speeding through three red lights and a stop sign, trying to set a new land speed record on Strava—then raced home to brag about it and make a YouTube video weighing the value of the deceased’s life against a bike helmet—or other such nonsense. Until now, that was the prevailing storyline that had dominated the local, national, and international press, and I could do nothing to stop it. Not unless I wanted to lose the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area.

Outside of that attorney and maybe a dozen other people, no one even knew about the existence of any other story. But now, finally, Ted would stand at the podium and lay all of his cards on the table. In a few moments, he would explain how the witnesses Wen-chih Yu and Angelo Cilia in the crosswalk, “expert” Michael Mahoney, and witness Nathan Pollak—the man behind the lies that enabled the DA to bring felony charges in the first place—were all clearly and directly contradicted by the video, an incontrovertible piece of evidence that the prosecution themselves obtained and admitted into evidence to use against me.

Before John Mason had even cleared the well, the court had already started making sure that all the evidence was moved in and dealing with other procedural matters. What had been a slow and painful process suddenly started moving very quickly. I blinked—or so it seemed—and Ted had already begun his closing argument.

“Your Honor, I’m going to be playing the video a lot because I think it’s very important for the Court. I’m going to be asking the Court to make findings. I know it’s unusual but I think it’s more than merited in this case given the nature of the evidence that was presented from the prosecution’s expert.

“And I’m hopeful that the Court’s going to be able to see it but if not, I’m going to ask two things. Could we take a few minutes to move our table—hopefully a little closer, so that the image will be sharper?”

“Well, I don’t have a problem with your using the video to illustrate your argument,” said Judge Cheng. “In terms of making factual findings, I’m not sure that’s appropriate. It’s a limited task here, but if it will assist your argument, go ahead and play it. If I have difficulty seeing what you’re mentioning, then I’ll let you know.” Again, the judge gave the unmistakable impression that he couldn’t care less about what was happening in his courtroom.

I found this baffling, because Ted was about to disprove the prosecution’s entire case. Trying to get the court to make findings could be a long shot, but it was worth a try. We all felt like we deserved a little sympathy after hearing nothing but the litany of lies the DA’s office had fed to the media and put forth in the courtroom the day before.

“Okay. I’m just going to move the table over a little bit to try to make the image sharper,” said Ted.

“That’s fine,” said the judge.

“Judge Cheng,” Ted continued, “I’ve been doing this for thirty years now. And in that experience, vehicular manslaughter cases are well among the very saddest that I see come into the criminal justice system. And I’m sure you’ve had experience with them, too. They have horrendous consequences for the family, for the deceased, obviously, for those who care and loved him. The consequences are the same as murder, the same as murder, and we understand that. And our hearts go out to the family of Mr. Hui and I know that Chris’s heart goes out to the family.”

As Ted said those words, I thought about the Hui family, as I had done thousands of times before. How would it change their already profound loss if—after all the horrible things they read and watched ostensibly about me—I was found not to be at fault in the accident?

With all the time, money, and effort I had poured into defending myself from these baseless allegations, it was easy to forget something really important: A man died here. If only we could focus on that tragic loss, on making sure the family got compensated through insurance, and perhaps on making Market and Castro and other big, dangerous intersections safer for all parties who want and need to use them.

But these ideas would have to wait for after my exoneration. Ted continued with his closing argument.

“But, on the other hand, the conduct that is in question is very dissimilar from that involved in a murder case. The conduct is so much less severe. And the man who’s accused of committing that conduct is just frankly a very good man with no prior contacts with the criminal justice system of any kind, and certainly that’s true here. That’s the emotional dichotomy that is presented in a case like this and, nevertheless, it requires a legal examination with a certain amount of detachment and that’s what we’re requesting of the Court today: to examine the facts closely, to consider the evidence, and to make a ruling that serves justice.

“Has the prosecution presented sufficient evidence for a finding of probable cause that Mr. Bucchere was grossly negligent? The answer is no.

“And I want to start by addressing the questions that the prosecution’s expert Mr. Mahoney addressed. I realize that Mr. Mahoney—and I want to emphasize to the Court—answered them without having realized that the traffic signal that controls northbound traffic on Castro Street was right in front of him. There was no need to make assumptions about when the light turned red and when the walk signal became WALK for pedestrians. There was no need for him to infer from people’s actions in the crosswalk when the WALK signal turned on. There was no need for any speculation or assumption or inference of any kind. The evidence, objective evidence as he admitted on the stand once he saw that light, is that it turned red at 8:02:14—at 8:02:14 by the timer on the videotape.”

Ted walked over to the easel and wrote: “8:02:14 red light” in bold red letters.

“So, we don’t need to assume anything. The Court has the video and we know for a fact when the light turned red. So the first question that Mr. Mahoney addressed: Was the light red when Mr. Bucchere entered the intersection? The facts establish the following. The traffic signal in the upper left-hand corner of the top screen of People’s Number Two controls traffic running northbound on Castro Street.

“Your Honor, we’re starting the tape at 8:00:10. It’s now up to 8:00:11. Your Honor can see that the light in the upper left-hand corner of the upper screen of People’s Number Two is green and that traffic is flowing north on Castro Street. Your Honor can see that it turned yellow and red, that a car stops northbound on Castro Street and that traffic commences east-west on Market Street after a short delay. Your Honor sees that at about 8:01:45, the light turns green, traffic starts moving north on Castro Street, and also southbound on Castro Street in the upper left-hand corner.

“And let’s stop it now.

“So there is no doubt. I ask for a finding from the Court that the traffic signal in the upper left-hand corner of People’s Exhibit Number Two controls traffic flow for northbound and southbound on Castro Street.

“Now, at 8:02:06, which is where we are now, the light is green. And as the Court can see, at 8:02:11, it turns yellow and at 8:02:14—stop it—at 8:02:14, it turned red. Would the Court like me to replay that?”

“No,” said Judge Cheng.

Weird, I thought. The expert Michael Mahoney and Nathan Pollak both had to get up and walk over to the video screen in order to see the “hidden” traffic signal, but Judge Cheng has no trouble seeing it at all. Either he has incredibly good vision or he doesn’t care that Ted is taking apart the prosecution’s entire case.

“I want to continue to play it and ask the Court to focus on the upper right-hand portion of the screen, but before we do, I’ll note that pedestrians are clearly depicted in the crosswalk at 8:02:16. And I ask the Court please observe traffic westbound on Market Street. Stop.

“Traffic westbound on Market Street commenced moving three or four seconds after that light turned red. That’s a critical point for the Court to consider. We had an expert who attempted to make assumptions based on pedestrian traffic in the crosswalk on Castro Street. However, he ignored the fact that there was traffic eastbound on Market Street that did not move until three to four seconds after the accident. There is only one explanation for that: The all red for three and a half seconds after the light turned red had not ceased until at least 8:02:17.5 and hence, the all red was in effect until that time and that’s why traffic—in rush hour traffic at 8:00 in the morning on a workday did not commence to move. That’s the only explanation.

“We don’t need to speculate here based on what rush hour pedestrians who are trying to catch a MUNI bus, heading for the MUNI station across the street, are doing and why they’re doing it.”

In as many words, Ted said that eight pedestrians had grossly jumped into the crosswalk against a DON’T WALK symbol.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

“Now, what we do know from Mr. Mahoney is that at 8:02:14, Mr. Bucchere’s head was visible within the intersection on Market Street. I have the exhibit. May I bring it to Your Honor?”

“Yes,” said Judge Cheng. I had half expected him to say, “No, don’t bother.”

“May I point to it?” asked Ted. “I had Mr. Mahoney circle Mr. Bucchere’s head as he was proceeding through Market Street. At 8:02:14, the light controlling traffic northbound on Castro Street turned red and Mr. Bucchere was in the intersection. Mr. Mahoney’s expert opinion that the light was red for six and a half seconds before the point of impact is patently incorrect.

“So, Your Honor, we have demonstrated beyond any doubt, reasonable or otherwise—and we have no burden—but we have demonstrated beyond any doubt that Mr. Bucchere did not run the red light, and that comes from the prosecution’s expert with his own eyes who missed the most important fact in the case: the traffic signal in the upper left-hand corner of People’s Number Two [the surveillance video from Twin Peaks Tavern].

“I want to talk a minute about Nathan Pollak. I know that the Court’s not going to weigh credibility of witnesses, that’s not your job here, that’s not the role you play in these proceedings. I understand that. But you must weigh the evidence and you must consider what’s reasonable or even possible and what’s flatly contradicted.

“In this case, putting aside his inappropriate and disrespectful demeanor and his willingness to lie apparently under oath when confronted with the fact that he was watching a video and first wanted to say no, putting aside that, People’s Number Two [the video] flatly contradicts his testimony and proves that it is false.

“Julie, let’s roll the video. We’re at 8:02:14, Your Honor, and you see one vehicle in the upper left-hand corner approaching. Were you able to see that?”

“Yes,” said the judge.

“Okay. Great.

“And then at 8:02:20, you see the bicycle go down in the upper left-hand corner? And at 8:02:25—keep going. 8:02:32, a second vehicle appears to approach the intersection southbound on Castro Street. 8:02:38, a third vehicle appears which—stop it. Mr. Pollak identified that as his vehicle when he didn’t realize that it was thirty seconds after the accident. Keep going.

“That vehicle that we just saw pull into the number two lane on the lower screen, he identified it as his vehicle initially. Watch the light up here. It turns green, light in the upper left-hand corner. Traffic starts to proceed north and southbound on Castro Street. We see the first sedan that came up to the intersection. We see Mr. Pollak’s [Honda] Element in the number two lane and we see the second vehicle that had arrived at the intersection proceed.

“Your Honor, the evidence in this case demonstrates beyond any doubt that when Mr. Pollak said that he stopped at the intersection as Mr. Bucchere was slightly behind his vehicle, that’s wrong. And when he—the video showed us—when he said that Mr. Bucchere whizzed by his car as he was stopped at the intersection, that’s wrong. The video proves it. When he said that the second bicyclist came down and stopped alongside him at the intersection while he, Mr. Pollak, was parked there or stopped there, that was wrong. The video proves it. And if the Court has any question about that last point, I would like to replay the video at about 8:02:20 again.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Judge Cheng.

My feeling of confidence in Ted—my feeling that finally he was cutting through the layers to arrive at the heart of the matter—was profound, but also a bit dampened by the fact that Judge Cheng was acting like he either had seen all of this before or that he just didn’t care. Or maybe it was both.

“At 8:02:14—and if the Court has any question of this, I would like to try to have you replay it or ask to have it plugged into your own computer so that you can look at it yourself. I urge you to do that.”

But the court, represented by the Honorable Judge Cheng, didn’t even dignify Ted’s urging with a response.

Ted continued: “At 8:02:14, Mr. Bucchere had entered the intersection, the light turned red. Later, three vehicles approached the Market Street intersection southbound on Castro Street. The third vehicle was Mr. Pollak’s Honda Element. He admitted it on the stand before he realized that that happened at 8:02:47 according to the video, which is thirty seconds after the accident, after the accident. The video proves it, Your Honor. Mr. Pollak was wrong; he was flat wrong.

“The video proves that Mr. Bucchere did not run the red. Certainly there’s no reliable evidence in front of this court that he did and I’m asking the Court to make that finding.

“The second question addressed by Mr. Mahoney was whether the WALK signal illuminated for east and westbound pedestrians before the accident? I’ll just briefly review the evidence that we know.

“8:02:14, the light controlling traffic northbound on Castro Street turns red. We know from the traffic sequence control report that there’s a three and a half second all red. That means that until at least 8:02:17, probably 8:02:17.5 according to Mr. Mahoney, the WALK signal east and westbound on Castro Street did not illuminate.

“Now, the witnesses that the Court heard from told a different story and I want to suggest to the Court again this is not an issue of credibility. I’m sure they were doing the best they can and I’m sure they tried to tell the truth as they remember it.

“Ms. Woo, who was the prosecution’s first witness—I’m sorry. Excuse me, thank you. Ms. Yu, Y-U, she testified that she entered the crosswalk when the white hand illuminated. The video absolutely proves otherwise. She entered the crosswalk—first of all, she admitted she was actually standing in the crosswalk in the lane in front of the bus on the east side of the street the entire time but that at 8:02:14, the video clearly shows that she begins to proceed into the crosswalk. And I submit to Your Honor that what she and the other pedestrians walking eastbound clearly did is what we see pedestrians in rush hour traffic do all the time, they wait for the cross signal to turn red and they start to proceed across the street. That’s clearly what happened here. The light turned red, she starts to go, other pedestrians follow.

“Why don’t we go back to 8:02:08? Are you ready?

“Your Honor, I want to briefly play it for you. 8:02:11, they’re in the crosswalk. 8:02:14, she begins to walk aggressively across the street. 8:02:16, she’s almost there and we have the accident.

“Conversely, from the other direction on the west side, as Mr. Mahoney admitted when he was watching the video, the pedestrians on the west side commenced into the crosswalk at 8:02:16, a second before the light illuminates for walk.

“Angelo Cilia, as the Court may have just observed, he did pretty well. He stays on the sidewalk until 8:02:16 or thereabouts and he’s only taken one or two steps into the crosswalk before 8:02:17, when the light turns white for pedestrians and also at the time of the accident. He—his conduct, and I believe his testimony, actually contradicts Ms. Yu and establishes that she started walking into the intersection well before the WALK signal.

“So the evidence establishes that Mr. Bucchere did not run the red light, he entered the intersection lawfully, and the evidence shows that the pedestrians entered the crosswalk too soon, and many legal consequences flow from that. And I laid them out a little bit in our memo.

“But under the law, because Mr. Bucchere entered lawfully, he had the right of way; the pedestrians did not. The pedestrians were required to yield to traffic in the intersection; they did not. And they were required to wait until the white signal—the WALK signal—illuminated and they did not.”

There it was: the very core of our defense strategy.

“So 8:02:14, red light, three-and-a-half-second all red, 8:02:17.5, WALK signal.

“The third issue that Mr. Mahoney was asked to address, the speed. Mr. Mahoney is the only witness who testified that Mr. Bucchere’s speed exceeded the lawful limit of twenty-five miles per hour. He estimated his speed at thirty-two miles per hour. He did that based on speculation. He did that based on observing the video and trying to guess the distance from the point of impact to where he could see Mr. Bucchere at 8:02:14 on the tape.

“Now, I agree that the evidence clearly shows that Mr. Bucchere was within the intersection. You can see it, and the Court can see it when you look at the exhibits, how far, how many feet he was from the impact. Where we have an expert testifying to feet per second down to the thousandths of a foot based on his time-distance calculations; this is not reliable; this is speculative; this is guesswork.

“So the prosecution, by failing to fix Mr. Bucchere’s precise location at the time their expert wants to make a time-distance calculation, has failed to establish the predicate for that calculation; Therefore, the speed calculation is not reliable and should not be relied upon by this court, especially when it’s presented by an expert who was so severely wrong in his opinions.

“So, Your Honor, I’m asking the Court—and I know it’s unusual but we have a case in which the evidence that is presented by the prosecution and is irrefutable before the Court establishes that the light turned red at 8:02:14, that Mr. Bucchere was in the intersection at that time, and that the pedestrians walking east-west on Castro Street proceeded into the intersection before the WALK signal illuminated and I’m asking the Court to make those three findings.”

While Ted’s request hung in the air, the court continued to go about its business as if the request simply did not exist.

“Do you wish to address the 17(b) issues now or after Mr. Talai’s response?” Judge Cheng asked.

“I would like to after, please,” Ted said.

With that, Ted sat down unceremoniously. The 17(b)—a motion we brought before the court to ask that my charges be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor—could be addressed later. Now it was time to hear what—if anything—the prosecution would say about our complete unraveling of their entire case.

What could they possibly say? I wondered. They were sunk.

Here, at the zenith of the preliminary hearing—my confidence buoyed up by Ted’s powerful summarization—I felt ready to put this entire affair behind me and reclaim what was left of my routine existence.

CHAPTER SIXTY-ONE

7 March 2013—343 days since the accident

After all of his eyewitnesses and his $350/hour expert were flatly contradicted by the video evidence that Omid himself had introduced, I hadn’t the faintest idea what to expect from his closing argument, but I was hoping it wouldn’t fall too far short of an apology for being gravely mistaken in just about every possible way.

Even if I didn’t get a formal, on-the-record apology, at the very least, Omid would have to agree that Ted had disproved all of his crucial eyewitness and expert witness testimony, leaving his case in ruins, and leaving Judge Cheng with no alternative but to drop—or at the very least reduce—my charges.

First, Omid asked Judge Cheng, “May I sit since this is a preliminary hearing, Your Honor?” He really drew out the word preliminary. In contrast, Ted had stood at the podium for his closing argument, so by making a statement about sitting down in the “informal spirit” of a PX, Omid basically backhanded Ted across the face.

“Yes,” said Judge Cheng, as obliviously as he had acted while conducting all of his operations in court. I still kept wondering if he was checking his email on that giant monitor on his desk.

“Thank you,” Omid said. He cast a sidelong glance at Ted that had “gotcha!” written all over it.

“I would like to start and I should first say, please don’t let the length of my argument lend any weight towards my feelings on this case. I just don’t need to go quite as long,” said Omid.

“I’m going to start by addressing the over thirty-page motion that was filed yesterday by Mr. Cassman. In my only five years of experience, I’ve actually never seen this happen before. And what I mean by that is there’s a sentence in here on the first page that says, ‘We believe that the evidence adduced at the preliminary hearing does not even come close to supporting such a finding.’ The reason why I find that a bit ridiculous is this motion was written before a preliminary hearing happened. And after that is written, Mr. Cassman lays out the facts, and I say in quotation ‘the facts of the preliminary hearing.’ He has given the Court the facts of the preliminary hearing before a preliminary hearing has happened.”

At this point, I stopped listening. I turned my head clockwise, away from Omid—as far as I could stretch my neck without attracting suspicion—and I stared at the cheap, ugly wall. I could not believe that this guy was going to ignore the 800-pound-gorilla-sized hole we punched in his case and instead complain that a motion filed the day before was filed too soon.

Of course it was written before the preliminary. In fact, most of the contents of this brief were based on research we had done long, long ago. Ted and Julie presented the research in a similar memo to Omid and the other ADAs working this case six months ago, along with a dozen letters of support from my friends and family.

Omid’s best criticism of our argument was that it was—too long? Or filed too soon? Or delivered from a standing position instead of a sitting position?

Seriously? Has the world gone mad?

Not only was Omid’s attack on our word count and filing date irrelevant, it was also wrong. We filed it while the PX was still in progress? Sorry, our bad. We just thought that the PX would have ended yesterday, but the “expert” tried to will a traffic light out of existence, forcing us to find a way to will it back into existence, thereby pushing us into Day Two.

Then, suddenly, I had an optimistic thought:

If this is the best Omid can muster, perhaps he’s handed us a tremendous opportunity. Perhaps he knows he’s toast. Perhaps we’ve already won. I had a hard time focusing as Omid rambled on. Out of nowhere, he slung another zinger at Ted.

“That obviously causes some problems that I want to go through right now because what he says are facts to you in this motion that he signed and he conveniently handed out to the press yesterday are not facts that were presented in court here yesterday under sworn testimony,” Omid said.

I had a rough time parsing that sentence, but I thought I just heard him accuse us of trying to manipulate the media—that was pretty rich. I kept half listening and half drifting in my thoughts. I hope I’ll get a transcript of this. Someday I’ll need to sort through it and process it.

“Okay? There’s language about what Tobias Hanks said. None of that was presented to the Court yesterday.”

Tobias … why is he talking about Tobias? Oh, to say that we hadn’t talked about Tobias during the PX, except, of course, we had. Inspector Cadigan had contorted Tobias’s statement so that it sounded like we blew red lights as a matter of course.

“He goes on to talk about the Honda Element and how thirty seconds after the incident is when you see the Honda Element. Again, the problem with writing the facts before the facts are actually given to the Court is you’re going to give incorrect statements.”

Whoa wait a minute! Is he really going to argue against the timing of Pollak’s arrival at the intersection, after Pollak himself identified his car arriving at the intersection thirty seconds after the accident? This is not happening!

Suddenly, my optimistic thoughts collided violently with the reality of the courthouse, sending fierce shivers down my spine. I seized my notepad, threw it open, and scrawled as fast as I could: HE’S USING THE TIMESTAMP ON OUR FILING TO DEBUNK TED’S ARGUMENTS—CAN HE EVEN DO THAT? I slid the notebook to Julie with more gusto than necessary.

“Nathan Pollak was clear,” Omid continued, defending the testimony of a person who had perjured himself just the day before.

Julie handed my notebook back to me. “He’s going to have to do better than that,” it said.

Omid continued, “People’s Five, if I may approach, shows an intersection and prior to that intersection, there is a white line. The facts, the actual facts are Nathan Pollak said he stopped at that first white line, Mr. Bucchere then flew by him. Then he was very eager to move forward. He wanted to be helpful. He eased forward after a while and then he stopped at that crosswalk which is shown in the video. That’s the facts as the Court heard them yesterday.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Omid just used the following phrase: “The facts, the actual facts are Nathan Pollak said he stopped at the first while line, Mr. Bucchere then flew by him.”

Yet Omid must have known, like we knew, like Judge Cheng—if he was paying attention at all—also knew, that the video clearly showed Pollak’s Honda Element rolling up to the northernmost limit line thirty seconds after the accident. So now Omid was claiming that the words of Nathan Pollak were “the facts, the actual facts” and that those “actual facts” somehow superseded video evidence to the contrary.

“‘8:02:09’—this is quoting from the motion—‘at least two pedestrians have already started to cross from the east.’ I know the Court has the video, watched the video. I don’t know what else to say other than that that’s incorrect, that’s false and that’s misleading. When you watch the video, that’s not what’s happening. They are not crossing the street.”

I think he’s talking about Wen-chih and Bag Man. Anybody could take one look at the video and see that those two folks were in a mighty big hurry to cross, stepping out more than fourteen seconds ahead of the WALK sign.

“‘8:02:14’—also, just because it’s written on the board doesn’t make it a fact.” Omid shook a finger at Ted, Julie, and me, all in turn. Then he spun around and shook another finger at the easel. “If that light is controlling that intersection, 8:02:13 is when it turns red. It’s still red at 8:02:14 but it’s not just turning red at 8:02:14. This is, I guess, more of an opinion by Mr. Cassman.”

Whoa, slow down for a minute. We had used a traffic light to prove that their timeline was off by 100%, and Omid had said, “This is, I guess, more of an opinion by Mr. Cassman.”

Omid’s own expert claimed, under sworn testimony, that my light turned red at 8:02:10.5, assuming the pedestrians starting walking only when they got the WALK symbol. But now, the ADA had thrown out everything his expert had presented and now wanted to work with a third set of numbers and argue whether the light turned red at 8:02:13 or 8:02:14.

During the hearing, we had only used the wall clock (shown in the video)—instead of frame numbers—because we figured that the DA and his team didn’t know how to break the video into frames—thereby making all of our time-based calculations (e.g. speed) 6.2 times more accurate. We knew the light turned red on frame #4431 and yes, Omid now wanted the light to turn red when the wall clock read 8:02:13. And it does—but only for two frames, at which point it flips to 8:02:14. So considering the starting frame and the frame rate (6.2 f/s), the light turned red approximately when the wall clock would have shown 8:02:13.6 (if it had shown tenths of a second, which it did not).

“The pedestrian created obstacles to traffic,” Omid continued. “I guess pedestrians crossing the street are obstacles. The bicycle, I will explain in a second, was speeding.

“The government’s expert evidence testified that Strava data showed that Mr. Bucchere was going approximately thirty-two miles per hour. I don’t even think I said the word Strava yesterday, so to write in this motion that I am relying on Strava to show that the Defendant was speeding is again false, misleading and inaccurate.”

With that proclamation, Omid debunked blogger James Herd’s entire Strava-made-me-do-it conspiracy theory on sfcitizen.com. I really hope some reporter wrote THAT down, I thought.

“Having covered what are not facts, I would like to actually talk about what was talked about yesterday in court. To go through that, I know the Court is familiar with the law but I’m reading straight from CALCRIM.”

Omid then proceeded not to read from CALCRIM, the California Criminal Jury Instructions.

“I need to show there’s gross negligence. A person acts with gross negligence when the way he acts is so different from how an ordinarily careful person would act in the same situation. I submit to the Court that an ordinarily careful person does not run a light at 14th Street, does not run a light at 15th Street, does not run a stop sign at 16th Street, and does not then run a light at Castro and Market. I would submit to the Court that an ordinarily careful person does not do those things while speeding.”

Omid leaned precariously on Pollak’s testimony while paying no attention to the fact that we had refuted every last word based on the time he arrived at the intersection. We also had GPX waypoints from my iPhone showing that I stopped at 14th Street for the red and then carried my speed through 15th Street, indicating that it was likely green, but we were keeping those in our back pocket for the time being, just in case the DA still believed in Pollak’s lies, which seemed to be the case, at least at this juncture.

“I would submit to the Court that an ordinarily careful person does not run those three stop lights, that one stop sign, and speed, and fail to yield. To go over the speed, Mr. Cassman said moments ago, ‘Mr. Mahoney is the only person that testified to speed.’ That’s not in the motion, that was said here in court a few minutes ago. Mr. Mahoney is the only person who testified to speed. We can’t just say things to the Court and hope that you take that as fact. Mr. Mahoney is not the only person that said that. Nathan Pollak actually articulated that he was going about thirty on his bike, saw it on his speedometer when the Defendant then whizzed by him, so it’s false to say Mr. Mahoney was the only person.”

Yes, but the video proves that Nathan Pollak didn’t pace me down the hill; he rolled up thirty seconds later. Why are you relying on testimony we already disproved? I wanted to scream.

“With respect to the video and the stoplight, nobody has come into this court and articulated where the bicycle was at that time, not one person has said that. So even if the light did control that, which the only expert who’s testified did not say that, there’s no evidence that the Defendant flew by at that time.”

He’s gonna bank on Mahoney? Really?

“What Mr. Cassman’s essentially saying is all seven or so people in the intersection, all of them, each and every single one of them, violated the law and the Defendant was actually obeying the law and Mr. Pollak flat-out lied.”

YES, that’s exactly what we’re saying. Can we go home now?

“[Mr. Cassman] didn’t mince his words. He said the other witnesses were actually maybe mistaken, but Mr. Pollak, who ironically not only happens to be a bicyclist himself but bicycled to court yesterday, explained what he saw.”

Each time Omid referred to Pollak as a cyclist, it drove me a little more crazy—as if this fact somehow made his lies more believable. Or did Omid think it was clever to set up another cyclist to take down one of his own? It was all just so obvious and distasteful.

“I feel the need to kind of defend Mr. Pollak’s testimony,” the ADA continued. “He is somehow a bad citizen or San Franciscan because what he wanted to do was help, sends himself a message the day or very soon after the incident to be able to explain exactly what happened. Through Mr. Cassman’s questioning, he’s somehow interested in what the media has to say about him. That could not be further from the truth.”

Of course, no one had any idea what Pollak’s true motivations were—both sides were guilty of conjecture on that topic. Besides, only one thing mattered: The video refuted his entire testimony.

“He came in here as a cyclist himself who said conservatively he cycled in the city over 1,000 times and simply explained what happened. And the ironic thing about the entire, ‘did he run the red light, did he not run the red light’? The evidence and the facts as they came out in my opinion are that he ran the red light.

What?

“Even if you want to believe he didn’t [run the red light], which I’m saying is not the case, but even if you want to believe he didn’t, when you’re speeding and you fail to yield, those are two infractions in the complaint which are enough to hold the Defendant to answer. Okay?”

Okay! But if I didn’t run the red light, and the pedestrians didn’t wait for the WALK symbol, then I had the right of way. Under those circumstances, as awful as it sounds, they were required by law to yield to me—so I cannot be charged with failure to yield to them.

“And to say that it is guesswork on the part of Mr. Mahoney, who obviously knows more than, I think, than all of us given his background, training and experience, is a stretch at best. Over 1,500 investigations, many times for the defense. I know you’re very familiar with his background, training, and experience because you were here yesterday and you actually heard the facts that were stated.”

Well-certified and qualified, yet he didn’t see the traffic light staring at him right in the face.

“For all those reasons, I think it’s very clear the Defendant was not ordinarily careful as the same person would be in a similarly situated position. Ordinary people do not run two stoplights, one stop sign, speed, then run another stoplight.

“And what every single witness was very consistent about. Castro and Market Street is not the Financial District. Castro and Market Street at 8:00 a.m. on a weekday is the height of rush hour traffic with MUNI there, numerous buses, numerous pedestrians, numerous cars.

“For all those reasons, I think there is at the very least a strong suspicion that the Defendant should be held on the one count that he’s charged with.

“Submit.”

Finally and abruptly, Omid’s closing argument came to a conclusion. I still grasped for ways to understand his claims and his vitriol directed at Ted and me.

“Mr. Cassman,” said Judge Cheng, “given that we’ve been at this nearly an hour, I want to give you a chance to make the 17(b) and present the 17(b) argument and then give you a chance to respond substantively on the merits. Why don’t you make [the] argument first.”

“Yes, Your Honor,” Ted said. “Thank you.

“I’ll be very brief. We submitted the memorandum yesterday. Obviously it had been prepared before the preliminary examination so I tried to anticipate what the evidence would show based upon in part an expert’s report, and then the expert came in [and] did not rely on the very data that he presented in his report to me.

“With regard [to] the letters that were attached to the memorandum, which are the bulk of the memorandum that counsel referred to thirty pages, I’m not sure it’s that long but both of them are letters that counsel’s had for many, many months so there’s nothing new there.

“The letters of support demonstrate what is obviously true in this case: That Mr. Bucchere is a man of great character, a man of great substance, a man of great potential, a family man, a man committed to his community, a man who has demonstrated that he’s committed to bicycle safety. He was on the bicycle team at Stanford, he does bicycle safety training for people, he does regular riding. He has ridden in his lifetime over 30,000 miles. He has never been in an accident, he has never hurt anybody, he’s never seriously been implicated in any event involving a bicycle or a motor vehicle for that matter.

“His driving record is clean, his criminal history is clean. He is a man who gives back to his society, who knows how fortunate he is, who cares for his community, and for his neighbors and for his family.

“In this matter, the factors the Court is to consider pursuant to Penal Code 17(b) militate very strongly in favor of a reduction to a misdemeanor should the Court find that there’s a basis for a finding that the offense was committed.”

“Mr. Talai, the 17(b) issue,” said Judge Cheng.

“Sure,” Omid said. “Given that Mr. Cassman, obviously, which is within his right, relied on some hearsay regarding Mr. Bucchere, it’s also within my right to do the same thing. I don’t personally know the Defendant but I do know that the day of this incident, he submitted a blog and that blog I think is very telling of his character.”

Here we go, I thought. Omid was about to quote my personal email that the media had turned into a public blog post. I’m sure he’ll only read the section about helmet safety, and I’m sure he’ll construe it to mean something it doesn’t. Ted tried to stop this dead in its tracks.

“Is the blog before the Court?” he interjected forcefully.

“It is not before the Court,” said Judge Cheng, not making any attempt to stop Omid from slandering me with my own words.

Omid continued: “And within that blog, he says, ‘In closing, I want to dedicate this story to my late helmet.’ He does not want to dedicate this story to the man whose skull he fractured, the man whose brain he forced to hemorrhage. He is not dedicating this story to the man that he killed.”

Right there, again, he had conjured up the spurious comparison between my helmet and the man I “killed,” a comparison I never made and never would—because it’s preposterous and insane. Also, nobody had died when I wrote that email, but that never seemed to matter to anyone but me.

“This is a form of a homicide. And it’s not a murder, it’s not as serious as a murder, that’s why it’s not filed as a murder. He was extremely reckless. The fact that he is an experienced cyclist, I find more worrisome. The fact that he is familiar with that intersection is more worrisome, that he knows how busy it is at 8:00 a.m., that he is supposedly so experienced having been on the Stanford’s riding team. When you are going above the speed limit—”

“Excuse me, Your Honor,” Ted interrupted Omid to ask for some tissues because I had started to weep uncontrollably.

Why did I start crying? I’m not sure. Perhaps because the DA and the media had created a public persona for me that was defined by only two events: a bike accident and a poorly-timed, wildly-misinterpreted email I wrote while in shock, on drugs, and suffering from a concussion. But that isn’t who I am—my life is about so much more.

Furthermore, this was the first time since the accident that anyone had publicly spoken about the parts of my life not related to this accident and put them on display for the world to see. But rather than acknowledge anything Ted had said about the case or about me and my character, Omid pulled one line from an email that neither he—nor anyone but the intended recipients—had any business reading, let alone misinterpreting to mean that I valued a helmet’s “death” more than the death of a person who hadn’t yet died. No one could possibly know how I felt about the death of Sutchi Hui. No one ever will.

I was stuck between time and space, no longer able to comprehend the reality unfolding around me and all I could do was weep. So I wept. And wept. Finally, as my weeping turned into sobbing, Omid continued with his character assassination.

“If the Court looks at one of these pictures where there’s about five people or so within the intersection and what the Defendant did, according to Mr. Nathan Pollak, is barrel down in order to speed up. An experienced rider who was conservatively thirty, forty or probably more feet away from all these pedestrians would be experienced enough that he would try to avoid the collision as opposed to barrel down and speed up.”

Again, Omid assumed that I somehow could have avoided this accident, that I recklessly, selfishly, and heartlessly chose not to. That simply was the opposite of what actually happened, and I’m sure Omid knew it. But at this point, he served only one purpose: to deliver to his boss a conviction of this “reckless cycling monster” that Gascón had created by feeding false information to the press.

“I cannot speak further on his character other than the blog, which I think is more telling than a year after the incident having hired a team of attorneys and gathered a series of letters. I think how you act soon after the incident is far more telling than what you’re doing a year later when you’re charged with a felony.

“I can say that there are family members of the victim here as far as Taiwan. From what I know about the man that the Defendant killed on March 29th of last year, he was a very important man. He was a husband, he was a grandfather, he was a father, he was an uncle. And while he was seventy-one, which I’ve heard people say, he was a very healthy and happy seventy-one who family members told me yesterday we still needed him. It’s not that we wanted him, we all still needed him here. For all those reasons, I feel the Court should not reduce this to a misdemeanor.”

“Mr. Cassman, I’m going to give you the last word on either the 17(b) issue or the substantives,” said Judge Cheng.

“Thank you, Your Honor.

“Showing you Defense Exhibit C, Your Honor, the limit line that Mr. Pollak was referring to that he finally stopped at 8:02:47, which is clearly shown on the videotape, is this line here north of the crosswalk, on the north side of Market Street. To suggest that what that video shows is his car stopping at the limit line sometime before the accident, which occurred at 8:02:17, and then creeping forward a few feet towards that line is patently absurd and wrong and misleading and it cannot be countenanced.”

Ted couldn’t have possibly chosen firmer language than “patently absurd.” His tone didn’t show how irate he must have felt, but he spoke sternly and forcefully.

“That’s just wrong,” he said. “That’s not the evidence before the Court and the prosecution shouldn’t be making such arguments to the Court.”

But they had. And if given the chance, I suspected they would do it again.

“Anything else on the 17(b) argument?” Judge Cheng asked, using the same tone most road-tripping kids use when they ask, “Are we there yet?”

“Okay,” said Ted, not letting the judge end the hearing before he again reiterated how Pollak had fabricated his entire testimony. “I was just going to say Mr. Pollak’s testimony is flatly proven to be false and wrong. I didn’t call him a liar but he’s wrong.

“And I’ll move to [the] 17(b),” Ted continued. “I want to say this. After this accident, and Inspector Cadigan is here so she knows this to be true, Mr. Bucchere called her about Mr. Hui’s condition every day and inquired. He went to the hospital and brought a card and flowers. He was concerned about Mr. Hui because he is a good man who cares and who knows that life is precious and that we all have to treasure. That blog is total hearsay and it’s not before the Court. What is before the Court are the many letters from very important and prestigious people supporting Mr. Bucchere and demonstrating his good character.”

“Okay. Submitted from both sides?” asked the judge.

“Yes. Thank you, Your Honor,” said Omid.

“Mr. Cassman, submitted?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

So just like that, the lying and the perjuring and the name-calling and the objecting and the fighting and the weeping ceased. I breathed in slowly and awaited the words of the Honorable Judge Cheng. I feared the worst, but I tried to center my thoughts on the best outcome: a dropping of the charges—or at least a reduction to a misdemeanor.

For surely the judge would see the light shining through the tattered remains of the DA’s case.

Or would he?

CHAPTER SIXTY-TWO

7 March 2013—343 days since the accident

Before I could even finish exhaling, Judge Cheng had already launched into his decision. He spoke quietly, dispassionately. He looked in our general direction, but avoided eye contact with me, despite the fact that I was staring directly at him.

“The Court finds from the production of satisfactory evidence to show the following felony has been committed,” he said.

“Count One alleged in the Complaint, a violation of 192(c)(1) of the Penal Code. He’s held to answer.”

The words came out of the judge’s mouth in such a matter-of-fact manner that I had to wonder if he hadn’t made up his mind weeks ago and just let the lawyers duke it out for the past day and a half so he could have time to play Solitaire or check email on his computer. The nonchalance with which he processed all the testimony and the evidence, especially the video—“Would you like to see that again, Your Honor?” “No that won’t be necessary.”—made me suspect that he had made up his mind well before we ever got here.

“The Court has taken into account the fact that Mr. Bucchere has no criminal record, has a family of his own, and has an overall record of being a very productive and contributing member of society. As such, the Court denies without prejudice the 17(b) motion.”

This part, too, I failed to understand. Why did my stature in the community have anything to do with the 17(b) motion, and, moreover, if my prior positive contributions to society did bear relevance, why was he denying our motion in the first place? I sat at the defense table, mouth agape, staring at the judge, who continued to avoid eye contact.

“It’s the hope of the Court that the parties will reach a resolution prior to trial that recognizes the severity of the conduct that occurred but also recognizes the enormous potential Mr. Bucchere has to make amends for it. I’m certain that Mr. Bucchere is going to carry this mistake for the rest of his life, so will the family and loved ones of Sutchi Hui.

“Mr. Bucchere, you’re ordered to appear in Department 22 for instruction and arraignment on March 21st, 9:00 a.m. Bail will remain as previously set.”

With that, Judge Cheng rapped his gavel and the matter was adjourned. As the courtroom emptied, I sat there completely shell-shocked, sweat bleeding through into my jacket, and my face crusted from salty tears. I had no idea what had just happened to me—and worse—I had no idea why.

We held all the cards. Ted’s closing argument tied it all together. Did any of that actually happen? Or did I imagine it?

At last, with the courtroom nearly empty, I turned to face Ted, just then noticing that his hand was on my back. I didn’t know how long it had been there, but I appreciated the gesture. My eyes welling up with tears, I managed to eke out a few words.

“What happened?”

“Nothing we didn’t already see coming. I know you want to know, but we can’t talk about it here.”

Ted was right. There were reporters everywhere and probably half a dozen TV crews with cameras and microphones waiting outside.

“All right,” I said, “let’s get out of here. Let’s split up and meet at Roma. You guys scatter and leave in different directions; I’ll head straight for the stairs—the news crews won’t know who to follow.”

“I don’t think this will work. All they want is you,” said Julie.

“Does anyone have a better plan?”

Ted, Fred, and Julie looked at one another and then back at me.

“Well, alrighty then, let’s go.” I was determined the get the fuck out of that incomprehensibly miserable place.

Fred grabbed the easel, and Julie and Ted each picked up a massive bag of documents and all manners of electronic equipment. The four of us walked down the aisle in the middle of the gallery—Ted first, then Julie, then Fred, then me, bringing up the rear. The courtroom—having been the scene of a knock-down, drag-out battle just minutes ago—now sat nearly empty and nearly silent. As Ted reached the vestibule, we could hear the din outside. Ted turned his head to face the three of us.

“Ready?” he asked.

I nodded with trepidation, and he gently pushed the door open, revealing absolute pandemonium.

“Mr. Cassman! Mr. Cassman! Mr. Cassman!” came shouts from three different directions. I’m sure the reporters asked questions, but I didn’t hear them. I only heard the shouting of Ted’s name as he broke off to the right and some of the news crews swarmed around him. I felt like I had a chance to escape. I cut past Julie and Fred and swung out to the left, hoping that Ted would continue to divert attention from me.

“Mr. Bucchere! Mr. Bucchere! Mr. Bucchere!” I heard from all around me as I darted toward the stairs. Reporters shoved cameras and microphones in my face, shouting all types of words at me that I did not hear, let alone comprehend. I just needed to make it to the stairs.

In my confusion and haste, the location of the stairwell I had used at least a dozen times before evaded me. Where are those goddamn stairs? I turned down a large hallway, feeling the stampede of reporters hot at my heels. Then I saw something else that could facilitate my escape. Elevators! Yes, elevators! I pressed the down button as the entire throng of reporters and their camera crews crowded into the elevator lobby, surrounding me. More questions, more microphones and cameras shoved in my face, but no elevator. I stood facing the door of one of the four elevators, inviting the cameras to film the back of my head, and responding to no one, yet keeping my eyes up.

I counted to three. Then five. Then ten. No elevators. And with the way the reporters had me cornered, I could only access the one elevator right in front of me, not the others. It finally dawned on me that this elevator plan would never work, so I turned on my heels and walked directly through the horde, which gave way as I stormed through. Coming out of the elevator lobby, I made two lefts, desperately seeking the elusive stairwell. Instead, I found myself headed for a dead end. This time, the reporters didn’t follow. Ted and Fred caught up with me. We had put at least twenty yards between us and the gaggle of reporters.

“Chris! Calm down! You can’t let them see you like this,” Ted’s words were stern and direct.

“Like what?” I demanded, even though I already knew the answer.

“Rattled. Distraught. Walking way too fast! We never should have split up.”

“You’re right. Julie was right.” I felt like a fool for suggesting it.

“What now?”

“Fred and I are going to walk you directly to the stairwell, straight through the mob of reporters who are blocking the way.”

That’s why I couldn’t find the stairwell.”

“Doesn’t matter,” said Ted. “Just listen to me. Fred and I will walk in front of you, slowly, deliberately, eyes up. We’ll get the reporters out of your way and lead you down the stairwell. Don’t respond to anyone, don’t look at anyone, don’t say ‘no comment’, and most importantly, don’t touch anyone. Some cameraman might pull an NBA move and blame you for fouling him, and then you’ll be in a lot more trouble than you’re in now.”

Jesus,” I said. “You’re telling me this could actually get worse?” I hadn’t realized how precious little control I had over my fate under these circumstances.

So it came to pass that I made my third attempt of the day to leave the Hall of Justice, this time as more of a passenger on a train being engineered by Ted and Fred—and thankfully not by me. It felt painfully slow and absolutely wretched to allow the media to shove their implements in my face and ask me questions—all the while hoping I would slip up and give just one little shove, one little push that would mean I wouldn’t see my daughter grow up.

With the stairwell, in fact, located exactly where it was before—but on the ass end of the gaggle of reporters—we finally made it out of the Hall of Justice. Arriving at Cafe Roma, we reunited with Julie. After a few deep breaths, I turned to Ted and asked him to please explain to me what had just happened.

“The judge held you to answer. Like I mentioned yesterday, he gave me a lot of clues that his mind was already made up, despite the evidence.”

“How could he do that?”

“As I’ve told you before, the standard for the PX is very low. The DA just has to show the judge some suspicion of a crime being committed. One witness says you ran one red light and the pedestrians had a WALK symbol—that’s all he needed to hear. The silver lining here is that we finally got to put our case out there. It’s part of the court record. It’s part of the media record. Hopefully we can start to turn this ship around. This is just the beginning.”

“And what about the 17(b)? I thought we had a shot at getting a reduction from felony to misdemeanor?”

“We did, but the judge didn’t go for it. It was a long shot anyway.”

“And what about this ‘without prejudice’ business. What does that even mean?”

“That’s where Judge Cheng really screwed us. ‘Without prejudice’ means that we can’t ask for a reduction from felony to misdemeanor again until sentencing.”

“So now it’s plea bargain or trial, and unless the DA agrees to reduce the charges himself, I’ll be leaving my fate in the hands of another judge who could be just as prejudiced as this one.”

“Well, be careful with that word ‘prejudiced’—it means very specific things in the legal world. But otherwise, basically, you’re right.”

“So let me get this straight: We debunked all their eyewitnesses and the expert with their own video evidence, and yet they still won and now we’re much worse off than before.”

“Yes, they won this battle. But in a way, we won too. We finally got our story out there, based on the only correct interpretation of the video. We’ll live to fight another day. And it’s going to be much harder for them to win in the end now that our story is finally out there.”

“And what about that closing argument from Omid? He spent most of his speech on technicalities, repeating debunked testimony, and otherwise diverting attention away from the facts of the case by making wild ad hominem attacks against me.”

“And me!” said Ted. “That was deplorable. It was some of the sloppiest, dirtiest work I’ve ever seen from a prosecutor. He should be ashamed of himself. He really showed his true colors. But it doesn’t matter. We’re done with Omid. We need to take this straight to the man behind the curtain to get a resolution.”

“Gascón?”

Gascón.”


>> Continue to PART VIII: The Offer.


For a closer look at the research behind Bikelash, visit the companion GitHub project.

Bikelash PART VII (b): Kangaroo Court, Continued

On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.

This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.

We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.

This story is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story that happens all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. Media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgment, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.

The narrative is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. To protect the privacy of others, I changed some names. All else is true to my memory of what happened.

I am sharing this not for redemption or personal profit, but because this side of the story rarely gets told. To make sure our justice system treats all defendants fairly, we need to speak up when it doesn’t.

I’m Chris Bucchere.

And this is Bikelash.

PART VII (b): Kangaroo Court, Continued

CHAPTER FIFTY-FOUR

6 March 2013—342 days since the accident

Ted began his cross-examination of Pollak with a bunch of softball warm-up questions about the number of phone calls and emails and in-person meetings he’d had with the police and prosecutors, a line of questioning designed to show that Pollak had been a little bit too eager to help them with their case, for reasons that remained unclear to us.

“You decided that one thing you could do was to prepare to offer yourself up as a witness?” Ted asked.

“Yes.”

“And that evening, you prepared a written statement, correct?”

“That’s correct.”

“And you entitled it My Testimony Regarding Cyclist/Pedestrian Collision on March 29th, 2012?”

“Right.”

“And you emailed it to yourself?”

“That’s correct.”

“Because you wanted to be a witness if the matter went to court?”

“No. I wanted to be a good public servant if the matter went to court.”

Pollak seemed to have regained his confidence after the perjury debacle; his responses seemed to reek of suave deceit.

“And that could mean being a witness, correct?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, you certainly anticipated that at the time; that’s why you wrote it down and said my testimony, correct?”

“I can’t answer that question. You’re assuming something there.” Pollak suddenly seemed rather adept at dodging adversarial questions.

“It just wasn’t in your mind; is that right?”

“That what wasn’t in my mind? I’m sorry.”

“That you were preparing to be a witness in court proceedings.”

“I was preparing to help the legal process. I was not preparing to be a witness.”

Ted kept pushing. “Did you write in that email, ‘I’m emailing a document account to myself in case this ever needs to be presented in a court of law’? Did you write that?”

“I sure did,” replied Pollak.

“So you were preparing to be a witness in court, weren’t you?”

“I did not state that,” said Pollak.

In light of Pollak’s doggedness, Ted gave up on this topic and moved on to the next line of questioning. “There was pretty significant media coverage of the accident, correct?”

“I don’t know. I don’t read the newspaper very often other than industry-specific stuff,” Pollak said, which I found disappointing.

“So are you telling me you didn’t see media coverage of this incident?”

“I did, but I don’t read the newspapers.”

“Your Honor, I’m going to object,” said Omid, his tone indicating that he’d heard enough already. “Relevance?” he asked as if it were a question.

“Overruled,” said Judge Cheng, perhaps agreeing that understanding Nathan Pollak’s motivations bore at least some relevance to the case. I was grateful that the judge seemed to be paying attention to the basics, at least.

“Sir, you actually did read at least one article about this incident on SFGATE, correct?” Ted continued. He seemed to use the term “sir” as a pejorative whenever he wanted to cut through the lies and get an honest answer out of a liar.

“Yes.”

“And are you telling me you didn’t follow the news about Mr. Hui following the incident?”

“I did follow the news because I was curious as to what the state was.”

“So you did notice the media coverage after the accident, correct?”

“Yes.”

“And it was a matter of interest to you, correct?”

“Yes.”

”The same day that you learned that the pedestrian had died, you sent an email to the DA’s office, correct?”

“That’s correct.”

“And you said you wanted to make sure they got in contact with you?”

“Yes.”

“And you said the cyclist is completely at fault?”

“Yes, I said that.”

“And you said he blatantly ran two red lights?”

“Yes.”

“And you offered to share your March 29th narrative that you had written in an email to yourself on the day of the accident?”

“Yes.”

Ted and Julie designed this line of questioning to tap into Pollak’s motivations, showing that he had come here today—by bicycle even—to make sure he could play the crucial role of hero in bringing down the villain cyclist.

“Mr. Cassman, you have more than five minutes?” asked Judge Cheng.

“Certainly, Your Honor.” Ted had just barely begun warming up; he probably had another five or six dozen questions to ask at this point—more if Pollak continued to dance around the answers.

“I’m going to ask you to come back at 1:30. See you at 1:30,” Judge Cheng said to the star witness as the court adjourned for a lunch recess. Pollak stood up, visibly disturbed, and started complaining to Omid about having to come back after lunch.

We exited the courtroom, ignoring the questions as we walked through a sea of reporters. We walked a few blocks to a taqueria located in a commercial area near the [now-demolished] Expo Center.

On the way back, we stopped at the public defender’s office and squatted in their break room to strategize. It seemed like Ted knew everyone around these parts. More of Ted’s colleagues pulled me aside to tell me that he was the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area. After the first few times this happened, it became a running joke between Ted and me.

“Pollak’s a real piece of work,” Ted said, shaking his head.

Jesus, I know,” I replied. “Hey, I have to ask you this: How many times in your career have you had to remind witnesses that they’re under oath? I thought that shit only happened in the movies and on TV.”

“Well, it definitely doesn’t happen every day; maybe two, three times over the past thirty years.”

We tied up a few loose ends and headed back to the courthouse, back through the sea of reporters, and up to the defendant’s table. The instant that court came back into session, Ted jumped right back in to examining Pollak’s motivations.

“I forgot to ask you a couple more questions, preliminary-type questions. Have you reviewed any documents in preparing for your testimony today? And that would include emails.”

“No, just my account.”

“So, that’s what I’m asking about. So did you, in preparing to testify today, to help refresh your recollection, review your March 29th account of the event?”

“Yes.”

“And your April 4th email to the district attorney?”

“Yes.”

“And your April 8th, 9th email to the district attorney?”

“Yes.”

That’s a lot of emails to read when you’re “only” reviewing your own account.

“And you know what I’m talking about. It looks like you emailed it to yourself on April 8th and then to Inspector Cadigan on April 9th?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ve reviewed all those within the last week?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Just my account, he had claimed. This guy just can’t keep himself from lying, even about stupid stuff.

“Anything else?”

“No.”

“And when you met with the district attorney a couple of weeks ago, were you shown the video that you’ve looked at today?”

“Yes.”

“Was that the first time you had seen it?”

“Yes.”

“And the only time you had seen it until today?”

“That’s correct.”

“Now, going back to March 29th, you felt that the cyclist was solely responsible for this accident, correct?”

“Yes.”

“And you felt that the pedestrian who was hit was blameless?”

“Yes.”

“And you felt that the other pedestrians that had entered into the crosswalk before the collision were also blameless?”

“I’m going to object on the relevance,” interjected Omid, most likely concerned at this point that Ted was painting Pollak as a vigilante. “His feelings are irrelevant.”

“No. It’s his motivation here today,” pleaded Ted.

“Overruled,” said Judge Cheng. Each small victory—like this one—boosted my confidence.

“That means you can answer,” said Ted.

“Can you repeat the question?” asked Pollak.

“You felt the other pedestrians in the crosswalk before the accident were blameless?”

“Yes.”

“You felt as you watched that they had entered the crosswalk after the walk sign in their direction had illuminated?”

“Not all the pedestrians but those coming from—the pedestrian that was struck from the east side—excuse me, from the west side.”

“Okay. What about from the west side? Do you think they entered too soon?”

“I didn’t have a clear vision because there’s a parklet right in front of the—I guess it’s called a bulb-out, where pedestrians stand just before entering the crosswalk.”

“But you felt that as far as you could tell, any pedestrian who was relevant to the accident was—had entered at the appropriate time?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s back up. You were driving south on Castro Street at Duboce?”

“Yes.”

“And you noticed two cyclists?”

“Yes.”

“One wore a pale blue biker jersey?” Ted referred to the Mission Cycling kit I was wearing on the day of the accident.

“That’s correct.”

“And that was the individual later involved in the accident?”

“That’s correct.”

“One was wearing black?”

“That’s correct.”

“They appeared to be together?”

“Yes.”

“It’s your claim that they were not stopping at any stoplight or stop sign?”

“That’s my recollection, yes.”

“And it’s your claim that they never stopped for a stoplight or stop sign that you saw?”

“No. The gentleman in the black stopped at the red light at Market Street.”

“Okay. But before Market Street I’m talking about.”

“I do not recall either of them following traffic signals.”

“In fact, it’s your testimony to the contrary. They did not do that, right?”

“They did not stop.”

“And you told us this morning that there were two traffic signals and a stop sign between Duboce and Market Street; is that correct?”

“Two traffic signals and one stop sign between Duboce. Not including Duboce, then that’s correct.”

“Right. So 15th—I’m sorry, 14th Street traffic light, 15th Street traffic light, 16th Street stop sign?”

“That’s correct.”

“Do you recall telling the officers in your email—do you recall writing in your email that you mailed to yourself on March 29th that you estimate they ran through five traffic signals and stop signs before approaching Market Street?”

“Yes, I do recall that.”

“You told us that as you were approaching Market Street, you were going downhill?”

“Yeah.”

“And the bicyclist in the blue shirt was riding alongside of you the entire time?”

“A little bit of a chicken—what do they call it, a chase, but, yes, we were to-and-fro a little bit.”

“You saw the traffic light turn yellow?”

“Yes.”

“You slowed and stopped for the light?”

“Yes.”

“North of the crosswalk?

“Yes.”

“Do you recall whether there’s a limit line north of the crosswalk?”

“I don’t know what a limit line is.”

“Do you recall whether there was another line?”

“Yes, there is another line. I do recall there being —”

“North of the crosswalk?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. You don’t know what that’s called?”

“I just know that that’s where the motorists are supposed to stop.”

“You know that north of the crosswalk on March 29th, there is an additional line a little further north of the crosswalk that you stopped at?”

“Yes.”

“Anyway, you stopped at the red light?”

“Yes.”

“You were slightly ahead of the cyclist when you stopped at the red light?”

“Yes.”

“The bicyclist then whizzed right by you?”

“Yes.”

“Just want to make sure I got it clear. So the light turns red, right?”

“Yes.”

“You stopped?”

“Yes.”

“The bicyclist in the pale blue shirt whizzes by?”

“Yes.”

“And that’s why you’re absolutely sure he ran the red light?”

“Yes.”

“And you were stopped at the stoplight at Market Street when the accident occurred?”

“Yes.”

“So then there was this second bicyclist, correct?” Ted was referring to my riding partner and friend Tobias Hanks.

“Yes.”

“And at some point, he was a few yards behind the cyclist in the pale blue shirt, correct?”

“Yes, at least a few yards.”

“And as I understand your testimony, after the bicyclist in the pale blue shirt went through the light, the bicyclist in black, the second bicyclist, slowed down and stopped at the red light?”

“Yes.”

“Right alongside you?”

“Yeah, a little bit in front of me but they stopped, slowed down and stopped at the traffic signal.”

“Okay. I guess the point I’m trying to make is you were stopped at the red and the second bicyclist came up and stopped alongside you?”

“Yeah.”

“Now, you were driving a Honda Element?”

“Yes.”

“And would you agree that’s a rather distinctive looking car?”

“Yes, very distinct.”

“You called it a large SUV, I think?”

“It’s a big box SUV.”

“Big boxy SUV, easy to recognize?

“Um-hum, very.”

“Showing you, Mr. Pollak, what’s been marked as Exhibit B, do you recognize that photograph?” Ted showed Pollak a printed screen capture from the video showing his vehicle stopped in the southern crosswalk in the aftermath of the accident.

“Yes.”

Pollak put his hand on the printout and circled his gray and black Honda Element with a red pen.

“And so that’s the vehicle that’s seen at the top of the lower screen in the crosswalk, correct?”

“That’s correct.”

“We’re ready with the video?” Ted asked Julie, who had been fiddling with the projector and laptop. Julie nodded.

Now, I want to show you the video,” Ted said.

“Okay.”

“And prior to this time, we’ve all been focused on the lower screen. Would you agree with that?”

“Yes.”

“I would like you to look at the upper screen, and I’d like to start at 8:02:36.”

Time to turn the tables, I thought, brimming with anticipation. Time for the world to see that Pollak fabricated his entire story! I glanced over at Omid. He was fidgeting in his chair, looking puzzled. The upper screen? Why would anyone care about the upper screen?

Ted asked someone to dim the lights, making the projector screen glow, illuminating the drab courtroom with the image below (minus the red annotations) casting silver and blue rays across the wall.

The image above shows me and Mr. Hui lying unconscious on the pavement, with several people already clustered around Mr. Hui, trying to help. Nineteen seconds had already transpired since the accident, and Pollak’s vehicle was nowhere to be seen. It’s hard to say where exactly his Honda Element had been at this point, but a fair guess would be somewhere around States Street, halfway down the Castro Street hill between 16th Street and Market Street. How did I know that? Because Pollak’s car had come rolling leisurely down the hill, eventually moving up to the limit line at around 8:02:47, a full thirty seconds after the accident.

“Okay,” Ted exhaled. The table set, he continued, “So if you would please direct your attention to the top left screen, we’re starting at two minutes and thirty-six seconds. And I’m going to ask that Julie start the video. You see a vehicle approaching? We’re going to go to 8:02:47 and stop. Did you recognize that vehicle?”

I annotated the image below, showing exactly what Pollak saw, but with the benefit of a giant red arrow pointing to his car to help follow its path. His Honda Element enters the upper left screen at around 8:02:37. At 8:02:42, his car disappears from the top camera’s view and reappears in the bottom camera’s view (on the right) as the clock changes from 8:02:42 to 8:02:43. By 8:02:47, Pollak has finally stopped at the limit line.

According to his statements to the police and his sworn testimony, Pollak and I played chicken, driving/riding neck-and-neck down the hill, then he slowed and I immediately overtook him, then he passed me again and then came to a stop at the limit line, where I flew by and his jaw dropped. Whether his story hews to the laws of physics or not, it can’t be denied that Pollak arrived at the limit line at 8:02:47, thirty seconds after the accident, which invalidates his entire account of what happened, including the most important part of his testimony: the red light he claimed I ran at Market Street.

Why didn’t Pollak have any idea of what actually happened at Castro and Market? Because he simply wasn’t there.

I had watched this video hundreds of times, so I knew exactly where to look to find Pollak’s car. Given that this was probably the first time the witness had ever paid attention to the top half of the video, he naturally seemed pretty confused.

Pollak probably didn’t know it yet, but his goose was cooked. Some uncomfortable stirring came from the gallery. I wondered how many of the more savvy reporters had picked up on this crucial point—that Pollak drove up to and stopped behind the limit line on the north end of the intersection a full thirty seconds after the accident, when two bodies were lying motionless in the street and a dozen people were already calling 911. I knew Ellen Huet was watching from the gallery, along with at least a half dozen other reporters, as far as I could tell. It seemed even Judge Cheng was now paying close attention, as he sat back in his chair and crossed his arms, his bespectacled eyes glued to the projector screen.

“Did you recognize that vehicle?” Ted asked, speaking slowly and deliberately.

“I don’t know what I’m looking at, I’m sorry. I can’t really see anything,” Pollak said, sounding equal parts annoyed and antagonistic.

“Oh, okay,” Ted said, patiently. “Let’s go back up.” We didn’t expect that Pollak would see his car the first time, but we were prepared to handle that outcome, trusting that if we played the video enough times, he would eventually admit that his car arrived thirty seconds after the accident.

“Can I step [down] and have a closer look?” At this point, Pollak extricated himself from his pile of gear and walked over to the projector screen. Arms crossed, he leaned back as his eyes darted around.

“Yes,” said Ted. “And I’m directing your attention right up there in the left corner of the upper screen.”

The closer the better, I thought.

“Okay.”

“Okay, 8:02:36.” Julie pressed buttons and the video played.

“Yeah, that’s my vehicle.”

“Okay. And I’d like you to keep going, 8:02:47.”

“It looks like my vehicle.”

“Stop. And [the] vehicle there?”

“Looks like my car.”

“Let’s continue running it all the way through to 8:03:36. I’d ask you to watch the lower screen, that vehicle right there. Let’s stop at 8:03:36.”

Ted continued: “Sir, do you see that the vehicle, your vehicle, is the vehicle that’s stopped in what I’ll call the number two lane southbound on Castro Street at the Market Street intersection at 8:02:47 according to the video?”

When people refer to lanes by numbers, they always start on the left—from the driver’s perspective—and count to the right. Castro has two lanes right before crossing Market Street; the number two lane is the right turn lane, closest to the curb.

“Yes.”

“Thank you.”

“Now, Julie, could we please go back to 8:02:10?” Julie queued up the seven critical seconds before the accident, from when the yellow phase began at 8:02:10 to the moment the collision occurred. Then she hit play.

“Very good,” said Ted, as he continued his cross-examination.

“So, sir, I’m going to direct your attention again up to the upper screen, left-hand corner, 8:02:10.”

“Okay.”

“For the record, I’ll tell you that’s about seven seconds before the accident.”

“Okay.”

“And let’s run the video. We’re watching screen left. Let’s stop at 8:02:17. Looking at the lower screen, sir, do you see that the collision has just occurred?”

“Yes.”

“Upper screen, do you see your vehicle?”

“Yeah. I mean I think. Could be there?”

“Okay. Let’s run the tape.”

“I see it. I see a piece of silver hanging out behind those trees.”

“Okay. Let’s keep going.” Julie played the video again.

Pollak’s car obviously wasn’t in the video because it arrived thirty seconds after the accident.

“You see the bicyclist go down the street?” Ted asked, referring to Tobias. “Did you see that?”

“Top left?”

“Yeah, I’ve asked you to watch top left.”

“Yeah, it looks like the guy in black.”

“Okay. Do you see the vehicle?”

“I believe it’s sitting there behind the trees, yeah.” The video did depict a vehicle behind the trees, stopped in the number one lane. In fact, there were two vehicles, but neither one was Pollak’s distinctive Honda Element.

“Okay. Let’s continue.”

Julie played the video again. A fierce heat welled up inside my chest, gradually radiating upward and outward. Was this guy going to weasel out of the fact that he wasn’t there, that he didn’t see anything, and that he fabricated his entire testimony?

Julie played the video again. I had lost count of how many times she had played it before, but at this point, it seemed like old news.

“You see a vehicle now?” asked Ted, again.

“Yeah. I think that’s my vehicle.” Pollak had definitively identified his vehicle arriving at 8:02:36, meaning that his Honda Element couldn’t possibly have been sitting on the limit line at 8:02:17.

Omid jumped in. “When we say ‘now,’ I don’t for the record—”

Ted cut him off.

“At 8:02:32, did you see your vehicle?” Ted asked, again.

“I’m going to be totally honest. I’m under oath. It could be my car, it could not.”

“Okay,” said Ted, clearly not amused. We had gotten a “yes” a few minutes ago from Pollak for the car approaching the limit line at 8:02:36; now we were getting a “maybe” for it also being there at 8:02:17, nineteen seconds earlier.

“It looks like my car but—sure, if we’re assuming that that speck of gray in the top left corner is my car, sure,” Pollak stammered, his face turning red.

You’ve been outed, I thought. Now just tell us, for the record, that you definitely don’t see your car at 8:02:17. That’s all we need from you. Then this charade can be put to rest.

The clock on the video on the projector screen showed 8:02:32.

“Well, I‘m pointing to the corner to a vehicle right now. Do you see it?” Ted asked. I could sense that he was trying hard to keep his cool.

“Yes, I see that.”

“And that’s the car we’re talking about, right?”

“Okay. I can’t tell you firmly if that’s my car.”

“You can’t tell?”

“I can’t tell.”

“Okay, good.”

“Could you tell that’s a Honda Element from that distance in the top left corner of the thing? I can’t.”

Ted addressed Judge Cheng, “There was no question pending and I would ask that it be stricken.”

“And I would ask that it stay because it actually articulates what he’s looking at and how it’s very small,” Omid said, with palpable annoyance.

“Motion to strike is denied,” said Cheng, allowing the prosecutor to cast doubt upon the credibility of a video. But unlike Wen-chih Yu, Angelo Cilia, Omid Talai, Nathan Pollak—or any other human being—video is not capable of lying.

“Okay. So let’s run it forward to 8:02:47.” The same portion in the video depicted above played for the witness, for Omid, for the judge, and for the gallery full of reporters and Hui family members, again.

“Now, just a minute ago, you told us that was your vehicle?” Ted phrased that statement like a question, so that Pollak would feel compelled to answer it. Again.

“That does look like my car.”

“Okay. And would you agree that that was the vehicle that at 8:02:36 was visible in the upper left-hand picture?”

“I can’t agree. It’s very hard to discern what’s behind those pixels but possibly.”

“All right. Well, let’s back up one more time, please.”

“I’m going to give you the same answer,” Pollak said defensively. I bristled and wrinkled my nose at him.

Why can’t he just show a little dignity, apologize for lying, and get off the witness stand?

“That’s fine,” Ted said, clearly also feeling prickly. “We’re going to try one more time, to see if you’re able to see what’s obvious to everybody else.”

I expected Omid to sling an objection there, but Ted’s video train had already left the station.

“Ready?” Ted asked. Not waiting for an answer, Julie rolled the same part of the video.

“Stop!” said Ted. “You see the vehicle at 8:02:40?”

“That little thing?”

“Yes, that little thing right there.”

“Uh-huh.”

Julie played more of the video depicted above.

“You saw that it appears to move over to the right-hand lane, the vehicle we were just talking about?”

“Okay. I saw that it moved and I see something up here and there, so sure,” said Pollak.

“Okay. Now let’s go to 8:02:43, the lower left and we’ll proceed to 8:02:47.” Julie played the video again.

“Now, we all agree that’s your car?”

“Yes.”

I let out an enormous exhale.

“And now, you see that your car arrived at the northern limit line of the intersection at 8:02:47?”

“I can’t agree to that because I don’t know if I’m at the northern limit line,” Pollak said. “I’m there on the other side of the intersection but as my account—as I talked about earlier, I was so eager to get over there, once I was stopped, I can’t remember.”

Pollak’s seemingly infallible memory of what happened on that fateful morning seemed to have finally met its match.

“Okay. So, would you agree that this is the first time as we’ve been watching it together since 8:02:36 that that vehicle stopped?”

Omid tried to object. “Vague!” he snapped. “First time in the video that you can see the vehicle stop I think is more accurate.”

I found it mildly amusing that the prosecutor suddenly expressed a newfound interest in affirming the accuracy of the video evidence—that he himself admitted.

“Do you understand the question?” Judge Cheng asked Pollak.

“Yeah. Yes,” said Pollak. I could tell that the wind had really been let out of his sails.

“It didn’t stop before then, right?”

“No.”

“Thank you.”

“No, it didn’t.” Pollak answered again.

“Focus your attention on the lower screen.”

“Okay,” said Pollak.

“Let’s go back to 8:02:16, and thank you,” Ted continued. “And I’m going to run it to 8:02:20. So you saw the accident at 8:02:17?”

“Uh-huh.” He certainly saw it in the video, but he definitely didn’t see it live on the morning of March 29.

“Stop it at 8:02:20,” said Ted, ready to move on. “Now, I want to direct your attention back up to the top left screen and we’ll run it to 8:02:25.”

“You see the bicyclist coming down the street, correct?” Ted referred again to Tobias. I recalled that Pollak had said that after I blew by him, Tobias rolled up alongside Pollak’s iconic Honda Element.

“Yes.”

“And you do not see the vehicle, correct?”

“Yes.”

I let out a small, careful sigh. With that, we had everything we needed. Pollak positively identified his vehicle arriving at the north end of the intersection thirty seconds after the accident took place. He also identified the inverse of that: namely, that his vehicle had not been there as I went by, nor had it been there almost ten seconds later when Tobias rolled up, stopped, and waited on the north end of the intersection for the light to change back to green so he could cross Market Street to check on my condition.

“Thank you. I have nothing further, Your Honor,” said Ted, looking weary but satisfied.

“Redirect?”

“No, thank you,” said the ADA.

Omid actually did something smart here. Ted left him unprepared and unable to salvage the critical testimony of his star witness. We hadn’t even shown the GPX waypoints that disproved his testimony about the red light at 14th Street, or the signal timings to show that he had lied about 15th Street, as well. We debunked the most important part of Pollak’s story, and that cast a shadow of doubt over everything Pollak said under oath and otherwise.

Oh, how I wished that Ted could launch into his closing argument right now, telling the judge and the reporters and everyone else present that the pedestrians crossed early and that Pollak told a rehearsed and fabricated testimony. How did we know? Because the video showed that he didn’t arrive until thirty seconds after the accident! He wasn’t even there when the accident happened! I wanted to see that in the news. I wanted to see the headlines read: Cyclist Exonerated as Key Witness Caught Lying on the Stand.

But I was getting way ahead of myself. We hadn’t heard from the police yet. Nor from the prosecution’s accident reconstruction expert, whom we had planned to debunk even more thoroughly than Pollak. Direct and cross-examinations do not allow any time for either side to argue anything overtly. While it’s certainly possible to build a case while examining a witness, those parts of the hearing mostly allow for gathering facts. The real heavy arguing for one side or the other happens during the closing arguments—at this point, surely still hours away.

Judge Cheng looked at Pollak and said, “All right. Thank you. You may step down.”

Nathan Pollak, still visibly red in the face, gathered up his gear, stepped down from the witness stand, and left the courtroom.

Good riddance, I thought. With your lies, you gave the prosecutors exactly what they needed to elevate my charge to a felony; you’re the reason I’ve had to spend all my family’s savings and then some defending myself from the insane things you said I did.

“Next witness,” said Judge Cheng.

At this point, Inspector Lori Cadigan of the SFPD took the stand.

CHAPTER FIFTY-FIVE

6 March 2013—342 days since the accident

For obvious reasons, I had conflicting emotions about Lori. In our first meeting, she had spoken with such an affable, comforting tone that it made me open up and tell her everything, when obviously all I should have said were four words, the only four words anyone should ever say to the police: “I NEED A LAWYER.”

She had answered my questions about Mr. Hui’s health graciously over the next few days, serving as my only point of contact with the family who was suffering from this terrible tragedy. I even emailed her to tell her how I had read in the news about the pedestrians racing to catch a northbound 24 Divisadero bus. Like me, she seemed authentically sad about Mr. Hui’s passing. She seemed to understand and relate to my shock, horror, remorse, and sympathy for the family. Then she clammed up a bit during our second meeting, rightfully so, as Inspector Dean Taylor told me about the DA’s office stealing evidence and leaking it to the press, which clearly made her uncomfortable at best, livid at worst.

Inspector Cadigan now made her way up to the witness stand, her black bomber jacket left draped over her chair. Dressed more or less like she had just stepped off a Harley, she looked a bit out of place in the courtroom. She sat across from me, looking uncomfortable and nervous. In all likelihood, Inspector Cadigan would just recite what she had written in the police report, but the look on her face warned me that we might be in for much more.

“As part of your investigation, did you have a conversation with Tobias Hanks?” Omid asked, of course knowing full well that she had.

“Yes.”

“Who is Mr. Hanks?”

“Mr. Hanks is the other bicycle rider on the incident of the same day of the accident riding with the defendant.”

I sat behind the table, looking at Inspector Cadigan, perplexed by this line of questioning.

What did Tobias have to do with anything? We had reviewed the police reports and Tobias’s statement and found no red flags, so we didn’t pay much attention to either. Toward what kind of stunt were these questions leading?

“Did you ask Mr. Hanks if he and the defendant were, quote, ‘following the rules of the road,’ end quote, stopping at stop signs and signal lights specifically in the area of Divisadero, which then turns into Castro?” asked Omid.

“Yes.”

“And what did he say?”

“His comment was we don’t typically stop at all the stop signs or signals, we approach and if it’s clear, we proceed through, not necessarily stopping.”

Whoa, now I see!

Omid was asking about Tobias to prompt Inspector Cadigan’s memory of the statement Tobias made about the accident. But I had seen that statement, too. Tobias had said we always stop at red lights, but sometimes roll stop signs if it’s safe and clear. Right there on the stand, under oath, she was distorting Tobias’s words—conjoining stop signs and signals—to make it sound like we not only roll stop signs, but also run red lights. And she did it without even batting an eye.

Inspector Cadigan is intentionally misinterpreting Tobias’s statement, most likely at the behest of the prosecutors, in order to damn me through my friend’s harmless words, further escalating this affair.

So much for “no big deal.”

Inspector Cadigan answered the rest of Omid’s questions predictably and uneventfully, and Ted began his cross-examination. Not prepared for this turn of events, he had to fire off questions extemporaneously.

“You asked [Tobias]: ‘So along Divisadero, are you following the rules of the road, are you stopping at lights and signals?’ Do you remember that?”

“Yes, I do,” said Lori.

“‘Generally speaking, we’re following the rules of the road.’ Right?” asked Ted.

“Yes.”

“And then he said: ’As far as stop signs, those—some cases, depending upon traffic, hum, we may not necessarily stop at every single stop sign.’ Correct?”

“Correct.”

“He said: ‘We might slow as we approach an intersection, check to see if it’s safe to proceed and roll through.’ Correct?”

“Correct.”

“So he’s talking about the stop signs?”

“Not right there, he did not. He said intersections.”

Jesus, I thought. First Inspector Cadigan acted sympathetic, seeming to be in my corner—as much as humanly possible under the circumstances—but now she was sitting here under oath and distorting Tobias’s words to make it sound like we routinely run red lights, which couldn’t be further from the truth. By ignoring the context that connects Tobias’s two sentences, Lori tried to make it sound like rolling through red lights was simply part of our morning workout.

Once again I felt that burning sensation in my chest. Every time I started feeling confident and thinking I had a handle on all the crazy, something even crazier happened. We weren’t planning to have Tobias testify unless we went to trial—if it came to that—so there was no way to have him refute how they were manipulating his words.

Ted was clearly also irked, and had no intention of letting this slide. We had a copy of the police report. Julie fished around for it now in her giant suitcase of documents. We could literally read it back to Cadigan over and over until she admitted to lying about it. I couldn’t read Ted’s mind, but I had a feeling that I knew his plan.

“Well, let me show you—my office has prepared a transcript,” said Ted.

“I’ll direct your attention to the bottom of page four,” he continued. “So, bottom of page four, line nineteen to twenty: ‘So along Divisadero, are you following the rules of the road, are you stopping at lights and signals?’ Question, right?”

“Yes.”

“At line twenty-five, he says: ‘Generally speaking, we’re following the rules of the road.’ Correct?”

“Correct,” answered Lori. Ted was quickly piloting this ship back on course.

Just read it back to her, I thought. There’s only one conclusion she can draw: that Tobias said we sometimes roll stop signs safely, but we always stop at red lights.

It didn’t even matter that the statement was true—we couldn’t prove or disprove that. But we could prove that Lori was intentionally misinterpreting it, probably because that’s what the DA and ADAs asked the SFPD to do.

I guess today they decided to work together, as opposed to pointing fingers at one another.

“Continues on the top of page five,” Ted was still reading Tobias’s statement. “‘Hum, as far as stop signs, those—some cases, depending upon traffic, uh, we may not necessarily stop at every single stop sign.’ Correct?”

“That is correct.”

“Is that consistent with your memory?”

“Yes. For that question, yes.”

“And then you said ‘Okay.’ Right?”

“Yes.”

“And he says: ‘We might slow as we approach the intersection, check to see if it’s safe to proceed and roll through.’ Correct?”

“Correct, but that’s not specific to an intersection with a signal light or a stop sign,” replied Lori.

For the love of god, I thought, why is she lying about this? Right in front my own eyes, someone I once trusted and respected was again twisting the facts—and under oath, to boot. In that moment, Inspector Cadigan lost my trust, my respect, and a good deal of her own humanity.

“Okay. He didn’t use the word signal light?” Ted asked, trying to trap Inspector Cadigan in a lie, or at least get her to admit that she intentionally misinterpreted Tobias’s statement.

“No. So I don’t know what he’s referring to when you’re trying to say it’s a stop sign that he’s only talking about. He comes up and not talking about a stop sign and now he’s referring to an intersection, whether we know how it’s controlled or not,” Inspector Cadigan said, continuing to lie and now getting defensive about it.

Ted, surely having dealt with hundreds of lying witnesses throughout his career (and several times today), wisely gave up. Every good attorney knows when a witness has decided not to give the answer he wants. We were already past the point of no return. It was time to pack up and move on; continuing to rephrase the question would only frustrate us and might cause even more damage than Inspector Cadigan’s lies alone. Pressing on might have worked on Pollak, but now we were dealing with a much more experienced witness, a witness whose job depended on how well she was able to lie—and not get caught in the process.

Ted’s face was riddled with contempt as he asked a final question about the transcript. Much like the video, it was really hard to argue with the darn transcript—yet somehow people still did. Ted spoke clearly, slowly, and deliberately: “We can agree, can we, that the transcript, line nineteen on page four through line five on page five, are consistent with your memory of what Mr. Hanks said to you?”

“Absolutely.”

CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX

6 March 2013—342 days since the accident

As Inspector Cadigan stepped down, I stared at the table, avoiding eye contact. I couldn’t bear to look at her anymore. She had come full circle so many times throughout the course of this affair that now I felt dizzy to the point of not even knowing which way was up anymore. I replayed the last ninety minutes or so in my head, sending my thoughts into overdrive. Most of these thoughts were about Nathan Pollak.

Who would do something like that—and why? These questions troubled me, but they didn’t really matter. All that mattered was that we absolutely cooked Pollak. Having positively identified his vehicle arriving at the north end of the intersection more than thirty seconds after the accident, nothing he said on the stand or to the police could be taken at face value. I didn’t whizz by him. His jaw didn’t drop. He wasn’t there! It was all bullshit.

But calling bullshit on Pollak represented only a small percentage of our overall de-bullshiting strategy. There was much more to come.

“People call Michael, last name Mahoney,” said Omid.

The court employee swore Michael Joseph Mahoney in as if she had done it ten thousand times before. (In all likelihood, she probably had.) Omid continued, “What do you do for a living?”

“I operate a business called Traffic Collision Consultants in which I am a collision reconstructionist,” said Mahoney. I hadn’t heard the term reconstructionist since high school American History class.

“What is your background, training, and experience as it relates to the investigations of traffic collisions and traffic collision reconstruction?” Omid asked, carrying on the lawyerly tradition of never asking a question to which he didn’t already know the answer.

“From 1977 until 2008, I was employed as a peace officer with the City and County of San Francisco. From 1977 until 1990, I was a patrol officer in the Mission District specifically assigned to investigate preliminary investigations of motor vehicle collisions. In 1990, I was promoted to the rank of sergeant and inspector. From 1991 until 2004, I was assigned to the hit and run detail where I conducted background investigations, follow-up investigations on motor vehicle collisions, drunk-driving incidents, and traffic fatalities. In 2004, I was transferred from the hit and run detail to the homicide detail where I worked as a homicide inspector until my retirement in 2008. During the course of my time as a San Francisco police officer, I attended courses and completed courses through the State of California, Peace Officer Standards and Training in the initial, basic, intermediate, and advanced accident investigation courses. I’ve also successfully completed both the initial and supplemental traffic collision reconstruction courses, and I’ve been certified through the State of California Peace Officer Standards and Training to conduct motor vehicle collision reconstructions.”

“Have you been an instructor anywhere with respect to accident investigation?” asked Omid.

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“I’ve been an instructor at the San Francisco Police Academy for both incoming officers and advanced officers in the area of motor vehicle collision accident investigation.”

“Do you go over mathematics and damage analysis components?”

“Those are the components that I specify to when I teach the courses.”

“And what are those; what do those things mean?”

“Essentially that’s the time-distance analysis based on the movements of the vehicles previous to impact, movements of the vehicles at impact, and the movement of the vehicles post-impact to the point of rest.”

“Can you give us an estimate of how many traffic collision reconstructions you have conducted?”

“In the criminal arena, in excess of 100 to 150; in the civil arena, in excess of 2,000.”

“What is ACTAR?”

“ACTAR is an accreditation process. It’s an acronym. It stands for the Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction. ACTAR was formed specifically through requests by the courts and by the attorneys so as a person has to be specifically qualified to render an opinion while on the stand.”

“And are you a member of ACTAR?”

“Yes, I am.”

“How long have you been a member?”

“I’ve been a member of ACTAR since 1998. I hold ACTAR No. 800.”

“Have you provided expert testimony in depositions, arbitrations, criminal and civil jury trials?”

“Yes.”

“Have you done so for The People/plaintiff and also for defense?”

“Yes.”

“Can you tell us all of the counties in which you have been qualified as a court-certified expert in the field of accident investigation and traffic collision reconstruction?”

“I’ve qualified and been certified in San Francisco County, San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Solano County, Marin County, Sonoma County, Placer County, Yolo County, and Clark County, Nevada.”

“How about Stanislaus?” Omid didn’t want to forget Stanislaus.

“Stanislaus County, Merced County.”

“What relevant associations are you a member of?”

“I currently hold memberships in NATARI. It’s an acronym, we use a lot of acronyms. It stands for the National Association of Traffic Accident Reconstructionists and Investigators. I’m a member of SOAR, which is a Society of Accident Reconstructionists. They’re based out of Colorado. I’m a member of SATAI, Southwestern Association of Technical Accident Investigators. They’re based out of Arizona. I’m a member of CARS, California Accident Reconstruction Group, and I’m a member of CHIA, which is the California Homicide Investigators Association. And I also hold a private investigator’s license through CALI, California Association of Licensed Investigators.”

“Thank you,” said Omid. “In June of last year, were you retained by myself and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office?”

“Yes, I was.”

Omid continued to ask Mahoney questions that had obvious answers—and not just obvious to an extremely well-certified and highly regarded Accident Reconstructionist, but obvious to everyone in the courtroom.

“First question is what was the speed of the defendant and his bicycle at the time that he proceeded south on the 300 block of Castro Street just prior to the impact with the victim Sutchi Hui? Do you recall my asking you that question?”

“Yes, I do.”

“And did you come up with an answer to that question?”

“Yes, I did.”

“And what was the answer?”

“It is my opinion that Mr. Bucchere was riding the bicycle on the 300 block of Castro Street when he entered the intersection at a speed of 32.102 miles an hour.”

“And to reach that conclusion, I want to specifically just ask you about the video. Were you able to come up with that little bit over 32 miles an hour speed simply by using the video and the measurements that you had conducted of that area?”

“Yes.”

“Explain to us how it is that you came up with that speed?”

“What I did is I took the interior measurements of the intersection from the inside crosswalk on the south side of the intersection to the inside crosswalk on the north side of the intersection, and I came up with 127 feet, six inches. I then took the width of the south side inside crosswalk of one foot and the width of the crosswalk from the inside line to the point of impact for another twelve feet, six inches, and I came up with a total distance of 141 feet, three inches.”

“Then what did you do?”

“Based upon my review of the video surveillance camera that captured it and the time that it provided, I noted that the bicyclist covered that distance in three seconds. So I divided the distance of 141 feet, six inches by the time of three seconds and came up with I believe it was forty-seven feet per second. I then utilized the forty-seven feet per second and I did the conversion by dividing by 1.4666 and I came up with 32.102 miles an hour.” As Mahoney said “did the conversion,” he extended one of his arms and pressed his palm down, as if he were kneading an invisible lump of dough.

I recalled from my earlier analysis of Mahoney’s report that his speed estimate could have been off by 33% in either direction—so I could have been going as slow as 21 mph or as fast as 43 mph.

“Have you done a similar calculation for previous cases in the past?” Omid asked.

“Yes.”

“Is this common for you?”

“Yes.”

“Can you even estimate approximately how many times you have done—reached such a conclusion in determining speed in the past?”

“Couple hundred.”

“The second question I asked you was, I quote, ‘What was the status of the traffic signal for southbound traffic on Castro Street crossing Market at the time the defendant entered the intersection proceeding south on Castro Street?’”

“It’s my opinion, based upon my review of the video footage, that the traffic signal for southbound Castro Street was red at the time that the bike entered the intersection.”

“And how did you reach that conclusion?”

“Based upon the totality of the time it took for the bicycle, from the time it entered the intersection until the time it impacted in with the pedestrian, also the traffic signal sequence report provided to me that identified that there was a three-and-a-half-second all red.”

“And is that from Bryan Woo at SFMTA?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Go on.”

“There’s a three-and-a-half-second all red, which indicates that both crossing traffic on Castro Street and traffic on Market Street will be held up to a red signal for three and a half seconds. Then, based upon the movement of the pedestrians walking in the westbound direction, I noted that it took three seconds for them to reach where the bicycle impacted into the pedestrian. That’s six and a half seconds. I then calculated the six and a half seconds back with the speed of the bicycle of 32.102 miles an hour and I came up with a positioning of the bicycle 300 feet north of the impact point at the time the light was red.”

So there it was in plain sight: the fundamental flaw in his “logic.”

The traffic light itself, as displayed in the video, proved that his estimate of my position missed the mark wildly. Why? Because using “the movement of the pedestrians” to determine the disposition of the WALK symbol was completely backwards.

“The third question I asked you, it was, quote, ‘What was the status of the pedestrian walk/wait signal for pedestrians crossing Castro Street and Market Street on the south side of the intersection?’ Do you recall that question?”

“Yes, I do.”

“What was the answer, and then I’ll ask you how you got there.”

“It’s my opinion that the traffic signal, pedestrian walk/wait signal indicated it was a white walking man at the time that the pedestrians stepped off of the curb and began to walk.”

I needed to laugh, but I knew it would have been inappropriate. Wen-chih started to cross nearly fourteen seconds early. The man with the bag and six others all also entered while the signal still read DON’T WALK.

Thank god for the video setting the record straight, or else all these witnesses would have eaten me alive.

“And when you’re referring to pedestrians, are you specifically referring to Mr. Sutchi Hui?”

“Yes.”

“How did you reach that conclusion?”

“Based upon the timing sequence of the all red as provided by Mr. Woo, the fact that pedestrians positioned on the east side of the crosswalk are starting to walk westbound. In fact one pedestrian had already reached the midpoint in the westbound lane when the impact occurred.”

Mahoney was, of course, referring to Wen-chih, who was already 75% finished crossing by the time I got there.

“And the final question: ‘What was the proximate cause of the collision between the defendant and Mr. Hui?’ I know there’s kind of a three-part answer, so give us the first and then I’ll ask you how you came up with that.”

“The first proximate cause, I believe, is, in my opinion, that Mr. Bucchere was operating the bicycle in excess of the posted speed limit of 25 miles an hour.”

“And that is for all the reasons that you previously explained with those math numbers that you gave us; is that correct?”

Did Omid really just say that my speed was explained by “those math numbers”?

“Correct,” Mahoney said. Math numbers.

“And what else?”

“It’s also my opinion that another contributing factor to the collision was the fact that Mr. Bucchere entered the intersection against a red light prior to impacting into the pedestrian.”

“And was there a third proximate cause?”

“The third proximate cause is that Mr. Bucchere violated the pedestrian right of way and that pedestrians should have been allowed to cross the street prior to him entering the crosswalk.”

“Now that you’ve explained how you came to that conclusion, why do you say that?”

“That was based on the white walking man signal that Mr. Hui received and he was proceeding lawfully across the intersection when he was struck.”

“Did the video also help you determine that?”

“Yes.”

“I have nothing further.” And with that, Omid sat down.

CHAPTER FIFTY-SEVEN

6 March 2013—342 days since the accident

As the court called for Ted’s cross-examination, Mahoney sat on the stand in an ill-fitting navy-blue suit, the top button fastened, but struggling to stay so. He probably figured his work here was nearly done—and that with a little hustle, he might be able to beat the traffic and make it home in time for dinner.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Mahoney,” said Ted.“How are you?” he asked, sounding like he genuinely cared.

“I’m fine, thanks,” said Mahoney, clearly unaware of what we had in store for him.

“You gave us a lot to chew on, so I’m going to take some time and go through it with you,” Ted said.

“Okay,” said Mahoney.

“You were retained by the District Attorney’s office as an accident reconstruction expert; is that correct?”

“That’s correct.”

“And what is your financial arrangement with them?”

“I bill the District Attorney’s office for my time doing the work.”

“And what is your rate?”

“My rate is $200 an hour.”

“And how many hours have you billed?”

“So far, I’ve billed thirteen and a half.”

“And is your rate the same for courtroom time?”

“No, it’s not.”

“What are you charging for this appearance?”

“I’m charging $350 an hour.”

Wow, I thought. Ted better hurry or else my taxes are going to go up.

“Okay,” said Ted, while I wondered if expert witnesses were nothing more than highly compensated talking bobbleheads who said whatever their clients paid them to say.

If the clients—in this case, the DA and the ADAs—don’t like the expert’s “findings,” they’ll get a new “expert.” If need be, someday we would retain our own “expert” and pay him handsomely to do exactly the same thing that Mahoney was doing here, with an entirely different take on the same evidence. But he would still be our patsy, just the way Mahoney was Gascón’s. This was just another reality-check for me of our criminal justice system—the very same system that we tell other countries is the best and the fairest in the world.

Perhaps it is, but boy does it set the bar low.

Ted continued to ask a series of uneventful questions about what evidence Mahoney used when preparing his report. My ears prickled when Ted started asking about Strava. The media had grossly overstated the importance of this fitness-tracking website to the accident. Ted, Julie, and I viewed it as a real wildcard because, while Mahoney had mentioned it a few times in his report, we couldn’t figure out why or how he intended to use it against me. Because he had padded his gibberish “findings” with more gibberish, it made it really hard to u nderstand the report.

“[Did you review a] Strava printout for March 29th, 2012?” asked Ted.

“Yes.”

“So [was] that one page?”

“Oh, no. I’ve got a whole stack of stuff here on that,” said Mahoney with a hearty chuckle. As he spoke, he picked up a two-inch-thick stack of paper and waved it around. My god, I thought, he printed all the Strava data from all my rides over the past three years—what an incredible waste of paper.

I imagined the ADAs instructing Mahoney to print all my GPX waypoints so as to give the impression that using Strava to record enough data to fill a ream of paper automatically made me guilty.

Ted and Omid went back and forth about some lingering discovery issues regarding Mahoney’s decision to use a distance-over-time calculation to determine my speed in lieu of the Strava data.

This came as a surprise to us, because the Mahoney report we had received as part of discovery detailed how he had eyeballed the GPS-interpolated speed graphs to determine that my speed was around 36 mph. But in his direct examination, he had settled on his remarkably precise 32.102 mph based on distances he couldn’t accurately measure divided by time rounded to the nearest whole second, giving him a precision of, best case , +/- 33%.

When dealing with three seconds total, being off by one whole second means one and only one thing: he failed.

“So, as you sit here today in court, your opinion regarding the speed of the bicycle is based upon your timed distance measurements and calculations as you described them to us on direct?” asked Ted.

“Correct.”

“Not on Strava data.”

“No.”

Along with his monosyllabic answer came the sound of the last nail in the Strava coffin.

Although the media and the DA had used my GPS ride-tracking on Strava to slander me, they never officially used it in their case against me. After dozens and dozens of articles and thousands of comments claiming that Strava was the thing that “made me do it,” this was the full extent to which the prosecutors cared about Strava: printing and waving a ream of paper around in front of the courtroom.

I felt sorry for the trees condemned to death so they could be used by Mahoney for these ridiculous purposes.

With Strava put to rest for good, Ted finally got to the interesting part.

“The third finding that you made was that the walk signal for east-west travel in the south crosswalk on Castro Street illuminated at 8:02:14, three seconds before the collision?”

“Yes.”

Our review of the video, based upon adding seven seconds to the exact frame in which the traffic signal changed from green to yellow, showed that the WALK indicator came on when the video clock showed 8:02:17, when my bike had already entered the southern crosswalk and I was literally inches away from Mr. Hui, Mrs. Hui, and Wen-chih, and also dangerously close to five other pedestrians.

So, 8:02:14 vs. 8:02:17: these times are three whole seconds apart. Only one of them correctly reflected what happened. 8:02:17 meant that I went through a late yellow and pedestrians egregiously jumped the WALK indicator. 8:02:14 meant that I egregiously blew a red light by three seconds and most of the pedestrians waited for WALK indicator before crossing. Only one of those explanations was correct: The one based on the traffic signal. The other one was based on paying a pretend expert—certified eight ways to Sunday—$350/hour to lie on the stand.

“A fourth finding that you made was that the traffic signals controlling north-south traffic on Castro Street at Market Street were a solid red for six and a half seconds before the collision?”

“Yes.” Again, we knew Mahoney missed the mark here by at least three seconds, a veritable eternity in the world of traffic accident reconstruction. By comparison, all relevant information in the video pertaining to my accident takes place in a little over three seconds.

Ted continued confirming Mahoney’s findings, in excruciating detail. He then showed Mahoney a still from the video at 8:02:14 (Defense Exhibit A) and asked him to locate me and my bicycle, circle them, and label the circle with my initials. He complied.

“And so it appears to you that at 8:02:14, as you’ve told us, Mr. Bucchere’s position was inside the north side of the north crosswalk?” Ted asked, continuing to dig Mahoney’s grave with several more questions, making sure he was absolutely certain that I was inside the intersection at 8:02:14.

We of course knew—and Mahoney didn’t—that the light turned red at frame #4431, just before the “wall” clock turned to 8:02:14. This meant that Mahoney—once we showed him the traffic light in the video—would prove, with the DA’s own evidence, that I had entered on a yellow and that the light turned red when I was already in the intersection, well past the northern limit line.

“So, I’m going to write down here for you to look at in a minute: Bucchere location at 8:02:14, 141.25 feet from the point of impact; is that fair?”

“Okay.”

“Now, I want to direct your attention to the video that’s on the screen.” Ted’s voice seemed to deepen a touch. I reflexively began tapping my pen on my little notebook. Julie grabbed my hand and gave me a look: Stop it!

Ted continued: “And as we discussed, this was a security camera video from the Twin Peaks Tavern on the southeast corner of Market and Castro streets, correct?”

“Correct.”

“Do you know what model recorder it is?” We did, even though it hardly mattered at this point since any notion of precision had been thrown out the window.

“No.”

“Do you know any of its specifications?” We did, even though they definitely didn’t matter, except for the frame rate of 6.2fps, which we got from inspecting the video.

“No.”

“You see that it has a split screen?”

“Yes.”

“And I want to go back to 8:02:01. I’m going to direct your attention to the lower screen and I’m going to ask that we run to 8:02:08. And this was the video that you examined as part of your investigation in this matter, correct?”

“Yes.”

“And directing your attention to the upper screen and in the left-hand corner where I’m circling, can you tell us what that appears to be?” Ted drew imaginary circles over the left-hand corner of the projection screen, where a single traffic light glowed green.

“I have no idea,” said Mahoney.

Please don’t tell me that this guy is going to deny that there’s a traffic signal in the video—just like Pollak denied seeing his car stop at the limit line thirty seconds after the accident. Is he going to refuse to see the obvious presence of a traffic light in the video? I felt terrified once again.

“Okay. Do you see there’s a light at the bottom of it that appears to be lit?” Ted pointed to the green part of the light. That was a big hint. I was surprised that Omid didn’t object.

“No,” said Mahoney, continuing to deny the existence of a traffic light in the video. Still no dice.

“Okay. Why don’t you stand up and take a look.” Ted, somehow keeping his cool, really needed Mahoney to admit to the presence of a traffic signal. The signal served as the centerpiece of our entire defense—and my pass to get off this crazy train and go back to what was left of my life.

“Doesn’t that look to be a traffic signal?” Again, I was really surprised that Omid didn’t object to the leading question. Perhaps he was caught off guard so much by the traffic light that he couldn’t focus on how Ted was destroying this “expert” witness.

“For 17th Street?”

No! 17th Street dead-ends into an F Market train stop and Naked Guy Plaza. There’s no traffic signal controlling traffic at 17th because there’s no traffic to control.

“For Castro Street south,” Ted said, correcting the “expert” and again, somehow not drawing an objection from Omid for leading the witness. “We’ll figure that out in a minute. Does it appear to be a traffic signal?”

“It appears to be traffic signal. I don’t know what it’s hooked up to.”

“Okay. Please stand right there,” Ted said, like he was talking to a two-year-old, because he effectively was.

Just then Omid, who also stood near the defendant’s table, turned to face the wall and snapped, “This is a waste of my time!”

I spun my head to the right to look at him, not able to believe the blatant irony in what I had just heard. The introduction of a traffic signal in the video just upended the prosecutor’s case, but somehow we were wasting his time.

“So let’s watch that traffic signal. And we’ll go to 8:02:11. Did you see that the signal changed from [the] lower to the middle spot there?”

Ted showed Mahoney the video again while he stood there, just feet away from the video screen, looking like a blooming idiot.

“No.”

Seriously?

“Okay. Let’s back up. Let’s go back to 8:02:08,” Ted said, becoming increasingly pedantic. Julie rewound the video. “8:02:07 is fine. I ask you to watch the traffic signal and tell me what happens at 8:02:11.”

Julie played the video. At roughly 8:02:11, the light changed from green to yellow, then three and a half seconds later, to red. Mahoney stared at the upper left portion of the video, where he saw something like this:

“No, I didn’t. I’m not seeing it move,” Mahoney said, after he watched the traffic signal turn from green to yellow to red and saw the traffic respond accordingly. At this point, I’m sure every other person in the courtroom could easily see a traffic signal changing colors from green to yellow to red, just like most of the traffic signals in this country. However, the impressively certified accident reconstructionist couldn’t.

“Okay,” said Ted, even though Mahoney’s shenanigans were anything but “okay.”

“But I don’t know what this signal is for,” added Mahoney.

There was no question pending, so I wondered why Omid didn’t object and move to strike, especially since it sounded like Mahoney had finally just admitted that there was in fact a traffic signal in the video. However, he was already preparing to weasel his way out of its relevance to our case by claiming that either it didn’t change colors or that it somehow didn’t apply to the intersection in which it was located.

“Right,” Ted snapped, trying to keep the “expert” focused. “We’re going to determine that in a minute. You agree, do you not, that at 8:02:11, the traffic signal for east-west traffic on Market Street was not green?”

“Correct.”

“And it wasn’t yellow?”

“I don’t believe so, no.”

“Couldn’t have been, right?” It took Ted a while, but it seemed we had finally determined that Mahoney knows that if a traffic light is green or red, it can’t also be yellow at the same time.

“Right.”

“Well, if that’s a yellow light, then that has to be for north-south traffic on Castro Street, right?”

“I don’t know what it’s pointed to. That’s the 17th Street light.”

He is in full-on denial mode; there is no 17th Street light!

Ted eventually got Mahoney to identify a black sedan, a white minivan, Tobias and his bike, and, finally, after moving the video forward to 8:02:37, Nathan Pollak’s Honda Element.

“Now, I want to go back to 8:02:11. And I guess I do need you to stand, Mr. Mahoney. I’m sorry,” said Ted.

For $350 taxpayer dollars per hour, I’m sure Mr. Mahoney wouldn’t mind getting a little exercise. Julie played the video again, for the umpteenth time.

“In the upper screen, you see that this light has turned yellow?” asked Ted.

“Yes.”

“And let’s go to 8:02:14. You see that the light turns red?”

“It’s red.”

“And you see that Mr. Bucchere’s head appears to be within the intersection?”

“Yes.”

Bravo! With that answer, Mahoney’s newly discovered “expert opinion” indicated that I was already in the intersection when the light turned red, which is the exact opposite of running a red light.

“And so that light that appears to be controlling traffic north and southbound on Castro Street turned red at 8:02:14, correct?”

“That traffic signal, yes.”

Mahoney’s complexion started to make a faint but noticeable transition from pale white to pink to pinkish-red. Perhaps it had finally occurred to him that he had just debunked his own conclusions about the light and my position relative to it, giving me the uncontested right of way. Ted clearly also thought that Mahoney failed to answer the question, so he tried again:

“It appears to be controlling traffic north and southbound on Castro Street?”

“I don’t know what that traffic signal is controlling.” Dear god, here we go again.

“Okay. Thank you,” Ted said, as if he had already heard enough about the traffic signal located at the corner of Market and Castro that—somehow, according to Mahoney—did not actually control traffic at Market and Castro. All the while, Mahoney’s face kept turning progressively darker shades of red.

Ted decided to change the topic and started a different line of questioning.

“So, let’s go back to the WALK sign for pedestrians, and I’m going to ask you to assume for a minute that what I’ve been pointing to in the upper left corner of the upper screen is the traffic light controlling traffic north-south on Castro Street.”

“That signal?”

“Yes. I want you to assume that for a minute.”

“Okay.”

“If that signal turned red at 8:02:14, then the all red signal would be illuminated for another three and a half seconds, correct?”

“Correct.”

“And that would take us to approximately 8:02:17.5?” The WALK signal had come on for east-west pedestrians at around that time.

“Correct.”

“This is 8:02:14 and you would agree—bear with me on my assumption—that this is the traffic light controlling north-south traffic. If it just turned red and these people, these two individuals standing on the east side of the south crosswalk at Castro Street do not have a WALK signal?”

“If you are assuming that, correct.”

With that single stroke of brilliance, Mahoney just proved that Wen-chih’s testimony, Angelo’s testimony, Pollak’s testimony, Betty Hui’s statements to the police, and at least a dozen other eyewitness accounts of the accident—each of which said that I ran a red light and that all the pedestrians had the favor of the WALK symbol—were incorrect.

If, of course, we assume that the traffic signal at Market and Castro controls the traffic at Market and Castro.

But here in the topsy-turvy world of “criminal justice,” Michael Mahoney—whose face now looked like a tomato—tried to lie about how a traffic signal at Market and Castro didn’t actually control traffic at Market and Castro.

If I had any remaining bit of faith in our criminal justice system—or thought that it had any connection to reality—it was gone now, for good.

Ted, somehow keeping a cool head, plodded onward, trying to make Mahoney aware of the obvious truth: that eight pedestrians entered the crosswalk at various times and speeds, between two and fourteen seconds early, creating an impossible and deadly morass for me, the cyclist who had lawfully entered the intersection on a yellow light and then had no feasible way to safely exit that same intersection, what with a MUNI bus, a car, and eight pedestrians in the way.

Ted continued with the cross-examination, seeming not to mind that Mahoney was categorically denying that the traffic light located in the intersection where the accident occurred had anything to do with the accident.

“Directing your attention to the screen again, People’s Exhibit Two, 8:02:15, you see that?” The following image displayed on the projector screen, depicting the crosswalk approximately two seconds before the accident.

“Yes,” said Mahoney, confirming that he thought he was paying attention. In reality, who knew what this clown was and wasn’t seeing—and what he was hiding.

“And you can see that the two pedestrians [have] now advanced farther in the crosswalk in the westbound direction?”

“Yes.”

“The female is approximately halfway across the street?” That female was Wen-chih, the most egregious jaywalker.

“Yes.”

“The male is lagging somewhat behind her; is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“Two pedestrians down here at the east side of the crosswalk now appear to have started to enter?” The pedestrian on the left remained unidentified, but the one on the right with the shiny head was Angelo Cilia, who we had heard from earlier that morning. Angelo, Wen-chih, and Betty Hui all said they had waited for the WALK symbol, Betty adding that Sutchi always waited a few extra seconds for good measure.

“Yes.”

“And can you see up there that the two individuals at the top of the lower screen also appear to have started to walk forward?” Ted pointed to Mr. and Mrs. Hui, who stood side by side, Mr. Hui to the south (left) and Mrs. Hui to the north (right).

“I wouldn’t be able to tell from this viewpoint.”

“So, can we please reduce the lights?” asked Ted. The bailiff dimmed the lights. “We’ll go forward one frame to 8:02:16.” After Julie advanced the video one frame, the projector screen showed the following image:

It’s very easy to tell, by comparing this frame to the previous one, that Mr. and Mrs. Hui have started to cross.

“[At] 8:02:16, were you able to see that the two individuals at the top of the screen took a step into the intersection?”

“Yes.”

Finally.

“And consistent with your understanding, that would be Mr. and Mrs. Hui, correct?”

“Yes.”

“And if the light turned red at approximately 8:02:14, then it’s your opinion that the WALK pedestrian signal would not have illuminated yet, correct?”

“That’s not my opinion. My opinion is that it was activated.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Ted, almost as if he was humoring him. “I’m asking you to—because I’m trying to save some time here—assume I’m correct that the light that [at which] we’ve been looking in the upper left-hand corner of the screen controls traffic for north-south on Castro Street, correct?”

“If you want to make that assumption. I don’t agree with that but that’s all right.”

Mahoney again insisted, in his expert opinion, that the traffic signal located in the southeast corner of the intersection of Market and Castro did not in fact control north-south traffic on Castro Street as it crosses Market Street.

I began to worry again. Will this guy get away with denying the traffic light? Will I go to jail for six years because he won’t recognize what is painfully obvious to everyone? How could he pull this off? Is he going to get away with it? How is Ted letting this happen?

“I’m asking you to,” said Ted, slowly and deliberately.

“Okay,” said Mahoney.

“And assume it turned red at 8:02:14 as we saw.”

“Okay.”

“Okay. Then you would agree in that circumstance, that the walk signal for east-west traffic on Castro Street would not have illuminated yet?”

“Under that circumstance, yes.”

“Okay. Thank you. And then let’s go to 8:02:17.”

The following image glowed on the projector screen in the dimly-lit courtroom.

“And you see that the accident just occurred, correct?”

“Yes.”

“You can see that one of the two individuals that entered the street is still standing?” That was Betty, who escaped death or serious injury only because she lagged maybe a half step behind her husband.

“Yes.”

“And that the woman who was proceeding westbound is approximately three-quarters of the way across the street?” That was Wen-chih, who escaped death or serious injury because at the very last second I pulled out of a leftward dive, probably because I discovered that she and I were on a collision course.

“Yes.”

“Probably within feet of the accident when it occurred?”

“Yes.”

“And that at least three other individuals are well into the crosswalk at this time, correct?”

“Yes.”

“And you would agree that if the red light controlling—and this is my assumption for you—controlling north-south traffic on Castro Street illuminated red at 8:02:14, then the pedestrian walk signal would illuminate at approximately 8:02:17.5?”

“Under that assumption, yes.”

At this point, my anger at Mahoney and at nearly everyone involved in this ludicrous campaign to ruin my personal and professional reputation started to subside. Mahoney, whether he knew it or not, had given us almost everything we needed. He told us that I was in the intersection when the light turned red. He told us that Betty and Sutchi Hui, Wen-Chih, Angelo, and five other pedestrians all crossed against a DON’T WALK symbol. He told us that the video depicted a traffic signal, that the traffic signal changed colors, and that it turned red at approximately 8:02:14. Now only one thing stood between me and my ticket to freedom: Mahoney just had to admit that the traffic signal at the corner of Market and Castro controlled north-south traffic at Market and Castro.

That seemed simple enough. How hard could that be?

Plus, I knew that Ted, the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area, armed with surveillance video evidence, didn’t plan on letting Mahoney get away with his lies.

Things finally seemed to be looking up. Ted pressed on:

“So during your examination of the accident scene, did you notice that there’s a little sort of plaza that’s sort of part way out into the street from the crosswalk? It’s a plaza area off the crosswalk on the south side of Market Street out in front of the Twin Peaks Bar?” Ted asked, in reference to Naked Guy Plaza, officially called Jane Warner Plaza.

“Yes.”

“Do you see it depicted on the right-hand side of the video here at the lower screen?”

“Yes.”

“And do you see it also on the left-hand side depicted at the upper screen?”

“Yes.”

“And the traffic signal that we’ve been talking about appears to be at the far end of the plaza from the video camera?”

“Yes.”

“I would like to show you what’s been marked as Exhibit D [and] ask you if you recognize that?”

“Yes.”

“And what do you recognize it to be?”

“A picture of the intersection of Market and Castro looking northbound on Castro from the southeast corner.”

“Does it appear to have been taken from the area of the Twin Peaks Bar?”

“Yes.”

“And as you look at it, do you see three traffic signals?”

“Yes.”

Once again, we were making progress. Let’s keep this up.

“Are they all red?”

“Yes.”

“And you see one on the lower right side above what appears to be some bushes?”

“Yes.”

“And then you see one immediately behind it, still on the right side but on the other side of the street that appears to be clearly controlling traffic northbound on Castro Street?”

“Yes.”

“And then across Castro Street on the west side, you see a third traffic signal also red that appears to control traffic northbound on Castro Street?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Now, does that cause you to recognize that this signal that we’ve been talking about in the upper screen of People’s Exhibit Two is the same traffic signal that appears on the right-hand side by those bushes?”

“No.”

The anger that had started to subside now welled up inside me again, like a volcano right before eruption. Our entire case hinged upon his acknowledgement of this traffic signal, the traffic signal that anyone looking at the video or the photographs could easily tell controlled north and southbound traffic on Castro Street as it crossed Market Street. I don’t consider myself a violent person, but at this juncture, I considered violence.

Then, all of a sudden, my anger dissipated and wafted away into the stuffy, foul air in the courtroom. I realized—in a rare moment of clarity—that my anger and resentment far transcended Mahoney’s unbelievable stonewalling unfolding before me. It transcended my case altogether.

This isn’t even about me anymore. This is about all the poor bastards who preceded me and who didn’t have the luxury of a video account of their entire accident that clearly exonerated them. How many innocent people—everyday people like me—are serving time because of this motherfucker and his “math numbers”? Of how many millions upon millions of dollars did Mahoney defraud insurance companies, forced to pay out claims based upon false pretenses? Is this whole “accident reconstruction” industry a charade, a sham with nothing more than a façade of legitimacy?

It finally dawned on me how Mahoney determined that the WALK symbol came when people started walking: because his whole industry, with all its absurd “certifications,” was just a gaggle of quacks making up just enough “math numbers” to fool most judges and juries.

As these wild, disjointed thoughts coursed through my head, the interplay between Ted and Mahoney continued before me. I snapped back to reality.

Mahoney’s still in denial about this traffic light. I hope Ted has a plan. Ted had better have a plan.

“Okay. I’m going to show you one last exhibit and ask you if you recognize it. It’s been marked Defense Exhibit E,” Ted explained to Mahoney.

Perhaps this was Ted’s plan: keep asking the same goddamn question over and over and hope that eventually he gets the right answer.

“[Do] you recognize that?” asked Ted, pointing to Exhibit E.

“Yes.”

“What’s that depict?”

“[It] depicts looking northwest through the foliage on 17th Street toward Market.”

“And you can see clearly that there’s a traffic signal that’s red, right?”

Suddenly, a voice to my left distracted me from Mahoney’s excuses for not acknowledging the traffic light in the video.

Wait, I recognize that voice—it’s Inspector Cadigan!

I looked over at the prosecution’s table and, sure enough, I found that Omid and Inspector Cadigan were engaged in a lively discussion, not even bothering to whisper. I could only assume it was about me and my case. If I could just read Lori’s lips a bit, I bet I could make out what they’re saying.

As I leaned forward, trying to process what I was hearing and seeing, Omid suddenly looked up and caught my eye. Quickly and deftly he leapt out of his seat and proclaimed, “Your Honor, the defendant is staring at me! I would ask our deputy to ask him to look forward during the preliminary hearing.”

I snapped my head forward and looked at the judge, for the very first time actually feeling guilty of something.

“Response?” asked Judge Cheng, looking at Ted.

“Your Honor, I’m sure Mr. Bucchere has no interest in looking at Mr. Talai.”

On the contrary, I felt deeply interested in their not-so-secret sidebar conversation, but I silently agreed to restrain my eye movements to the court-approved directions, if only because it would probably help my chances of not going to jail.

“All right. Instruct him not to do that,” ordered Cheng, seeming half puzzled and half annoyed at the same time. “Go ahead.”

“Now, do you see the traffic signal that’s pretty much in the center of the picture?” Ted asked Mahoney, trying yet again to prove that the traffic light in the intersection was in fact the traffic light in the intersection. How long will this go on? I wondered.

“Yes.”

“And do you see it’s right above the foliage that marks the border of the plaza area outside the Twin Peaks Bar?”

“Yes.”

“And you see it’s right next to the street sign that marks Castro Street?”

“Yes.”

“And does that help you recognize that the signal we’ve been talking about in the upper corner on the left side is the signal that controls north-south traffic on Castro?”

“No.”

Good grief. Somehow, Ted had the fortitude to press on.

“Okay. Sir, you told us that the distance from the point of impact to the north side, north crosswalk on Market Street is 167 feet?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t know the distance to the limit line that’s further north of the north side crosswalk?”

“No.”

“You agree that the pedestrian WALK sign for east-west traffic on Castro Street did not illuminate until three and a half seconds after the traffic signal turned red, correct?”

“Correct.”

“You agree that if the traffic signal turned red at 8:02:14, then the pedestrian WALK signal illuminated at 8:02:17 and some change?”

“If you’re assuming that that traffic signal is covering north-south traffic.”

“You agree that at 8:02:14, westbound pedestrians were already in the crosswalk on Castro Street, on the south side?”

“Yes.”

“You agree that at 8:02:14, westbound pedestrians started walking even further into the crosswalk?”

“Yes.”

“You agree that at 8:02:16, a westbound female pedestrian was more than halfway across Castro Street?” Ah, Wen-chih.

“Yes.”

“You agree that at 8:02:16, Mr. and Mrs. Hui started walking eastbound into the crosswalk?”

“That, I don’t know.”

How quickly you forget. Mahoney had already identified the Huis crossing two seconds early umpteen dozen questions ago.

“Okay. Going back to 8:02:15—I ask you to watch the two figures, the two figures that I’ve circled at the top of the lower screen, and tell me if you see them moving into the crosswalk between 8:02:15 and 8:02:16?”

“Yes.”

“So, you agree that those two figures proceeded into the crosswalk at 8:02:16?” Ted traversed familiar territory, no doubt winding up for the big kill. All he needed to do was ask the right question—or show the right piece of evidence—and Mahoney would be forced to acknowledge the traffic signal. Why not just play the entire video, watching the signal change from green to yellow to red, over and over, and the vehicle traffic and foot traffic following suit?

“Yes,” said Mahoney. His bright red face now seemed to have a bit of a deer-in-the-headlights look, too.

“You agree at 8:02:17, the westbound female pedestrian was well into the southbound traffic lanes on Castro Street in that crosswalk?”

“She’s on the south side of the roadway, she’s not in the southbound traffic lane. She’s inside the crosswalk.”

Of course she’s in the crosswalk—but she’s ALSO in the middle of the southbound traffic lane. Because the crosswalk cuts right across the southbound traffic lane. Jesus.

“She’s inside the crosswalk and she’s passed the midline of the street into the southbound side of Castro Street?”

“Yes.”

“And you would agree that she posed an obstacle to Mr. Bucchere as he proceeded into the intersection?”

“I have no idea,” Mahoney answered.

What a strange question, I thought. Where is Ted going with this?

Before I had time to ponder that, Ted quickly uttered five words I never expected to hear at this juncture: “I have no further questions.”

I could not believe what was happening right in front of me. Had Ted just given up?

CHAPTER FIFTY-EIGHT

6 March 2013—342 days since the accident

I gnashed my teeth and grabbed Julie’s arm. The desperate, half-whispered words, “Why the fuck did Ted just give up?” eked out from between my mashed-together molars. In response Julie, her calm demeanor in sharp contrast with mine, simply said, “He knows Mahoney isn’t going to give us what we need.”

I bowed my head in disbelief. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, Julie was probably right. Ted didn’t want to have to beg Mahoney to tell us that the traffic light on the southeast corner of Market and Castro controlled traffic flowing through the intersection of Market and Castro. Mahoney had already dug in, so further attempts to badger him for the truth about the traffic signal would only make us appear unprofessional.

Besides, I thought, Ted must have some kind of plan. He had better have some kind of plan.

My short-lived rumination session ended abruptly. Ted had a quick conversation with Omid and Judge Cheng, then he, Julie, Fred, and I gathered our things and walked out of the courtroom, navigating our way through a stormy sea of reporters asking pointless, inane questions, undoubtedly trying to elicit some sort of violent reaction from me.

As per the usual, they almost succeeded. Don’t let them get to you, I coached myself. Don’t do anything stupid.

Nary a word came out of anyone’s mouth as we walked down the outdoor steps of the imposing Hall of Justice and over to Cafe Roma, where we plunked ourselves down at a table for a quick debrief.

“I gave up on Mahoney when I realized he wasn’t going to change his mind about the traffic light,” said Ted, jumping straight to the most contentious topic.

“I know. Julie told me. I hope we never see that fucker again,” I said.

“Now wait a minute. We got almost everything we needed from him. You should be happy!”

“Yeah, I’m about to dance a goddamn Irish jig.”

“Come on, look what we got: We got him to tell us that he didn’t use Strava at all in his investigation; we got him to admit that you were already in the intersection when the light first turned red; and we got him to admit that Mr. Hui and a bunch of other people crossed against a DON’T WALK.”

“Yes, but all of that is predicated on the traffic light he managed to deny right out of existence. How did he get away with that?”

“He’s being paid to lie on the stand and everybody knows that. Besides, Mahoney’s not the only one who can prove that the light bears relevance. I can go down to Market and Castro tonight with a private investigator, and he can take photos and videos that will prove it. We need to beat sunset so we can get decent light for the video.”

“How much is this going to cost me?” I asked.

“Probably around a grand.”

“Do we have any other options?”

“Not that I can think of.”

“Well then, add it to my tab.”

With that, the other members of the group and I started to get up, but Ted grabbed my arm. I sat back down.

“Wait, there’s one more thing,” Ted said, as the expression on his face showed signs that he might be on the verge of losing a sliver of his relentless determination to win this case. “We might have already lost the PX.”

What? What the hell makes you think that?”

“When I approached to talk to the judge, he asked me if we could just wrap things up right now instead of coming back tomorrow.”

“Dear god,” I muttered, rolling my eyes. “That means Judge Cheng has already made up his mind and doesn’t give two shits about the traffic signal or any other part of our case, right?”

“Remember, the standard for the prosecution in a PX is very low. All they have to do is show suspicion that there was gross negligence.”

They haven’t shown a goddamn thing, Ted! Just a bunch of people who gave false testimony that didn’t match their own fucking video, and an expert who’s so certified, he’s practically certifiable!”

“Witness credibility can’t be factored into a PX either.”

Witness credibility? This isn’t about credibility. It’s about how none of their facts lines up. Not one! Their entire case is based upon a litany of biases, misunderstandings, misconceptions, pseudo-science, and outright lies! There’s no way their bullshit is going to make it past the PX.”

“Look Chris, settle down. There are three things that can happen tomorrow: The judge can rule that you must stand trial for a felony; he can knock your charge down to a misdemeanor; or he can let you walk. After talking to Judge Cheng, I’m losing faith that things are going to go our way, but we still have a fighting chance.”

“Jesus! What are we going to do about this?”

“We’re gonna cut the crap and go get our PI to video that traffic signal while it’s still light out.”

With that, our impromptu meeting adjourned, and my entourage of highly compensated guardian angels stood up and scattered in different directions. As I walked back to my car, I grew more and more confident—that despite what Ted said about Judge Cheng having already made up his mind, when the PI took the stand tomorrow and showed the judge that the traffic signal was in fact the traffic signal, everything would come to a screeching halt and I would walk away a free man.

Perhaps I held false hope, but it mattered little at this juncture. False hope or not, it was all I had left.


>> Continue to PART VII (c): Kangaroo Court, Concluded


For a closer look at the research behind Bikelash, visit the companion GitHub project.

Bikelash PART VII (a): Kangaroo Court

On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.

This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.

We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.

This story is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story that happens all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. Media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgment, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.

The narrative is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. To protect the privacy of others, I changed some names. All else is true to my memory of what happened.

I am sharing this not for redemption or personal profit, but because this side of the story rarely gets told. To make sure our justice system treats all defendants fairly, we need to speak up when it doesn’t.

I’m Chris Bucchere.

And this is Bikelash.

PART VII (a): Kangaroo Court

CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

6 March 2013—342 days since the accident

Darkness blanketed the Bay Area when I left the house, but as I drove into the city I witnessed a glorious sunrise. Orange radiance all around filled me with warmth and light. As crazy as this sounds, the beams of sun gave me hope that Judge Andrew Cheng would also see the light. I hoped that we could show that this entire affair had been invented by the DA and blown wildly out of proportion by the media.

Then the orange glow conjured up a different memory—of the chain gang I shared the airlock with for a few moments in the county jail. Their orange jumpsuits. Their cuffs and shackles. Their menacing looks—then the unexpected kindness they showed to me, their fellow prisoner.

The orange glow of the sun shining over my head—or an orange uniform. So much was riding on this day.

I drove past the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street. I needed to count the media trucks and look for any signs of live coverage. I spotted at least one bona fide news truck and one other potential bogey, but no antennas were raised, so the likelihood of live coverage was low.

I circled back to Division Street and found a free all-day parking spot. Getting a free spot this close to the Hall of Justice at this hour was a small miracle, and it felt like a good sign. But I still had a ten- or fifteen-minute walk ahead of me.

I hustled to our predetermined meeting place and found the brain trust raring to go: Ted Cassman stood in the center, wearing a dark suit and a conservative blue tie. Julie Salamon held a suitcase full of papers, awaiting their promotion from mere documents to exhibits.” Fred Levine, the defense attorney who my insurance company had hired to represent me should a wrongful death suit be filed, was holding a giant easel and a two-by-three-foot satellite photograph, mounted on foamcore, of the intersection.

“‘Bout time,” said Ted, looking squarely at me with an admonishing stare. “We’ve gotta get going.”

We positioned ourselves carefully inside the stairwell, just steps outside the courtroom. My dark-suited entourage surrounded me in their best Secret Service huddle. Ted pushed the door open, and we flung ourselves into a sea of reporters.

“Mr. Cassman! Mr. Bucchere! Do you—”

Before we even heard the rest of the question, my huddle and I had pushed through the outer door and into the vestibule of the courtroom. Seconds later, I was seated in the gallery, with Fred at my side. Ted and Julie began to set up their computers, a projector, and multitude of hardcopy visuals.

I turned off my phone and started doodling in a small notebook. The judge had not entered yet, but some of the other players had. Deputy ADA Omid Talai, third in the pecking order under DA George Gascón, was flitting about nervously. He wore a navy suit, a light-blue checkered shirt, and a purple patterned necktie tied in a full Windsor knot. Seated at the prosecution’s table, next to Omid’s unoccupied chair, was SFPD’s Inspector Lori Cadigan, someone I felt I knew—when I hardly knew her at all.

It was hard not to like Inspector Cadigan. She stood at least 5’9” plus a few inches to account for her black-heeled boots. She wore a black pantsuit with wide charcoal pinstripes under her leather bomber jacket. Once again, a large gold cross hung around her neck.

As I looked at Inspector Cadigan, she glanced back at me inquisitively, tipping her head to one side. This was our third meeting—once in the hospital on the day of the accident, once when she apologetically handcuffed me and led me into jail, and now. Yet there was only a faint glimmer of recognition in her eyes. I looked back at her sheepishly, my lips curling into a smile of greeting. She quickly turned around and straightened her back into her chair, the layers of her hair whipping around and falling down on her shoulders.

Something was wrong with Lori Cadigan. I thought she was on our side. In the hospital, she had told me that this was no big deal. Right before handing me over to the county jail, Lori had sat silently at her desk while her boss, Inspector Dean Taylor, lambasted Gascón for overcharging me  and interfering with—and making a mockery of—SFPD’s investigation.

But now I saw something different in that inquisitive look of hers. The warmness, the pleasant demeanor—they were gone. Her face was red, too. Was it because she had just caught me looking at her and taking notes? Or was it something else? What had changed?

Thankfully, Fred interrupted my swirling thoughts.

“Chris, how are you doing?” His voice was barely above a whisper.

“I’m fine, just fine,” I lied.

“You don’t look good,” said Fred. He was right. I felt like a deer in the headlights. I felt moisture in places where I didn’t think I had sweat glands.

“I know—I don’t want to talk about it. Too many reporters.” My eyes darted about the courtroom as I lowered my voice and continued to put more chicken scratches in my notebook.

“Then I’m gonna talk,” Fred said. “You can just listen.” I could feel the warmth of his breath in my ear and I could smell the remnants of his last cup of coffee.

“I went to a small performing arts college, where I had the role of stage manager. I know exactly how this feels. Because I sat next to all sorts of performers—actors, musicians, comedians—at this moment, the moment right before the big moment, when they always had the highest stress levels. I saw these performers, full of pent-up energy, literally at their worst. It was my job to make it as easy as I could. So they could give the best performance they had in them.”

I nodded. I bet he gave this little speech to all his clients. I’m sure he was just trying to help. And because no civil suit had been filed, there wasn’t much else he could do—at least not yet. But he didn’t have to be here. I certainly wasn’t paying him to be here. But I was glad that he came.

Even if I couldn’t do anything but sit silently and take notes, it was nice to have someone putting encouraging words in my ear.

CHAPTER FIFTY

6 March 2013—342 days since the accident

After about forty-five minutes of waiting, listening to Fred’s whispers, and scribbling meaningless notes, Judge Andrew Cheng finally entered the room, and the bailiff called court into session. I crept up to the dock and took the center seat with Ted on my left and Julie on my right, looking rather diminutive next to all the A/V equipment and the suitcases full of documents. Before I could really take everything in from my new vantage point, the attorneys leapt into action, speaking of motions and stipulations in a foreign tongue that I could not comprehend.

“Your Honor, the defense requests a stipulation of the coroner’s report and the traffic signal timing,” Ted said.

“You can’t stipulate the coroner’s evidence,” argued Omid. This was the first time I’d heard him speak. His voice had a tinny quality to it, its pitch indicating that he had more important things to do.

“No one is arguing the cause of death, Omid. You just want to submit autopsy photos into evidence and there’s no need for that because we agree with the coroner’s report.”

“The autopsy photos are relevant to our case! You can’t stop us from including them!” Omid’s voice escalated in pitch with each proclamation.

“Gentlemen, I accept the stipulation for the traffic signal report, but I reject the stipulation of the coroner’s report,” said Judge Cheng, putting to rest the first argument of the day.

“Stipulating” means that both sides—the prosecution and the defense—agree a priori on certain facts that are undisputed all-around. The traffic engineering documents, prepared by city engineer Bryan Woo, showed the light timings for Castro and Market, which were on a fixed cycle of twenty-four seconds green, three and a half seconds yellow, and three and a half seconds “all red.”

The “all red” phase of the north-south light on Castro Street keeps east-west cars on Market Street and pedestrians out of the intersection and allows north-south traffic to finish clearing the 150-foot-wide stretch of Market Street. We all agreed upon the veracity of the engineering documents. No one had a good reason not to agree to a stipulation for that.

But the autopsy photos? They presented an unfortunate dilemma for us. Ted had walked me through the photos a few days before, to prepare me for this. They were horrible and gruesome, and I have since spent many nights, staring at the ceiling, and seeing these photos again in my mind. No one outside of those wearing scrubs or badges should ever be forced to look at autopsy photos—not Sutchi Hui’s family, not Ted, not me, and most definitely not the general public.

We knew Omid wanted to include the autopsy photos just to further round out Gascón’s portrayal of me as a monster, at which had already been wildly successful. We needed to keep those photos private, out of the court record. We knew the coroner assigned “blunt force trauma to the head” as the cause of Mr. Hui’s death. We were not contesting how he died. We could save the judge some time by not calling the coroner as a witness, Ted argued, but the judge sided with the DA.

By being allowed to question the coroner and submit the photos, Omid had won one small victory—and it was an important one. Ted, Julie, and I had evidence to disprove all their facts. Without facts, the prosecution had no ground to stand on and would have to fall back on their other weapon: emotion.

That’s where the autopsy photos would come into play.

I needed to stop thinking ten moves ahead and focus on what was happening around me. As I turned to my right, I felt the air move as a lanky figure strode past the dock.

Omid had called his first witness, Wen-chih Yu.

Wen-chih walked to the witness stand and raised her right hand. She was remarkably tall, with jet-black hair that hung all the way to the small of her back and clung to her charcoal sweater set.

Although this would mark the first time I had seen Wen-chih since the day of the accident, I recognized her immediately from the hundreds of times I had pored over the surveillance video. It depicted her getting off the 24 Divisadero, making a sharp U-turn to position herself in front of the stationary bus, and peering to her left to check for cross traffic. After nearly getting hit by a northbound car proceeding through the green light, which caused her to step back, she again looked to her left and then began to stride through the crosswalk, east to west. By the time the WALK symbol finally turned on, she had already traversed three-quarters of the intersection and had made it almost halfway into my (southbound) lane. Having started crossing against an opposing green light and nearly finishing it during the “all red” phase, she was our most intrepid, forward-positioned crosser.

Of the eight people who crossed before the walk indicator, Wen-chih represented the biggest danger to herself, to me, and to Sutchi. Not only did she jaywalk the most egregiously, but she also walked much more quickly than any of the other jaywalkers. As a result, she cut off any chance I had of moving left to avoid the Huis when they stepped off the curb to my right.

The bailiff swore Wen-chih in, quickly and perfunctorily. She sat in the witness stand, leaning forward, hands in her lap, looking equal parts nervous and vacant. Omid stood up, walked to the witness stand, and kicked into action. After the first few questions, he established that she was indeed in the crosswalk on the morning of March 29, 2012, the day of the accident.

“Why were you crossing the street that morning, Ms. Yu?” Omid asked.

“I was getting off the 24 Divisadero bus and heading over to the Muni station on the other side of the street,” Wen-chih replied.

“When you started crossing, was the ‘white walking person’ symbol showing?”

“Yes,” she said. Wen-chih’s voice quavered a bit; she didn’t seem too sure of her answer. Even though we knew she started crossing almost fourteen seconds before the WALK indicator illuminated, she said she waited for it. I wrote that down in my little notebook, with lots of underlines and stars and stuff.

“What happened next?” Omid asked.

“Well, I saw the collision—the impact—happen right in front me,” Wen-chih said quietly.

“Did you see anything else?”

“No, I only saw the impact. I heard him yelling something like, ‘Hey hey hey!’ And he was going really fast.”

“No further questions, Your Honor.” Omid sat down.

Ted stood up and walked over to the witness stand. Meanwhile, Julie fired up the projector and plugged it into Omid’s government-issue laptop.

“Ms. Yu, you waited until the ‘white walking man’ symbol to cross. Is that correct?” Ted spoke slowly and deliberately.

“Yes.”

“And you waited on the curb until the ‘white walking man’ symbol was illuminated, correct?”

“Yes.”

After some nervous tapping on the F8 key, the split-screen surveillance video illuminated the projector screen on the right side of the courtroom. I had watched it so many times now that, like the autopsy photos, it kept me awake at night.

The clock in the video showed 8:02:10. The traffic light for north-south traffic—the one I had discovered yet still remained a secret between me and my attorneys—glowed green in the upper left corner of the screen. Wen-chih and a stout man carrying a bag stood about halfway into the northbound lane, in the crosswalk, having accomplished almost 25% of their crossing already. In the still photo of the video, you can see Wen-chih leaning forward to check for northbound traffic, a move that saved her life—twice. For at that very instant, she nearly got creamed by a silver-colored northbound car.

The image shown from 8:02:10 depicts the state of the east-west crosswalk a full seven seconds before the WALK symbol was displayed. (I had taken the liberty of adding the words DON’T WALK back into the video to reflect the state of the crosswalk when the light first turned red, approximately seven seconds before the accident.)

The video recorded in split-screen; the top half and bottom half represented different camera angles. The top half faced east and captured approximately 180 degrees, from the north through the east to the south. The lower half faced west and captured the other 180 degrees. If you were to cut off the top half off and place it to the right of the bottom half, it would form a complete 360-degree panorama.

Julie asked one of the courtroom staff members to dim the lights so that everyone present could see the video more clearly. Ted turned to Wen-chih again and spoke slowly and softly.

“Can you describe what you see, please?”

“It’s the crosswalk at Castro and Market.”

“Can you identify yourself in the video?”

“I’m right there, on the left side of the crosswalk.”

Ted picked up a laser pointer and aimed it at Wen-chih’s unmistakable likeness in the video.

“The person I’m pointing to is you, correct?”

“Yes.”

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

Ted sat down. My simmering blood had reached a rolling boil. I wanted to strangle Ted, but I couldn’t reach him, and I couldn’t speak, so I frantically scrawled a note to Julie: “Why didn’t Ted call her out on crossing against the DON’T WALK?”

Julie wrote back: “Because we can’t prove it—not yet. Be patient.”

Julie knew from our past encounters that patience wasn’t my strong suit. But she had the long view in mind. She knew Ted’s master plan. She knew that Ted was executing, in poker parlance, the longest and most painful slow-play imaginable.

And it had only just begun.

CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE

6 March 2013—342 days since the accident

The prosecution called their second witness, Angelo Cilia.

I looked at Angelo. He refused to make eye contact with me. Angelo started to answer the requisite questions establishing that he was, in fact, crossing the intersection that morning.

I realized I knew this man—I had seen him before while jogging through the neighborhood near our former home on Cumberland Street. He had an unmistakable triangle pattern on his bald head that I knew I had seen before. I thought it might be a tattoo, yet Angelo didn’t strike me as the tattoo type, especially not the tattoo-on-the-face type.

I tuned in closely, paying acute attention to Omid asking Angelo the more interesting questions.

“Was the pedestrian signal showing WALK before you started crossing?”

“Yes.”

“Did you wait at the curb until you saw the WALK symbol?” Omid asked.

“Yes. And I looked both ways, too.” My ears started burning.

“Why do you wait for the WALK symbol and look both ways before crossing the street?”

“Well, I always do that so that I don’t get hit by a car.”

“Or a bike,” Omid said, with palpable disdain in his voice.

I felt every nerve ending in my body prickle. My feet shuffled, and my weight shifted forward, as if all those nerve endings were commanding me to jump out of my seat and shout in frustration at the DA.

Somehow, though, from an even deeper place, a little voice spoke. This voice said only two words, but they were the only two words I needed to hear: wife and daughter.

I sank back into my chair just as Ted rose rapidly from his.

Objection, Your Honor!” Ted said, pointing and shouting as if someone had just made a joke about his own mother. “I would like the last three words stricken from the record.”

“Sustained. Let the court record reflect that,” said Judge Cheng

Omid, looking satisfied, continued questioning Angelo Cilia.

“What happened as you were walking through the crosswalk?”

“I heard someone yelling, ‘Hey hey hey!’ or ‘Ho ho ho!’ and then I heard the sound of the crash. It was rather bone-crushing.”

Rather bone-crushing.

It was a perfect sound bite for the evening news. I could almost feel the excitement from the reporters in the room as they jotted that one down.

Omid turned the witness over to Ted, who proceeded to confirm all the basic information, just like he did for Wen-chih. He had Angelo repeat that he was certain that he had the WALK symbol before he had started crossing. Of course Angelo was certain. He was certain that he not only obeyed this walk symbol, but all walk symbols.

Meanwhile, Julie fired up the projector again and advanced the video to 8:02:15.

Recall that the north-south light—the one I was accused of running—turned yellow at 8:02:10. Because of a three-and-a-half-second yellow and a three-and-a-half-second “all red,” the east-west traffic light didn’t show green and the pedestrian signal didn’t simultaneously show WALK until 8:02:17, seven full seconds after the yellow first appeared. The still frame above—from 8:02:15—showed Angelo and another person, to his left, wearing a blue jacket, taking their first steps into the crosswalk. They’re still a full two seconds early, but they didn’t pose a threat to me or to themselves, because they had just left the eastern curb, stepping into the northbound lane, as I was traveling southbound in the west lane. On top of that, they were walking in front of a stationary MUNI bus.

It’s interesting to note that, as Angelo was stepping into the intersection, Wen-chih—striding rather quickly with long legs—was just about to cross the center line, with the stout man holding the bag a couple of steps behind her.

Remembering what Julie had said—that at this juncture, we couldn’t prove anything about the state of the pedestrian signal—and trying to accept the slow-play strategy, as painful as it was, I listened to Ted wrap up his cross-examination by asking Angelo to identify himself in the video, just as he had asked Wen-chih. Finally, Angelo stood up, made a little motion as if he were straightening his invisible bow-tie, and then stepped down off the witness stand and walked out of the courtroom.

CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO

6 March 2013—342 days since the accident

For those not familiar with the preliminary examination (or “PX,” as attorneys call it), it’s basically a mini-trial without a jury, during which the prosecution tries to present enough evidence to convince the judge that suspicion exists of a crime being committed. To that end, the prosecution submits exhibits, calls witnesses, and presents their side of the case in closing arguments.

The PX gives the defense counsel a chance to cross-examine each of the prosecution’s witnesses, to submit exhibits, and to present witnesses of their own, yet the latter two actions rarely happen because the burden of proof—mere suspicion of a crime being committed—lies with the prosecution. Moreover, it behooves the defense to show as little of its case as possible; it’s better to save the meatier bits for the actual trial, should the case end up going that far.

So, the defense counsel—in a hearing like this, with no jury present—gets a chance to refute the prosecution’s evidence and convince the judge to order the charges dropped or reduced. By allowing a judge to throw out or reduce absurd charges from an overzealous prosecutor, the PX is designed as one of the many checks and balances that keeps our system fair.

That said, the standard for determining if someone should stand trial is incredibly low. All it takes is suspicion that a crime was committed. In this case—because we’re not talking about a crime of intent—all the prosecution needed to do was show suspicion of gross, felonious negligence. In my case, responsibility for that rested almost entirely on the testimony of Nathan Pollak. Ted had warned me earlier in the week about the issue with the low standard for passing a PX.

We had other factors working against us as well, he had said. Our plan involved showing the judge that all the eyewitnesses—Wen-chih, Angelo, and Nathan Pollak—would give testimony that directly contradicted those events in the surveillance video, thereby destroying their credibility. But here again, the arcane regulations governing a PX would get in our way: The rules say that “witness credibility” should not be a factor in the judge’s decision to command that a defendant stand trial. So we planned to focus entirely upon refuting the evidence based on facts alone.

Meanwhile, this epic game of Texas Hold ‘Em continued to unfold before me. If Wen-chih and Angelo were the hole cards, Nathan Pollak was the flop.

And what a flop he was. Pollak showed up for court in an army-green and slate-colored flannel shirt, black skinny jeans, and black Converse shoes. His sandy-blond hair was matted down except for an enormous tuft that shot up and off to one side. He had several days’ worth of stubble and a wad of chewing gum in his mouth. He lugged a huge amount of gear up to the witness stand—two bags, a bike helmet, and various other unidentifiable objects. When the bailiff spelled his name, P-O-L-L-A-C-K, Nathan raised his index finger while saying, “No C!” as he shimmied up to the witness stand. He plopped down into the chair behind the stand, his array of gear about him, let out a sigh, slouched down, and immediately began to fidget restlessly, his eyes darting about the room.

Is he strung out on crank? I remembered someone telling me that a lot people in the restaurant business are speed freaks—and Pollak owned a café. That’s a frightening possibility.

Omid had already begun his carefully plotted line of questioning.

“Did you drive from the area of Castro and Duboce to Market Street [on March 29, 2012]?”

“Yes.”

“Are you familiar with that area?”

“Very.”

“And why do you say very?”

“I’ve lived there for a decade.”

“About how many times have you either walked, bicycled, or driven that stretch?”

Thousands.” Pollak kept fondling the stubble on his chin and his cheeks—probably just a nervous habit, but definitely a sign of trouble at the poker table. Omid proceeded to establish that Pollak knew the area well by asking him to write the letters SL (for stoplight) at the intersections of 14th Street and Castro and 15th and Castro and SS (for stop sign) at 16th Street and Castro on a satellite map that Omid had printed. The questioning continued:

“Now, you say you first saw the bicyclist at the intersection of Castro and Duboce; is that right?”

“That’s correct.”

“Was the cyclist going in a similar or different direction that you were traveling?”

“Similar, the same.”

“What happened?”

“I first noticed that cyclist at Castro and Duboce. I was driving alongside the cyclist, both heading south, which is now Castro Street. It was Divisadero; it became Castro at the turn right after Duboce.”

“Okay.”

“Both heading south, both moving at about the speed limit, which is, I believe, twenty-five, maybe thirty miles per hour and—”

“Objection,” interjected Ted. “Now it’s a narrative, Your Honor.”

Judge Cheng looked away from his computer monitor and muttered, “Sustained.” Omid resumed his line of questioning, his feathers only slightly ruffled by the interruption, it seemed.

“And when you say the cyclist was by your side, was that to the right of your car or to the left of your car?”

“To the right, the passenger side of the vehicle.”

“And the street specifically after Castro and Duboce heading south, having done that route thousands of times, is that block going south from Duboce, is it uphill or downhill?”

“From Duboce to 14th is a slight downhill. I couldn’t say the exact gradient, but it’s probably a slight downhill.”

“Okay. Were you paying attention to the bicyclist?”

“I was.”

“Why?”

“I cycle often to get around the city. In fact, I cycled here today. And as a motorist and a cyclist, I’m very conscious of both motorists and cyclists when I’m on the road.”

Suddenly it made sense why Pollak had lugged all that gear into the courthouse. I bet the DA, learning he was also a cyclist, had asked him to ride his bike to court—expressly to show one cyclist testifying against another. How repugnant, I thought.

I stewed and simmered, breathing methodically, looking at Pollak and trying to read his mind. Why are you doing this? How would you feel if I were doing this to you?

Meanwhile, the direct examination continued:

“Did you notice the cyclist at the intersection of Castro and 14th?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you notice whether or not the cyclist obeyed or disobeyed any traffic laws at Castro and 14th?”

“The cyclist disobeyed the traffic laws at Castro and 14th.”

“What did you see the cyclist do?”

“I saw the cyclist neither yield to the yellow should there have been a yellow, but I knew the cyclist ran the red light.”

Of course my GPS trail had me and Tobias stopped for twelve seconds a few car lengths back from the limit line on the north side of 14th Street. In other words, Tobias and I had performed a maneuver called “stopping at a red light.”

“Do you recall where you were, if you know, when you saw the bicyclist run that first red light at Castro and 14th?” asked Omid.

“I was stopped at the red light because my vehicle moved faster than his, so it approached the light first.”

“Specifically with respect to the intersection at 15th & Castro, where you have previously designated there is a stoplight there, did you see the bicyclist obey or violate any traffic laws at that intersection?”

“Violate the traffic laws. I observed that.”

“What did you see the bicyclist do?”

“The bicyclist ran the traffic light.”

I sure did! I wanted to jump up and shout, “Of course I went through it—it was green!

Knowing that the outcome of these proceedings would determine if I would be allowed to watch my daughter grow up, however, I kept my mouth shut.

“Do you know if you remember where exactly you were when you noticed this violation?”

“I was stopped at the red light.”

Now, that made no sense at all because the lights are on fixed timings. Try it. Stop at a red light at 14th. A few seconds after that light turns green, the one at 15th will follow. So—unless you get abducted by aliens between 14th and 15th—you’re going to face a green light on 15th. Shouldn’t Pollak have noticed this in a few of his “thousands” of trips down that stretch of road in his “decade” of living there?

“And how is it that you are able to be stopped at the light when the bicyclist is running a red light—ran a red light previously on 14th?”

“The light is not very long and my car accelerates much faster than a bicycle does. It’s an SUV with a big engine, so it can move.”

Dubious, at best. If his SUV “can move,” it should have caught the green at 15th, just as I did. His original statement to the police hadn’t made any sense; his testimony now made even less sense.

“Okay,” said Omid. It seemed as though he actually believed Pollak’s testimony; maybe he had heard it so many times it had become true for him.

Ted once told me that Pollak wasn’t telling us what actually happened in the moments before the crash; rather, he had cooked up a reconstructive memory about what he thought he saw. There really wasn’t any other reasonable explanation.

I thought Ted was probably right, I just still couldn’t figure out why Pollak was doing it.

“We were, in other words, covering the same amount of ground in the same amount of time with me making more stops,” Pollak explained.

“And did you cover the same amount of ground in the same amount of time from Castro and Duboce to Castro and Market, roughly?”

“Yes.”

“Objection! Leading,” barked Ted.

“Overruled,” mumbled The Honorable Cheng, this time not taking his eyes off his computer monitor at all.

I wondered if it was customary for a judge to pay such little attention to the proceedings in his courtroom. I worried that he, too, had already made up his mind about the case after watching my trial-by-media unfold over the past eleven months. Worse yet, I feared he might be returning a political favor to Gascón—meaning that this whole preliminary examination could be a complete sham.

It was a terrifying thought that, despite the promises of our judicial system, I might not be getting a fair shot after all. I quickly banished that idea and tried to stay focused on Pollak.

“Specifically, with respect to that intersection at 16th and Castro, did you see the bicyclist obey or disobey any traffic laws at that intersection?”

“Disobey. Cyclist ran the stop sign.”

“Do you recall approximately where you were when you saw this now third violation?”

“I believe I was pretty much at the same point in the street as the cyclist, kind of head-to-head.”

One again, remarkably, we were head-to-head. But then, for his story to check out, he had to stop at the stop sign that he alleged I ran, then catch up to me again, then overtake me, then have me overtake him, then overtake me again, and then stop at the red light at Market Street as I go “whizzing” by.

Is that even physically possible?

“I want to specifically ask you about the block leading up to Market Street. Did you have your eye on the bicyclist or were you still paying attention, as you said, on that last block leading up to Market?”

“I did.”

“Can you describe the slope, if any, on that street leading up to Castro and Market?”

“The steep is slope—the slope is steep.”

“Okay.”

“Steep enough where you could pick up a good amount of speed on a bicycle.”

“Objection, Your Honor. Nonresponsive,” Ted interjected.

“Sustained as to the last statement only,” said Judge Cheng.

“Ask it be stricken, said Ted.”

“Stricken,” replied Judge Cheng.

By theorizing about my speed, the star witness showed, once again, that he had so much prejudice that it was beginning to interfere with Omid’s perfunctory line of questioning.

“Have you ever biked down that street?” Omid asked, not wanting to lose the opportunity for Pollak to tell him that going downhill on a bike might make one pick up speed.

“Yes.”

“Can you venture as to how many times you’ve biked down that street?”

“A hundred.”

“It’s—you’ve already said it’s a steep slope. Can you pick up speed on a bicycle?”

“Yes.”

“And do you know that because you’ve done so yourself?

“Yes.”

“Have you ever personally violated any laws on your bicycle in that area?”

“No. I try to abide all traffic laws.”

Omid continued, but Ted interrupted, “Objection! Irrelevant. Ask the answer be stricken.”

“No. Overruled,” said Judge Cheng.

Omid asked, “When you were coming down that last block, what happened?”

“The cyclist and I are moving at about the same speed, registered on my vehicle looking at the speedometer close to thirty miles an hour,” said Pollak. His sudden switch to the present tense—a modality usually reserved for fiction—was not lost on me. He’s making up this entire story.

Pollak continued, “The hill, as I said, is quite steep, so both of us were picking up speed whether or not I was accelerating or he was. But we were moving head-to-head at the exact same pace.”

I couldn’t help but notice that the same person who, under oath, said that he tried to abide by all traffic laws, had also just stated—under the same oath—that he was driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone.

“Let me stop you,” said Omid, probably figuring that Pollak was about to continue into a narrative and give Ted more fodder for objections. “Was he alongside you during this portion of the last block?”

“Yeah. Bit of a drag in our nose-to-nose as I had mentioned before, but yes.”

I didn’t know what a “bit of a drag in our nose-to-nose” was, but it didn’t sound good.

Maybe he was trying to imply that we were “drag racing,” which, of course, had no basis whatsoever in reality—much like the rest of his testimony.

“Are you also paying attention to—or are you paying attention at all to the traffic light on Castro and Market?”

“Yes.”

“Your light. Keep trying to tell us what happened chronologically. By your side at about thirty miles an hour?”

“That’s correct. At about States Street, which is halfway between 16th and Market, the light turned yellow. I immediately started to slow down and we were still probably moving the same speed just because my car accelerates faster.”

If we were side-by-side—which we weren’t—and he started to brake slightly and I didn’t, wouldn’t I have overtaken him immediately? Pollak’s story again and again seemed to violate the laws of motion.

“Let me stop you,” said Omid again. “Why did you decide to slow down or not accelerate at around the area of States Street?”

“Because I was following the traffic signal. Yellow means slow, red means stop. I knew that red was coming. It’s a big intersection with a lot of traffic.”

“And are you familiar with what that intersection is like at about 8:00 a.m. on a weekday?” asked Omid.

“Yes.”

“Is there a lot of traffic?”

“Yeah.”

“So, you see the light turn yellow in the area of States Street on Castro. You said you began to either slow down or not accelerate. What happened next?”

“The bicyclist did not slow down.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because the bicyclist immediately overtook me instantly. The light turned red when—” Nathan stopped to correct himself, as if he realized he was about to the tell the truth.

Prior to the point when the bicyclist hit the intersection,” he continued. “So the light had turned red. I was still gradually approaching the marked vehicle stop, which is about three or four feet before the crosswalk on the north side.”

This wasn’t precise enough for Omid, who proceeded to pull out an exhibit (People’s Five)—a satellite map of the intersection, lifted from Google Earth. I started to feel pleased, because with every increased level of precision that Omid demanded from Pollak, he dug a deeper hole for the both of them, making it easier for us to prove that all of Pollak’s testimony was make-believe. Omid and Pollak had no idea that we were going to show them that Pollak didn’t arrive at the intersection until more than thirty seconds after the accident.

Omid continued to probe the star witness about the “marked vehicle stop” that Pollak said he was gradually approaching when he claimed I “immediately overtook [him] instantly.”

“Do you see that depicted in People’s Five?” Omid, again asking the obvious, for the benefit of the court.

“I do,” said Pollak.

“And that double crosswalk as you just explained, is that accurately represented in People’s Five?”

“Yes.”

While the rules of the road include lots of mandates about double yellow lines, “double crosswalks” don’t exist. I wondered if ADA Omid invented the term to try to incriminate me further.

People’s Five depicted many different lines, but only the three marked below bore any relevance to Omid and Pollak’s ongoing public tête-à-tête. The northern and southern boundaries of the crosswalk (marked in yellow) show where pedestrians are supposed to cross. The limit line at Castro and Market (marked in red), for whatever reason, was drawn several feet north of the northern crosswalk line. In order for Pollak to determine that my light was red when I entered the intersection, he would have had to know the exact position of my front wheel with respect to the invisible plane extending upward from the limit line. And most importantly, he would have had to be located where he said he was, indicated by the red X.

“And you said you began to stop at that initial double crosswalk?”

“I stopped,” Pollak said sternly. He was extra sure about it. His whole testimony—or at least the most important part—hinged upon his claim that he stopped.

“Okay,” said Omid.

“I didn’t ‘just begin to.’ I stopped there,” he said, really emphasizing the word stopped.

“Once you stopped at that initial crosswalk, what happened next?” asked Omid, who seemed ready to move on.

“The cyclist went right past me. The light was red.”

Wait. Hadn’t Pollak said “the bicyclist immediately overtook me instantly” half a dozen questions ago, when he started to slow for the yellow light around States Street?

If I had already overtaken him, more than 200 feet back up the hill, then how did I go “right past” him again? I couldn’t have passed him twice. We didn’t even need to use the video to prove that Pollak wasn’t there until after the accident—because he was already contradicting his own narrative.

“How do you know that?” asked Omid.

“How do I know the light was red?” asked Pollak.

“Yes.”

“Because I looked up and the light was red.”

“And after you looked up and saw the light was red—if you know, the moment you saw that light was red, do you know where the bicyclist was?”

“The bicyclist was not in the intersection, he was alongside me.”

Admittedly, at this point, I felt kind of lost. If Pollak had slowed down at States Street and I overtook him, then I overtook him again while he stopped at the limit line, I couldn’t possibly have been alongside him while he was stopped at the red light. I would have to be in three places at the same time for any of this to make sense.

“What happened next?” asked Omid.

“The bicyclist continued through the intersection. My jaw dropped.”

Ted immediately jumped in, still keeping it together, yet unable to mask all of his disdain for Pollak’s words. “Objection, Your Honor. Nonresponsive; ask that the last part be stricken.”

“The last statement will be stricken,” said Judge Cheng, almost reluctantly. But it was far too late to take that one back. I could hear the scratching of pens on paper as the cadre of reporters behind me scribbled his words. I could already hear the sounds of “eyewitness’s ‘jaw dropped’” on the TV news.

“Sorry,” Pollak said.

“It is more than okay,” Omid said, drawing out the word “more.

I needed to keep writing down Pollak’s contradicting claims so I could help Ted and Julie piece through them, but I felt distracted by this latest display. My hearing had started late; it wasn’t even lunch time yet, but I already felt defeated.

“Once you saw the bicyclist run the red light, what did you see happen next?”

“I saw the bicyclist continue through the intersection almost accelerating. There’s still a downhill as you ride through that intersection.”

He wasn’t there to see whether I was almost accelerating or not. Besides, it would be really hard to gauge an increase in speed, even if he had actually been there—the intersection actually flattens with a slight uphill as you roll over Market Street.

“So do you have a question?” asked Pollak.

“Yes, I do. After that initial crosswalk as you see depicted in People’s Five, is there a downhill shown in that photograph?”

“Yeah. You can see it is downhill continuously into the intersection.”

“Okay. Once you saw the bicyclist go into that intersection, what did you see happen next?”

“I saw the bicyclist intentionally accelerate.”

“Objection, Your Honor,” Ted said, visibly annoyed by Pollak’s claim. “Speculation on the part of the witness.”

“Lay some foundation. Sustained,” said Judge Cheng, leaving the door wide open for Omid and Pollak to explore this newly created intent to accelerate.

“Did it appear as if the bicyclist accelerated?” asked Omid.

“I would ask the last statement be stricken,” said Ted. The reporters had already written that one down, no doubt.

“The last statement will be stricken,” said Judge Cheng. “You may answer that question.”

“Did it appear to you after the bicyclist went through the intersection, through that red light, did it appear that he accelerated?” asked Omid.

“Yes.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because he crouched down and that’s a maneuver to push the weight, your body weight and center of gravity to the front of the bicycle.”

Pollak might have claimed to be a cyclist, but his knowledge of cycling didn’t seem to support this.

“Objection, Your Honor, to the latter part, speculation on the part of the witness,” pleaded Ted.

“Overruled,” said Judge Cheng.

“How many times have you bicycled in San Francisco in your life, conservatively?” asked Omid.

“Thousands.”

“And you bicycled here today?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And the thousands of times you’ve biked just in San Francisco, have you ever crouched down on your bicycle?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever sat up on your bicycle?”

“Yes”

“Have you noticed any change in your speed and acceleration when you are crouching down?

“Yes.”

“What happens when you crouch down on your bicycle?”

“The bike moves faster on the front end.”

“And you know that from the thousands of times you’ve biked just here in San Francisco?”

“That’s correct.”

If I’d had any doubt of Pollak’s cycling skills before, this nailed it.

There are at least three maneuvers that road cyclists perform that could be interpreted as “crouching down.” One involves moving your hands from the tops or the hoods to the drops—the lowest part of the handlebars—while lifting your rear over the seat and mashing on the pedals, which is something a cyclist might do to win a sprint.

Another maneuver involves holding the tops with the tips of your fingers, dropping your elbows down and sliding your rear in front of the saddle, bringing your legs in tight and holding them against the frame with your chin nearly on the stem. This maneuver is called a speed tuck, and it’s done to create an aerodynamic position on high-speed, long-duration descents that are nothing at all like Castro Street at Market Street.

On the morning of the accident, I was performing the third type of “crouching” maneuver in cycling: moving my hands into the drops to get the best leverage over the brakes while pushing my weight behind the saddle so I wouldn’t skid or flip over the handlebars from the obscene amount of braking I was doing.

The video shows that I didn’t turn the pedals at all through the intersection, so it’s hard to claim I was sprinting, and a speed tuck would have been stupid and dangerous—and pointless—under the conditions of the Market Street intersection. I was crouching because I was braking. Anyone familiar with cycling would know that.

But I feared this “crouching down” nonsense would provide more fodder for the TV news, and might even be used later to sway jurors who only understand cycling enough to know that they hate people who do it.

“After you noticed the bicyclist crouch down and you said it appeared as if he picked up speed, what did you see happen next?”

“I saw the crosswalk start filling with pedestrians and I saw the bicyclist make a maneuver slightly to the left, almost as if to avoid a collision, but it was obvious that it was going to happen from my—”

“Objection, Your Honor,” said Ted, who seemed to catch Pollak every time he jumped too far ahead in the script. “Everything after ‘as if to avoid the collision.’”

“Sustained,” said Judge Cheng, who looked bored. “Lay foundation,” he added, which was basically his way of inviting Omid to continue this topic by asking a series of leading questions.

“Did it appear obvious to you that there was going to be a collision?” asked Omid, weaseling his way around Ted’s objection.

“Yes.”

“Why did it appear obvious to you?”

“Because the—there were pedestrians in the crosswalk, the cyclist was moving fast, and I know this from the speed I registered at before I stopped at the stoplight and observing that—or it appeared to me, that the cyclist was accelerating and the crosswalk had enough pedestrians in it that a collision would have been unavoidable at the speed the cyclist was moving.”

It’s pretty easy to predict the future when writing about the past, I thought.

Finally, someone called for a ten-minute recess.

CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE

6 March 2013—342 days since the accident

“We’re back on the record. Mr. Pollak is present, counsel, and Mr. Bucchere are present,” the court reporter said as people shuffled back into their seats.

“May I approach, Your Honor?” asked Omid.

The judge agreed. Omid got up quickly, grabbed his laptop, and strode to the witness stand where Pollak was sitting with all his gear. That laptop had the video on it, in full-screen mode. I knew this because it was the very same laptop the prosecution was sharing with us so that we could play select portions of the video in front of some of the witnesses—as we had done for Angelo and Wen-chih—but this was different. This time, ADA Omid wanted to play the video privately—not on the projector screen—but in front of his witness under direct examination.

Ted was already out of his seat and hightailing it over to the witness stand to join the fracas.

“I’m going to show you this video,” Omid said quickly to Pollak. “I’m not going to ask you any questions until afterwards.”

“Okay,” said Pollak, playing along. Pollak had certainly watched the video many times already with the ADAs. Meanwhile, Ted was having a fit. Suddenly it occurred to me why he was so upset: During the cross-examination, we intended to surprise Pollak by showing him that his car arrived thirty seconds after the accident. If he were allowed to see the video now, he might notice this important detail and spoil our big reveal that would invalidate his testimony.

“Can we have a designation where he’ll start and stop?” Ted asked, his voice indicating a certain urgency.

“It is starting from the beginning, 8:01,” said Omid as he pressed play on his laptop. Pollak began watching the video, wide-eyed.

“I object to that, Your Honor,” Ted said firmly. “Could we stop it, please?”

“Sure,” said Judge Cheng, but he did nothing to make sure that anyone acted upon his instructions. The video kept rolling, Pollak’s eyes glued to the screen.

“I need to know what the objection is,” Omid said.

“All right,” Ted conceded, but he continued to hold firm on not letting Pollak watch the video. “Could we stop it, please?” he asked for the second time, which was ignored just as it had been the first time.

The two attorneys—Omid and Ted—conferred with Judge Cheng in front of the bench. I couldn’t hear their conversation, but I wasn’t paying attention either, because something much more interesting was happening over on the witness stand. Pollak’s eyes were still glued to the computer screen—and he was reacting in response to what he was seeing. I scribbled a note as quickly as I could and passed it to Julie.

“HE’S WATCHING THE VID RT NOW!”

She scribbled something and passed the note back to me: “I know!”

After a few more moments of private discussion among Omid, Ted, and Judge Cheng, it was time to go back on the record. After hearing Ted’s argument—whatever it was—the judge was not impressed.

“Objection overruled,” Cheng said, back on the record.

“So I’m going to play the video from basically exactly 8:01 a.m.,” said Omid. I could tell he was gloating a bit. Yet so was I, because I knew Pollak had already watched the video. And I’m sure everyone in the courtroom knew that he had, as well.

Omid continued: “If you can get our attention—”

But Ted stopped Omid in his tracks. “Can we stop it again, please, for a second?” he asked for the third time.

“Yes,” said Judge Cheng. The judge said the same thing last time, and the time before that, but nobody had carried out his order and stopped the video.

Now Ted started getting fired up himself, his face turning red. We were caught way off script, so I knew I was watching the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area fly by the seat of his pants.

Ted spoke in short machine-gun blasts, rattling off questions. “Was it playing? Can the court inquire of the witness whether the video was playing while we were having our sidebar?”

Omid, the judge, the bailiff, and a few other folks raised their heads as if to ask, “Who, me?” Finally, Judge Cheng turned to Pollak and asked him point-blank: “Sir, did you watch the video? Was it on?”

“It was on,” Pollak replied, after a short pause, dodging the question.

I could tell that Judge Cheng was finally paying attention. “So, did you actually watch it during the time that it was on?” he asked.

“No, I…” Pollak stammered.

Given that his entire testimony was false, telling a lie about not watching the video in front of the entire courtroom while under oath was just par for the course. But I still couldn’t believe he had just lied, straight to the judge’s face, in front of an entire courtroom of people who obviously knew he was lying, unless they weren’t paying attention.

Everyone in the courtroom had watched him react to the video, his eyes never once looking up from the computer screen. He even chuckled and gesticulated a few times while watching it. He wasn’t going to fool anybody—least of all a judge in his own courtroom. So why even try? Is this guy a pathological liar?

Pollak’s cheeks started to turn red. His stubble-stroking kicked into high gear. Ted approached the witness stand, leaned his torso forward, and brought his face within inches of the witness who had just committed perjury. At this point, Ted delivered a line that was definitely not in anyone’s script. In fact, it seemed lifted straight from Law & Order.

“You’re under oath, sir,” Ted said slowly and deliberately, wrapping so much contempt around the word “sir” that I could almost feel its reverberations throughout the deathly-silent courtroom.

Pollak breathed in. With his eyes cast downward and fiddling with his hands nervously, he said, amid a barely-audible exhale: “Yes, I did watch it.”

Midway through the word yes, I felt the blood rushing into my head. I was enraged and ready to pounce.

Your Honor, the witness just admitted to perjuring himself! And you know what? He has been lying under oath all fucking morning! He also knowingly gave false statements to the police. I ask that we strike all of his testimony from the record and that you hold him in contempt of court!

Oh, how I longed to speak those words to Judge Cheng—how I longed to call a spade a spade. I had no clue why Pollak was lying on the stand, but his account of what he thought he saw that morning had the ability to land me in jail for six years. We had proof that his car didn’t arrive at the intersection until more than thirty seconds after the accident, which shows that he was lying about everything that happened because he wasn’t there.

But I didn’t stand up. I didn’t say anything. And moments later, Judge Cheng—as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened—perfunctorily asked Omid to rephrase his question. I don’t know what made me more incensed: that Pollak had been called out for lying under oath or that Judge Cheng didn’t even seem to notice.

“Rephrase your question,” commanded Cheng. I didn’t even know what question he was talking about. I was too hung up on Pollak committing perjury. And admitting to it.

Omid looked satisfied. “Okay. I’m going to play the video, which you’re going to watch right now. And it’s okay that you just watched it, and then I’m going to ask you some questions.”

Omid wrapped up his questioning by asking Pollak to confirm that he saw his Honda Element at the scene, that a bus was also there, that there were pedestrians in the crosswalk, and that there were others who were probably waiting to cross. Any person who has watched the video a couple of times could have answered these questions; Omid asked them in all likelihood only to confirm that Pollak was actually at the scene. No one disputed that. Exactly when he arrived at the scene was a different matter.

Omid then addressed a delicate subject: “Why did you write yourself this note or email with respect to what you saw on the day of this incident?” he asked.

“I believed that I witnessed something that was going to result in legal proceedings, and I consulted a family member, who was a public prosecutor, and he said, write it down.”

“And do you recall in that email saying that there was at least twenty people in the—”

“Objection, Your Honor,” Ted interrupted.

“Well, finish the question and then I’ll rule on the objection,” said Judge Cheng.

“Do you recall giving a number about how many people you believed were in the intersection at the time of the collision?”

“Yes.”

“Objection. Hearsay,” said Ted, again trying to derail this line of questioning. I didn’t see the point, but Ted had more experience with these matters than I.

“I’m waiting for the next question,” said Judge Cheng.

“And how many people do you remember thinking that there were in the crosswalk inside the intersection at the moment of the collision?” asked Omid.

“About twenty.”

“Having just counted you said about seven, and I think you said five or six right on the sidewalk, do you know why you said twenty?”

“It was quite a commotion. Yes, it was a commotion and per the video, we all just watched, right after the moment of impact, several other people run into the intersection.”

That’s quite a contrast to Matier & Ross’s reporting on how their police sources said the crosswalk wasn’t crowded.

“Whether to help or to catch the bus or to run to the MUNI station, the cumulative amount of people I believe that were present during, say, the thirty seconds before and after the incident was at least twenty.”

Considering that Pollak didn’t arrive at the north end of the intersection until thirty seconds after the accident, how could he have not only seen the accident itself but also witness what happened thirty seconds before? In reality his actual arrival time might explain why he thought there were twenty people in the intersection. By the time he showed up, there probably were!

I started fidgeting with my pen. How many more seconds until Ted got to cross-examine? Julie touched my arm and asked me to stop fidgeting, lest I draw attention to myself.

All of sudden, everything came to a screeching halt.

“I have nothing further. Thank you,” concluded Omid, and Judge Cheng called for the cross-examination.

The swirling thoughts and emotions in my head dropped to the floor. Ted, Julie, and I had spent countless hours preparing for this moment. Finally, here we were: about to topple this house of cards.


>> Continue to PART VII (b): Kangaroo Court, Continued


For a closer look at the research behind Bikelash, visit the companion GitHub project.

 

Bikelash PART VI: The Waiting

On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.

This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.

We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.

This story is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story that happens all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. Media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgment, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.

The narrative is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. To protect the privacy of others, I changed some names. All else is true to my memory of what happened.

I am sharing this not for redemption or personal profit, but because this side of the story rarely gets told. To make sure our justice system treats all defendants fairly, we need to speak up when it doesn’t.

I’m Chris Bucchere.

And this is Bikelash.

PART VI: The Waiting

CHAPTER FORTY

12 November 2012—228 days since the accident

It had been more than seven months since the accident at Market and Castro streets—seven months of public ridicule, prosecution, persecution, fear, shame, financial strain, rejection, and loss. Though I knew, somewhere in the city, the Hui family was in mourning, I couldn’t think about that. It took all my energy and focus to keep on top of my own legal struggles, and not to get dragged down by fear and despair.

The prior week’s hearing had resulted in another thirty-day continuation, meaning that our “date to set” hearing wouldn’t happen until early December, meaning that the preliminary examination had a zero percent chance of happening until the next year. Without a resolution, my family’s life hung in the balance.

Thus far—other than surviving the accident itself—nothing had really gone my way. My biggest and most lucrative client had sent me packing. The DA and his unnamed sources could say whatever they wanted and it would be assumed true. And I couldn’t say a word to defend myself without being dumped by the best criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area.

Because of all the media attention, I was finding it nearly impossible to find a company thick-skinned enough to risk hiring me, despite my credentials and track record of writing and delivering software professionally for fifteen years. With no resolution in sight, people were afraid to enter into any commitments with me—and with my family—because they feared the worst.

Then, my wife received a note telling her we were no longer being considered for a rental property we had applied for. Carroll had been completely upfront with the landlord: When you Google our last name, you’re going to be very surprised about what you see. The landlord seemed fine with it—until she actually did Google our last name, then she sang a different tune.

We also had amassed a pile of debt. I had been looking for consulting work to help offset the legal fees, the bail bond, a security and surveillance system, and hotels to keep us hidden from the TV news. Then I received the following email from a client I had hoped to work for.

Chris, sorry to hear about the situation. I feel very badly for you—not only the injustice of your being charged, but also the delays which prolong the process. I really think that those responsible for the delays are incredibly insensitive to the suffering the delays cause. I hope that you can resolve the issue satisfactorily in the not too distant future.

That said, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to get you involved at this point, with the uncertainty of the situation. From a business standpoint, I will be making an investment in getting you up to speed (both the time it takes to get you fully integrated into the team so you can be a full contributor, and the loss of productivity on the part of the programmers who will be training you). As your situation is unstable at this point, neither of us is clear what your longer term availability will be. So, please stay in touch. When the uncertainty has cleared, we should re-explore a long term relationship.

It felt like everything was either in perpetual limbo, or crashing down around me.

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

3 December 2012—249 days since the accident

I was in the kitchen, tending to egg sandwiches on the griddle for Ashley and me, when the name “Ted Cassman” lit up on my mobile phone. Hearing from Ted usually meant bad news.

“Hi, Ted, how’s it going?”

“CHRIS. Bad news.”

“Give it to me straight,” I said, wondering what new anvil was about to be dropped on me and my family.

“The DA won’t be offering anything less than a felony.”

“Well, that’s new information. What happened to the misdemeanor-with-jail-time deal you said he promised?”

“Omid didn’t promise that; he said he would run it up the flagpole,” Ted reminded me.

“Omid Talai has two bosses,” Ted continued, “Sharon Woo and George Gascón. Omid wants to offer you a misdemeanor. Even Sharon wants to offer you a misdemeanor! Lori Cadigan told me she wanted you to get a misdemeanor—”

“Hold on!” This time my memory trumped Cassman’s.

“Inspector Cadigan wanted me not to get charged—remember? Same with her partner Inspector Cook and her boss Dean Taylor. Lori said this was no big deal. Dean said that the DA’s office stole evidence from his locked file cabinet. And that they were bungling the whole case!”

“She changed her mind after she talked to one witness after another who all said you ran the red light and that you were speeding,” Ted said. This was new information to me.

“But I didn’t run the red light and the video proves it.”

“I know. But you were probably speeding.”

“According to whom?” I asked, not waiting for an answer. “I went through a yellow light going over 20 mph, maybe even over 25 mph. But I wasn’t doing anything any driver of a car wouldn’t do in a heartbeat. You know what? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what anyone says. There are only three pieces of evidence that reflect what actually happened: the video, my first and only statement to the police, and my leaked email, both of which match the video. Not one other witness can claim that their version of the events matches the video.”

“Look Chris, you already know that I know you’re right. We’re on the same team here.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry, I know I don’t need to sell you on this. The question I’m really asking is: How are you going to convince Gascón to look at the video and back the fuck down?”

“He’s never going to look at the video. The guy’s an ex-cop, way out of his league. In fact, he’s probably never even seen the inside of a courtroom. Look Chris, the facts are on our side. We’re just gonna keep hammering the ADAs with data until they see the light.”

“The traffic light?” I asked, partly in jest, but I got an unexpected, serious answer.

“The time hasn’t yet come to show them the traffic light. But it will,” Ted said with some playful intrigue.

Really? When?”

“Soon.”

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

22 December 2012—268 days since the accident

Out of the blue, my IFTTT bots picked up a nice little rant from San Francisco’s former mayor Willie Brown, who pens a column in the San Francisco Chronicle called “Willie’s World.”

“What do I want for Christmas? How about pedestrians assuming a bit more of the responsibility for themselves?” Willie wrote, as he introduced his column with the usual healthy dose of indignation. He went on to write:

Mayor Ed Lee held another news conference to pitch pedestrian safety the other day. I didn’t hear him or anyone else say one thing about pedestrian responsibility, which is too bad. I bet more than half the accidents involving pedestrians are caused by the walkers who can’t be bothered with crossing with the light, or even looking where they are going.

Spend a little time at a busy intersection like Powell and Geary and see how many people stop when the electric hand goes up. Zero. Grant and Post, same thing. As a city, we need to be respectful of pedestrians, but pedestrians also need to be respectful of cars that can take them out.

In my mind, Brown made only one oversight: He forgot to add “and bikes.”

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

1 January 2013—278 days since the accident

After eight months of delays, mostly caused by discovery issues and foot-dragging by the courts and the prosecutors, I figured that this year would probably bring some resolution to my case. But first, the media had to rehash all that was right and wrong in 2012. What better way to kick off the New Year than to slather readers with superlatives.

I’m no stranger to superlatives. Classmates voted me Most Likely to Succeed on several occasions, a moniker recently turned ironic in light of the felony charges filed against me. But Streetsblog SF editor Aaron Bialick had something else in mind. He reopened an old wound by dragging my name into a year-in-review superlative that was completely new to me: Most Blatant Double Standard.

You could count on CBS 5’s Ken Bastida to be on the scene for a bike-ped crash while mostly ignoring the 18 pedestrians killed by drivers last year.

Last year, 19 pedestrians were killed on San Francisco streets, but the big media fracas centered around the one caused by Chris Bucchere—a bicyclist. The death of 71-year-old Sutchi Hui was tragic and avoidable, but it was impossible to take all the coverage of this exceedingly rare case seriously as public-interest journalism, because the same reporters showed so little interest in covering the violent deaths caused by motor vehicle operators. Before Hui died, CBS 5 sent two reporters to the scene of the crash at Market and Castro Streets, but provided no coverage of the car crash that hospitalized a pedestrian at the same intersection a week before. Law enforcement officials applied their own double standards. Within a few weeks of Hui’s death, DA Gascón told reporters that he’d file charges against Bucchere. Meanwhile, few drivers who weren’t drunk or fleeing the scene faced criminal repercussions. Every San Franciscan would be safer on the streets if the 18 other pedestrians killed and hundreds of others injured by drivers got justice too.

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

6 January 2013—283 days since the accident

The first Sunday of the year turned out to be far colder than the average San Francisco winter day. The air had a high-altitude crispness you might expect from the mountains, mixed with the sea-saturated mist that wrapped around us, as Carroll, Ashley, and I bundled up and drove to Fort Mason Center for a birthday party for one of Ashley’s classmates. Carroll and I were just shuttling our girl into the warmth of the Fort Mason art studio when I saw Ted Cassman’s name buzzing away on my phone.

I hadn’t spoken with Ted since before the holidays, so we exchanged our holiday well-wishes and got caught up. As we talked I felt anxious, like someone half-listening to a doctor’s words and really just waiting for the diagnosis.

“Andy Ross left me five voicemails, one for each day of the week, Ted told me. “The first four said, ‘Call me back.’ The fifth was a lot longer. He said he knows that we asked for a misdemeanor with no jail time and that Gascón dug his heels in and pushed for a felony. He knows both sides ended the plea bargaining. He said he knows we believe the light was yellow, but the DA thinks that the light was red and that your speed was 25–30 mph.”

“Wow. I wasn’t expecting more media,” I said, as I let it all sink in. The media had chased other, fresher prey for the past six months or so, but when we were least expecting it, they moved back in for the kill.

But this time, something didn’t fit. Only the DA’s office, Ted, and I knew the details of the failed plea bargain negotiations. Ted never speaks to reporters, least of all about my case. And I hadn’t told anyone, outside of a very tight circle, anything as specific as what I was hearing in Ted’s recounting of Ross’s voicemail.

If a “source close to the case” really did exist, it had to be someone in the DA’s office. If not Gascón himself, then someone else in his office leaked privileged information directly to Matier & Ross. Again. Just like they had over and over from April to June of last year. And the gossip hounds pounced on it.

This time, I vowed, I’m not going to let it get to me. The media had told the public how guilty I was from the moment Ellen Huet accused me of running the red light. I had already been sentenced to so many different corporal punishments that I had long since stopped taking it personally. It wasn’t in the least fair, but it also didn’t seem avoidable. There are papers and ads that need to be sold; I was just grist for the mill.

What bothered me was not the media doing what the media does, but the leak. It was predictable. To borrow from Gascón’s book, it was avoidable. And unbelievably unethical—as in someone-should-be-disbarred unethical. Whenever Matier & Ross said “source close to the case,” they meant “our mole in the DA’s office.” Maybe they even mean the DA himself?

On at least half a dozen occasions, Ted, my family, and I had been blindsided by leaks from the DA’s office that precipitated a media swarm around me and my case. Just as Inspector Dean Taylor had told me on the day of my booking: San Francisco has a leaky DA’s office. He blamed every one of the early leaks on them. Then the DA turned right around and blamed the leaks on the SFPD. By now, however, the SFPD’s role in this investigation had long since ended, so there was no denying where the information came from.

My only hope was that with every leak—whether the information leaked was true, false, alleged, or otherwise—the DA created a more and more toxic environment in San Francisco, an environment in which I would be unable to have a fair trial, if we even got that far. That meant our first move would probably involve requesting a change of venue.

Unless it was Gascón’s plan just to try the case in the court of public opinion. If so, he was already well on his way to victory.

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

6 January 2013—283 days since the accident

By the time we got home from the birthday party, my internet search bots had turned up exactly what I’d expected based the voicemails Andy Ross left for Ted.

After nine months, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón shows little sign of backing down on his pursuit of a felony conviction against Chris Bucchere, the bicyclist charged with fatally striking a 71-year-old pedestrian in a Castro neighborhood crosswalk.

Sources familiar with the case tell us Bucchere and his lawyer have rejected talk of pleading guilty to anything more serious than a misdemeanor. Bucchere’s attorney, Ted Cassman, did not return calls seeking comment.

Bucchere has said the light was still yellow when he entered the intersection. But prosecutors reconstructing the March 29 accident concluded even if that were the case, he still had three and a half seconds after the light turned red to safely clear the intersection before the lights going the other direction turned green and Hui stepped off the sidewalk.

All of the above was factual but for one detail—the one that conveniently changed who had been at fault in the accident. Matier & Ross were right about the light timings, again strongly suggesting that they did speak with a legitimate source in the DA’s office. That mole correctly identified the three-and-a-half-second “all red” phase between when my light had turned red and the pedestrians’ light changed to green (or more accurately, to WALK). However, they assumed that the Huis (and perhaps the other pedestrians) had waited for the WALK symbol when they clearly hadn’t, as proven without any doubt by the very video the prosecution was trying to use against me.

It was hard for me to know for sure what to make of these latest leaks, but I had a sneaky suspicion that we might have caught another break. I called Ted’s cellphone.

“Did you see the Matier & Ross piece?” I asked.

“Yes. The DA leaked privileged information again. Every time we do this, I call Omid and Sharon and tell them they should be ashamed of themselves. They usually deny that it’s happening, but this time—”

“Listen, Ted. I’m sorry to cut you off, and I know the leaks in the past haven’t helped us any. I get it, they’re shameful. They’ve destroyed any chance I may have had at a fair trial. But something really interesting is happening with this one.”

“I’m listening. Go on.”

“They got nearly everything right, which all but proves that they have an actual mole in the DA’s office.”

“We already knew that.”

“Yes, we do, but the mole got one critical fact wrong: He said Mr. Hui crossed when the light turned green.”

“We know he didn’t.”

“Yeah, but that’s not the point. The point is that unless the information about Hui’s crossing time was lost in translation between Matier & Ross and their mole, the ADA might actually believe in a timeline that’s three and a half seconds off from the timing in the video, three and a half seconds off from reality.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Look, every fact Matier & Ross dredged up was spot-on. If you assume the mole was correct and not trying to misrepresent anything, then he or she just told the world that the prosecutors have no earthly idea what they’re talking about.”

“Ah, I see. You think they’ve botched the timing of the accident?”

“Yes, they’ve totally botched it—by three and a half seconds. If I entered on yellow and the pedestrians waited for the WALK, there wouldn’t have been an accident. So either I ran the red light egregiously and pedestrians waited for the WALK indicator, or I went through a yellow light and pedestrians crossed egregiously against the DON’T WALK indicator. I’ve been saying this from the very beginning, way before we ever looked at the video. You can’t have it both ways.”

“You might be onto something, but the entire video goes by in less than three seconds, from start to finish. Being off by three and a half seconds? That’s a lot.”

“I know! If I’m right about this, it could be another major break for us. I have a feeling they’re basing their flawed analysis of the video on the accident reconstruction expert’s model. We gotta get our hands on the expert witness’s report.”

“We’re working on that.”

“In the meantime, we gotta make sure there’s no way these leaks are coming from anyone but the DA.”

“Agreed.”

“I’ll send a note to you and Fred about that.” Fred Levine was my civil defense attorney.

“Sounds good.”

“You know what? If the DAs really blew their whole understanding of the accident by three and a half seconds, we’re going to take that traffic light, and we’re going to bury them with it.”

“Let’s hope you’re right.”

“Let’s hope.”

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

19 February 2013—327 days since the accident

The name Ted Cassman popped up on my phone early afternoon. Hoping for the best—and preparing for the worst—I picked up.

“I have good news! You’ve got to come in right now and look at the report from their expert.” Under normal circumstances, Ted was usually pretty high-strung, but the pitch of his voice indicated a whole different tuning. We’re talking octaves. He sounded like a twelve-year-old boy on Christmas morning.

“Why?” I asked, not really expecting an answer.

“I can’t talk about it. Just come in.”

Having finally convinced someone to hire me, a felon-in-the-making, I was at work when the call came in. I had a full afternoon of code to write ahead of me, but after a few words with my boss, I managed to wiggle out of it with the promise that I would wrap it up that evening. I caught the next BART train from downtown San Francisco to North Berkeley.

I arrived at the ACH offices about an hour later. Ted usually kept me waiting five to ten minutes before inviting me upstairs to his office, but not this time. He came bounding down the stairs holding a stack of documents in one hand and fist-pumping the other hand high over his head like he had just nailed a three-pointer.

“Chris, we’ve been given a gift.”

“What is it?”

“This!” He handed me six pages of numbers and diagrams. I felt like I had just pulled the Get Out of Jail Free card from the Community Chest. Instead, when I looked down, I found I was holding the report from the prosecutor’s expert witness and certified accident reconstruction expert, Michael Joseph Mahoney.

Ted and I walked upstairs. He put his arm on my shoulder and spoke in short bursts.

“We can use this report to prove that the light turned red when you were already well into the intersection.”

“Wait, isn’t this their expert witness? How the fuck are you—”

Ted cut me off. “Read it for yourself.”

So I did. In fact, I read it twice. And I was about to read it a third time but Ted was already peppering me with questions.

“What did you think?” he asked, the corners of his lips curling up to form an eager grin.

“Well, Ted, it appears as though the only thing Mahoney did correctly in this report was convert feet per second to miles per hour—something taught in high school physics. The rest of his report is complete bullshit. But I don’t see how this helps us.”

“You’re not seeing the forest for the trees. Let me walk you through it.”

Ted and I sat down with the report spread between us on a conference table. I rattled off a list of problems I saw, still not quite understanding how this report would help us.

“First of all, Mahoney never looked at the top of the video, like I said he wouldn’t,” I said, self-righteously.

“You’re right, Chris,” Ted said. “But you’re getting way ahead of yourself. “

He continued, “By far, the most important—and the most egregious—mistake in the report is that Mahoney assumes that all the pedestrians waited for the WALK indicator to start walking. In other words, he used the pedestrians’ behavior to predict the color of the WALK/DON’T WALK signal.”

“And not the other way around, as in how it works in reality!” I said. “Or how it’s supposed to work in reality.”

“Exactly! It’s as ridiculous as Mahoney saying that your light was green because you went through it without stopping.”

“Yes, circular logic. I get it. So okay, he says I ran the light by three and a half seconds, meaning he has me located more than a hundred feet north of Market Street when that light turned red.”

“Yes,” said Ted impatiently. I could tell that he still knew something I didn’t about this report.

“So I guess the real question is: Where does he think I was when the light really does turn red?”

“Now you’re catching on, Chris. You’re a little late to the party, but we’re glad you could make it.”

“Thanks a lot,” I said, wincing.

“Listen to me, Chris. Like you said, this report is complete garbage. Julie and I had to read it five or six times each before we could even figure out what the hell Mahoney was thinking. It makes no sense. Not one bit. His whole timeline is off by at least three and a half or maybe four seconds; his speed calculations are based on Strava—or are they? He put two different derivations of speed in the report, one from eyeballing the Strava speed graph and the other one from eyeballing the distance you traveled from one side of the intersection to the other and then guessing how much actual ground you covered using some measurements he took at the scene. He divided that by the clock time in the video, rounded to the nearest second, divided distance by time, converted to miles per hour, and came up with 32.102 mph. Instead of using the frame counter, he just rounded to the nearest second, which could make it off by 33% in either direction. His methods for determining your speed were even more absurd than his determination of your position when the light turned red, but don’t worry.”

“Why not?” I was already pretty worried. Dumb people can be dangerous. You can’t reason with them—they’re ruled entirely by their affects and emotions. This “expert” would likely stand by his slipshod work, even though its measurements and the conclusions derived from them were factually incorrect, even though he used qualitative, circular logic instead of using the traffic light as a frame of reference.

“Because we’re gonna take his own bullshit, and we’re gonna use it against him.”

Still not entirely understanding the tactics, Ted finally made it plain and simple for me.

“In Mahoney’s report, he stated that at 8:02:14, your bike was in the north crosswalk—in other words, well past the limit line and well into the intersection. He also said the light turned red at 8:02:10. But in the video, you can see that the light changes from yellow to red at 8:02:14.”

Oh. My. God. I get it! Mahoney’s analysis of the video put me in the intersection when the traffic light in the video turns red. Meaning I must have entered lawfully on a yellow and therefore had the right of way.”

“Exactly! All seven pedestrians who entered that crosswalk against the DON’T WALK indicator were obligated to yield the right of way to you. We can use Mahoney’s bullshit report coupled with the traffic light you found to prove that you entered on yellow and the pedestrians on DON’T WALK.”

“I don’t know how I feel about this, Ted. Mahoney’s report is completely bogus, so I’m not sure we should use it to prove anything; otherwise, it means that we actually take stock in it.”

“Yeah, I thought about that. Down the road, the entire report will eventually get thrown out. They’ll need to get a new expert who actually knows what he’s doing. But at the preliminary hearing, they’ll be so thrown off by the traffic light that they’ll be scrambling to find any part of their case that makes sense.”

“Okay, I buy that. But what about Mr. Several Red Lights and Stop Signs?”

“Nathan Pollak? Wait until you see what I have in store for him!”

“Tell me.”

“Brace yourself: Nathan Pollak, their star witness. The video proves he wasn’t even there.”

Nathan Pollak. I’ll have to Google him, I thought. I already knew everything he said was fabricated, because I didn’t run any red lights—least of all, three in a row, roaring past an elementary school with children trickling in from all directions. My word versus his wouldn’t amount to much, but now Ted was telling me Pollak wasn’t there?

If felony charges and the ensuing media circus had taught me anything, it was that I needed to learn to expect the unexpected. It turned out this mantra applied to setbacks as well as breakthroughs.

When I blacked out after my head slammed into the pavement, 327 days ago, I didn’t see a tunnel; I didn’t see a white light. Now, today, after navigating through the darkest of darkness, I could begin to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel—or at least I could imagine it. We now had proof that the star witness was lying. We had an “expert” report that was prepared so shoddily that not only did it fail to show any wrongdoing on my part, but it—in combination with the traffic light in the video—actually exonerated me.

We were going to use their evidence to prove my innocence. Finally this case would be put to rest once and for all.

CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

19 February 2013—327 days since the accident

I knew in my heart that I had been riding on the morning of March 29 as I always do—in control of my, ahem, vehicle—and that I didn’t blow any red lights or stop signs or travel at a speed vastly different from any of the other vehicles that traveled through that intersection on that day—or any given day. The police report alleged, however, that I had committed a basic speed violation.

Admittedly, it was easy understand the argument that I was going too fast for the conditions—the “conditions” being that eight pedestrians had entered the roadway suddenly and directly into my path against a DON’T WALK indicator. Along with the speed allegation, Gascón’s charges also included failure to yield and running a red light.

Ever since he had first filed those felony charges nine months prior—despite knowing in my heart that they were filed under false pretenses—I hadn’t felt 100% confident in our ability to show the prosecutors that they were sitting on exculpatory evidence and that, therefore, they should drop the trumped-up charges.

Today, sitting in Ted’s office with the video up on a monitor in front of me and a copy of Mahoney’s report sitting on his desk, I was ready to pick up the phone and call Gascón myself to tell him that this was over.

But Ted—I reckon already feeling like a hero for coming up with the plan to inject the video of the traffic light into Mahoney’s report, thereby using it to “prove” that I was well into the intersection when the light turned red—had yet another ace up his sleeve. He told me he had found hard evidence to prove, once and for all, that Mr. Several Red Lights and Stop Signs—who now had a name, Nathan Pollak—had done what we had known he had done all along: lied through his teeth.

I already knew that Pollak strung together a nonsensical sequence of events that not only didn’t happen—but that definitely couldn’t have happened given the laws of physics that cover the movement of objects through time and space. But that claim wouldn’t provide enough proof that Pollak fabricated his account. Today, however, we discovered there was an even more concrete way to call Pollak out on his lies.

In fact, there were now two ways.

Every utterance of “several red lights and stop signs” online, in newspapers, in magazines, on the radio, and on TV made my blood boil. The untruthfulness of the statements alone—while still ghastly—did not provide sufficient fuel to accomplish this feat. It was the people all over the world who saw it, read it, and believed it, no questions asked. Just because an alleged witness who surfaces ten days after the accident says it, that doesn’t make it true.

When DAs and law enforcement officials issue press-releases—true or false, fact or allegation—the information molds public opinion about the alleged criminals, which in turn can be used to justify unjustified charges, wrongful convictions, and harsh sentences, thereby making an example out of a person the prosecutors told the world was worthy of this treatment in the first place. Caught in the middle of this vicious cycle, I knew I needed to put a stop to it, but I didn’t know how.

The first time I heard about my alleged several-red-lights-and-stop-signs bender was in a Matier & Ross column that ran on April 8, a little over a week after the accident. Much to my dismay, Matier & Ross continued to be the first place where I found out about all aspects of the DA’s understanding of my case. When I first heard this nonsense about “several red lights and stop signs,” I immediately turned to Strava, the website I use to track all my bike rides, looking for some kind of alibi. I found one straight away, giving Ted the first of two data points we were going to use to debunk Pollak’s make-believe statements to the police, which he was bound to repeat—under oath—during the preliminary hearing, now just a few weeks away.

Pollak’s precise claim was that I ran the red lights at the intersections of 14th Street and Castro and 15th Street and Castro, then that I had blown the stop sign at 16th and Castro and the red light at Market and Castro, “whizzing by” his Honda Element as he was stopped lawfully at the limit line on the north side of the intersection. (When this happened, his “jaw dropped,” according to his statement.)

But had I, really?

The Strava application works in tandem with the GPS chip on a user’s smartphone or other device, collecting latitude, longitude, elevation, and the current time every three seconds, saving each record in a format known as a GPX waypoint. When I extracted the raw data out of Strava and plotted the original waypoints that my iPhone had collected in Google Earth, it created a blue trail on a series of satellite images with arrows or squares drawn in with black outlines for each waypoint. The results are shown in the image below.

The first two waypoints from the north (the topmost downward-facing blue arrows, visible in the center of the top third of the image) on the blue GPX trail shows a gap between them of maybe three of four car lengths, let’s say about fifty feet. This means I covered fifty feet in three seconds; hence I was traveling at about seventeen feet per second, or around 12 mph, which sounded reasonable to me.

A similar pattern continues through the intersection, but in between, something changes. Four waypoints (marked by red arrows) stack up nearly on top of one another, showing that I covered perhaps two car lengths in twelve seconds. In other words, I was either stationary or barely moving.

One of the waypoints (the square one) has no heading displayed, meaning that—if GPS were perfect and Google Earth’s smoothing algorithms also worked perfectly—I had stopped cold for at least three seconds. My recollection—helped a bit by the GPS trail from Strava and Google Earth—was that the light at 14th Street glowed red when I approached it with my riding buddy Tobias on that fateful morning. We waited—positioned two or three car lengths north of the crosswalk demarcating the 14th Street intersection—at least twelve seconds for it to turn green, then, once it did, we proceeded south on Castro Street.

Bottom line: Pollak lied about seeing me blow the red light at 14th Street; I did no such thing, and the GPX data—the same data the DA was using to frame me for allegedly racing (“his need for speed”)—proved that I stopped for twelve seconds at the red on 14th. Hardly racing, I know.

At the intersection of 15th Street and Castro, the GPS trail (not shown) clearly indicates that I went through the light at a speed a bit faster than I did for 14th. In my recollection—which I later confirmed by recording all the light timings on a sheet of paper—was that I went through a green light. I observed that the signals at 14th and 15th streets—like the one at Market and Castro—run on a constant timing program. The light at 15th turns green shortly after the light at 14th, which was consistent with the rest of the Strava track that showed me maintaining my speed across 15th.

Further analysis shows that I slowed a bit for the stop sign at 16th and then rolled through, not coming to a complete stop, probably doing so in tandem with another car, as I remember there being light traffic on Castro that day. So with that, I felt pretty confident that we had finally debunked the Mr. Several Red Lights and Stop Signs myth.

What Pollak should have said, had he really been able to see all that he said he did, was that he saw me:

  1. Stopping lawfully two car-lengths behind the 14th Street limit line,
  2. Proceeding lawfully through a green light at 15th,
  3. Safely rolling the stop sign at 16th in tandem with another car, and
  4. Proceeding lawfully through a yellow light at Market Street.

Despite this Strava evidence that strongly suggests that Pollak had fabricated his entire story, Ted still wasn’t satisfied. After I outlined this plan to him, he came at me with guns ablaze.

“I don’t care how convincing you think all that is, but there’s no way we can use GPS alone to prove that Pollak lied,” Ted said to me.

“Why not?”

“Well, their ‘expert’ tried to use Strava and GPS to determine your speed; therefore, we need to debunk its accuracy. We can’t call Strava inaccurate in one breath and then use it to prove our point in the next.”

“But that’s apples and oranges, Ted. Everyone knows that GPS can’t accurately measure speed, but it can get a pretty good lock on position, albeit with some rate of error, but still close enough for government work. That’s what it’s for, for goodness’ sake. The P in GPS stands for Positioning. And the S doesn’t stand for Speed.”

“Not everyone knows that. You know that. You’re a software developer. You live and breathe this stuff.”

“Fine, but it’s not like this is rocket science or brain surgery. Speedometers measure speed by counting wheel revolutions, multiplying by the wheel diameter and pi and dividing by time. That’s how you measure speed reliably. GPS units don’t work that way at all. They collect data points from seven or more satellites and triangulate—”

“Look, Chris,” Ted cut me off. “I know you know how GPS works, and you know I know how it works. So there’s no need to talk about it. It’s just way too subtle for people—especially the people we’re dealing with—to make the distinction between using GPS to interpolate velocity versus simply using it to measure position. Either GPS and Strava are accurate or they’re not. Black or white, no gray area.”

“Okay, fine; we can’t use Strava. Now what do we do?”

Ted went on to explain that he and Julie had found the fatal flaw in Pollak’s fabricated narrative. Pollak made a very big deal about being stopped at the limit line on the northern end of the Market and Castro intersection when I “whizzed by” him and his “jaw dropped.” For that to have happened, we must assume that Pollak was in fact stopped at the limit line where he said he was. Ted found Pollak’s Honda Element in the video in the aftermath of the crash, then backed up the video to the exact frame when the Element arrives at the limit line. The frame number, shown below, is #4629.

The ultimate incongruity between Pollak’s false statements and the irrefutable videographic evidence was that the video showed Pollak’s car arriving at the limit line almost thirty seconds after the accident. At the time of the accident, frame #4452, shown below, Pollak’s car is not visible, of course, because he was driving his car toward the intersection, but he was still almost thirty seconds away.

Assuming he was traveling at 25 mph and maintaining his speed, at the time of the accident, he would have been about a fifth of a mile up the hill, probably close to the stop sign he said I blew at 16th. This location might have given Pollak a bird’s-eye view of the accident, but it most definitely did not match his version of the events, where we leap-frogged one another down Castro and then he stopped at the limit line while I went “whizzing by,” at which point his “jaw dropped.”

Once again, Ted was undeniably correct. The video evidence told a more compelling story than Strava. It was literally impossible, at least as far as we could tell, to argue against a video record showing that Pollak simply wasn’t there.

At this point, Ted, Julie, and I felt ready to tackle the preliminary hearing. Ted had printed every relevant frame in the video, in color, lugging around a giant accordion file holding a stack of still images two inches high, hundreds of pages of notes on how to cross-examine each witness, and a variety of other documentation, along with a laptop and a projector so we could play the video to the witnesses and the judge.

We had done our homework and we were ready to fight.

CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

5 March 2013—341 days since the accident

Through careful planning, I had arranged for some modest protective measures—should things get out of hand. It had been almost a year since I had been forced to annihilate my online identity. Everything I put on the internet had become fuel for the press and bloggers hoping to burn me at the stake, so I took it all down. But my address was also online. Despite my best efforts, I could not divorce the Buccheres from Cumberland Street.

We had to accept that the address was a lost cause. I opened a P.O. Box, forwarded our Cumberland mail to it, and moved out of San Francisco. For all intents and purposes, we had disappeared. More accurately: We disappeared ourselves. If the media came looking, they would not be able to find us.

Living in this strange world in which the DA and the media had me in their crosshairs left little time for anything but compulsively preparing for everything—even the previously inconceivable. If I stopped to think about it, the very-much-justified paranoia would kick in, paralyzing me with fear and self-doubt. I needed to stay in motion, to try to stay one step ahead of what felt like insanity; I needed to make sure it didn’t catch me unaware.

My father-in-law, Edward, and his partner, Rhonda, flew in from the East Coast a few days before the trial started and stayed ten minutes away from our new home. They had rented a car, as well, so, if need be, Carroll and Ashley could escape the media and stay with them. TV crews from several news establishments had already been to Cumberland Street. They filmed themselves knocking on our door, but they couldn’t find me except in and around the courthouse. They certainly wouldn’t find us now in our new hideout. And if they did, we had another hiding place with Edward and Rhonda. And another one, just in case.

In light of all this, my family, my attorneys, and I felt ready—at least we thought we were ready.

But any comfort I felt was outstripped by a sinking feeling that the DA and the ADAs had already envisioned an outcome for me, regardless of the exonerating evidence that would now get to see the light of day. After months of leaks and media manipulation, I feared what they might do next to ensure the inevitability of their expectations: the first-ever felony conviction for a cyclist, with two to six years of jail time.

Clearly, they wanted to send a message to the cycling community that lawless, reckless riding would not be tolerated.

In me, they seemed to have found the perfect delivery mechanism.


>> Continue to PART VII (a): Kangaroo Court


For a closer look at the research behind Bikelash, visit the companion GitHub project.

Bikelash PART V: The Light

On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.

This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.

We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.

This story is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story that happens all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. Media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgment, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.

The narrative is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. To protect the privacy of others, I changed some names. All else is true to my memory of what happened.

I am sharing this not for redemption or personal profit, but because this side of the story rarely gets told. To make sure our justice system treats all defendants fairly, we need to speak up when it doesn’t.

I’m Chris Bucchere.

And this is Bikelash.

PART V: The Light

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

2 July 2012—95 days since the accident

Ted called shortly after lunch and wanted me in his office ASAP. As part of the criminal discovery process—in which each side of a legal conflict swaps their evidence with the other—he had finally received the surveillance video taken by the Twin Peaks Tavern from ADA Omid Talai. I begged him to tell me about it, but he insisted that I come in and look for myself. Because I was between jobs—indefinitely, perhaps—I was wearing colorful shorts and a grubby v-neck t-shirt, but I didn’t care. After an hour-long BART/bike trip that felt three times that long, I arrived at Ted’s office, my hair matted and jutting out from my bike helmet.

Attorney Julie Salamon led me upstairs. My bike shoes clicked up the staircase, which felt more lengthy than it had on previous trips. Julie’s excitement was bubbling over. She always seemed excited, but on this occasion, more so than usual.

“Have you guys seen it yet?” I asked.

“Ted and I have each watched it probably a dozen times,” Julie said. “It goes by really quickly, and it’s very confusing.” The young, articulate, and scorchingly-smart attorney beamed with excitement, smiling broadly and radiating a glowing confidence. In contrast, I stood in her office, feeling self-conscious about my ugly plaid shorts, sweat-soaked tee, and bike shoes.

Julie leaned over the desk, clutched a mouse, and pulled up a file in Windows Media Player. I thought about all the ink that had been spilled about this video—how I was crouched down and speeding; how I made no attempt to stop or avoid the accident; and how the crosswalk wasn’t all that crowded. Anticipation had me almost doubled over in pain. Are the prosecutors and the media right, or is this going to be the key to my exoneration?

I sat in the desk chair, but I was so eager, I barely touched the seat cushion.

On the glowing monitor, I saw a video looking exactly like this:

“Okay, Chris. I’m going to play the video for you. But first, bear with me while I explain what’s going on. It’s not obvious at first.”

“Okay,” I said, anxious to see it in motion.

 

“The dome-shaped camera captured a 360-degree view. The top looks north and east whereas the bottom screen gives a view of the south and the west, right up through the crosswalk where the accident takes place. Unfortunately, the WALK/DON’T WALK signal isn’t visible, so we can’t tell if the pedestrians were crossing lawfully with a WALK symbol or jaywalking against a DON’T WALK.”

“If that weird semicircle of gray pixels weren’t there, I bet we could see the WALK signal,” I pointed out. “It looks like it would be right behind that gray semicircle.”

“Yeah, that might be the case.”

“Do you think they altered the video, trying to hide the WALK indicator?”

“That’s ridiculous!” Ted barked as he stormed into the room, looking dashing in black jeans, a silver dress shirt, and his signature black Pumas. “The DA would get disbarred at best, maybe even charged with obstruction of justice. It would be patently unethical.”

“Oh, hi, Ted. You think that would be unethical?” I asked in mock disbelief. “You mean like the way Gascón made shit up about me and leaked it to the media?”

“What’s done is done, and you know there’s nothing we can do about that,” Ted snapped back, with a hint of a wry smile. Despite his response, I could tell that my sarcasm wasn’t lost on him. “Let’s stay focused on what’s important: the video.”

Julie continued, almost as if she had completed Ted’s thought.

“Nothing happens in the top part of the screen, so just watch the bottom part, where you’ll see three people start to cross…”

Julie continued talking for a bit, but I had stopped listening after she had told me not to watch the top part.

“Are you ready to see it?” she finally asked.

“I’m ready.”

Julie hit the play button, and I caught a glimpse of a light-blue streak going by and then a huge commotion of sorts taking place out of my peripheral vision, as my eyes scanned the verboten top half of the video, looking for clues—for something that would give me a way to see if the pedestrians crossed early. There were definitely no visible WALK signs—but, wait a minute! Is that a traffic light?

“Hold it! Stop it right there!”

She hit stop.

“I’m almost positive I can see a traffic light in the top half of the video!” I pointed to the top left corner. “Can you go back a bit and play it again?”

Julie backed the video up a bit, and I watched, mouth agape, while a traffic signal turned from green to yellow to red. Granted, it was hard to see at first, but one could not argue that the device depicted in the video—the one that turned green to yellow to red and back again while perched conspicuously atop a black post—was anything other than a traffic signal controlling northbound traffic on Castro Street as it crossed Market Street.

Small as it was, I could see it well enough in the video without even magnifying my screen. Thank god for video surveillance, I thought, never having been much of a fan of it in the past. This traffic light is going to save my ass.

As I watched the colors of the light change, I felt a path open up out of this place, this bottomless pit of fear, anger, and consternation—of lies, name-calling, and threats of incarceration—to a happier, more comprehensible reality. In this new reality, the traffic light in the video would—like the DNA evidence that sometimes exonerates a convict—most definitely set me free.

The following still images clearly show the light changing from green to yellow to red, from left to right:

 

 

 

 

Frame #4408                          Frame #4430                          Frame #4431
(last green)                                (first yellow)                             (first red)

Frame #4408 shows the last frame of the green light. Frame #4430 shows the last frame of the yellow light. And finally, frame #4431—the all important first frame of the red light.

I pored over the video, letting it play again and again. I found two other traffic lights—one in the northwest corner and one in the northeast corner, but they were even smaller and it was hard to make out the color of the lights as they changed. The traffic light depicted above—despite its odd positioning in the upper left corner of the video—sat on the southeast corner of the intersection, very close to the planters that separated Naked Guy Plaza from Castro Street. In fact, the only traffic light not visible in the video was the one in the southwest corner, which appeared to be cut off by the gray semicircle of pixels in the center.

Recalling the research I had done months ago, I knew that the lights at Castro and Market all fired on a constant-timed sequence—with a three-and-a-half-second yellow phase and a three-and-a-half-second “all red” phase—and that all the signals atop all the light poles always showed the same color of lights at the same time in the same direction. In other words, if any one of the four towers showed green in the north/south direction, they all showed green in the north/south direction. This, of course, meant that we only needed one traffic light to mark—with an accuracy down to fractions of a second—the very instant at which all the lights turned yellow, then red, and then, three and a half seconds later, the very instant the WALK symbol came on for the pedestrians. Stepping through the video frame by frame and using a little arithmetic, we could pinpoint the exact frame in which each of the lights—including the obscured WALK symbol—changed color.

Simultaneous streams of thoughts came rushing into my head, as if from different directions. Finding the traffic lights in the video creates enormous potential for us. Now that we have a traffic light, we can see, once and for all, what color the light was when I entered the intersection! We can show exactly how many people stepped into the crosswalk early—even how many seconds early. I wanted to get to work on that, starting with the red light, but something else troubled me.

How did the DAs and the police not see the traffic light? It’s the most important piece of information in this entire video, which is supposed to be their damning evidence. How could they possibly have missed it?

I swiveled around to face Ted and Julie, trouble weighing on my mind. “You guys have been following the media coverage. You know what the DA has been telling them: that I ran the red light, that the crosswalk wasn’t crowded, and that the pedestrians had the right of way and crossed with the favor of the light. I’m pretty sure we can use this traffic light to show that every single one of those things isn’t true. But why did they guess and arrive at the wrong conclusions, rather than simply using the light in the video?”

“It’s hard to know for sure, but my guess is that they came up with their conclusions first and then saw only what they wanted to see,” said Ted. “That you were going fast and that you hit Mr. Hui in a crosswalk. They didn’t care to look any further.”

“But, as with any accident, doesn’t fault come down to right of way?” I asked.

“Yes, of course it does, but they’re only looking at the evidence to show that you were at fault, just like you’re only looking at it to show that you weren’t.”

“That’s not right, Ted. You know what? It’s criminal! The traffic light is the key to my innocence. They’ve been sitting on exculpatory evidence this whole time and failing to see it.”

“I don’t think the DAs see it that way.”

“Like hell they don’t!” My blood had reached a steady boil. “Those fuckers want to put me in jail for six years, yet they’re holding my Get Out of Jail Free card right there in their own fucking evidence, and they’re refusing to look at it!”

“Settle down, Chris. Don’t assume their incompetence is malicious. It’s probably just incompetence. Stuff like this happens all the time. Julie and I watched the video at least two dozen times between us, and we didn’t see it either. Let’s take a bio break.”

Ted led me toward the restroom, his stride even and fast—like a runner’s—and even though he was walking, I struggled to keep up in my clunky bike shoes. What I knew of the legal world—from Law & Order and John Grisham novels—didn’t match up with what I was seeing in practice. The DA got behind a podium and held a press conference to tell the world I ran a red light. But he never even observed the traffic light in the video—in his own evidence—to find out whether I did or not! I stared into the mirror, only to find my disheveled hair and sweaty clothing staring back at me. I threw some cold water on my face. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that the police and the DA hadn’t seen the traffic light.

Maybe this is exactly the break we need to put an end to this nonsense.

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

2 July 2012—95 days since the accident

Ted and I rejoined Julie in her office. It was time to tear this video apart and extract everything it had to tell us about the accident. The video was in AVI format, a pseudo-standard that Microsoft invented in the early 1990s. The first step I took was to transfer the file onto my laptop and load it into QuickTime, a tool I knew how to use, at least at some level. I found that the video contained 6.2 frames per second, almost five times fewer frames than the popular standard for TV and movies. This meant we didn’t have much data we could actually use. Julie and I worked on the first task: figuring out where my bike was when the light turned red. Ted hovered over us, also anxious to see what conclusions we could draw, now that we could use the traffic light as a point of reference.

I focused on frames #4430 and #4431, the last frame of yellow and first frame of red, respectively. Now I just had to find the position of my bike—a task that proved harder than I had expected. First off, the camera (shown by a blue dot on the following diagram) was located in the southeast corner of the intersection, putting the northwest corner (where I first entered) at the far end of the camera’s range (shown roughly by a blue polygon). Additionally, the trees and shrubs lining Jane Warner Plaza—ostensibly put there to keep drivers from getting distracted by the naked men who grace it with their presence—also had the side effect of obscuring my position as I entered the intersection.

The dark gray shaded “area of detail” represents the bird’s-eye view of what’s shown in the following captures of frames #4428 through #4431—when I first entered the camera’s field of vision, looking through the trees in the plaza at the north end of the intersection.

To be considered “in” the intersection—for the purpose of defining whether I unlawfully ran the red light or entered lawfully on the yellow—the front wheel of my bike must have broken the invisible plane extending skyward from the limit line before the traffic signals display steady red circles. Put differently, the vehicle code allows vehicles to enter an intersection lawfully on a yellow light—even a very late yellow light. It even allows vehicles to enter lawfully on a light that’s in the process of changing from yellow to red, because a light changing from yellow to red does not meet the “steady circular red signal” criterion. In other words, tie goes to the runner.

It’s a good thing that I have the favor of the tie, I thought, as I used the arrow keys to flip back and forth from frame to frame showing the light changing from yellow to red and back to yellow, back and forth, to and fro. I followed the thirty-odd black and blue pixels that represented me and my bike entering the intersection, going forward and then backward over the white lines faintly visible on the pavement. The very first thing I noticed was that my position, relative to the changing of the light, was a lot closer to the north end of the intersection than I had originally thought. Even though it was very close, it seems I still managed to make it into the intersection before the light changed.

Unfortunately, it was really hard to determine my exact position relative to the white lines on the pavement—the limit line and the top and bottom boundaries of the northern crosswalk—but it was pretty clear that I crossed at least one of them before the signal changed to a steady red, which is all that it takes for my behavior on that day to be considered lawful, at least with respect to the color of the light.

#4428 (yellow)——#4429 (yellow) ———#4430 (yellow) ——#4431 (red)

That said, there are arguments that can be made about whether my behavior—going through a stale yellow light—was safe, “defensive” cycling. Clearly it was not, because there was a collision. But we did have confirmation now that I followed the law when I entered the intersection, so I felt entitled to a little self-righteous indignation.

“Do you guys believe me now?” I asked Ted and Julie.

“I always believed your light was yellow,” said Ted.

“Now let’s see about those pedestrians,” remarked Julie, eager for another challenge.

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

2 July 2012—95 days since the accident

Determining if the pedestrians crossed early—when compared to the photo finish of the red light—turned out to be really straightforward. We just needed to count exactly seven whole seconds from the moment the light turned yellow—three and a half seconds for the yellow phase plus three and a half for the “all red”—which would then indicate exactly when the DON’T WALK indicator in their direction would have begun to display WALK. There is a clock embedded in the video, but because the entire incident covered only about three seconds, we needed something more granular to help us with this one. So we decided to count 43.4 frames (6.2 frames/second x seven seconds).

The light first turned yellow at frame #4409. Forty-two frames later—barely one frame (and a bit) before the WALK indicator illuminates—we paused and found this chilling image, frame #4451.

The scene depicted the state of the southern crosswalk right before the indicator changed from DON’T WALK to WALK.

I counted seven people in the crosswalk already—eight if you included the guy north of the northern boundary of the crosswalk—so, eight people moving at different speeds—none of whom should have been anywhere but standing on the sidewalk because they hadn’t received their WALK symbol yet.

Frame #4451 also shows me on my bike and then, from right to left, Mrs. Hui (in pink) and Mr. Hui (in black) crossing from west to east, while a woman crossing from east to west has already covered three-quarters of the length of the crosswalk. This meant that between the westbound walker and the Huis, I had a gap, but it was rapidly closing, which left me with no escape. My memory recalled a crowd of pedestrians closing in on me, yet the “information” leaked by the anonymous source in the DA’s office stated that the crosswalk only had three or four people in it. Crowded is, of course, a subjective term: From my point of view, eight people moving at different speeds in a forty-six-foot-wide space meets or exceeds my definition of the word “crowded.”

So there I was, in the video, facing an impossible situation. I was moving quickly—too quickly to stop safely in such a short distance—though not quickly enough to make it through before the pedestrians converged from the left and the right. And about these pedestrians: What on earth were they doing there?

I understand—and often act upon—the temptation to jaywalk. But these people jaywalked carelessly, without heeding the DON’T WALK symbol and without checking to see if the intersection was clear. Or, if they did check, they certainly didn’t see or hear me. Mr. and Mrs. Hui were trying to catch a bus, but why was that one crosser from the east in such a hurry that she ended up halfway into my lane—75% of the way across the intersection—before the WALK symbol came on?

In a weird touch of tragic irony, the point of impact (frame #4452, below) lined up almost perfectly with the timing of the WALK symbol turning on. In other words, had everyone simply waited for the WALK, I would have cleared the intersection, well on my way toward 18th Street so I could kiss my daughter on the head and send her off to school. Meanwhile, the Huis probably would have boarded the 24 Divisadero bus (shown in the foreground of the video) so they could pick up those eyeglasses and go about their day.

Regarding the Huis: Something else important happened in frame #4451, one frame before impact. The Huis’ legs bend at weird angles in different directions, making it appear that, at the very last instant, they did see or hear me and then did something unpredictable—like lunging in one direction or another. This probably upped the chance of a collision from very high to inevitable.

“Guys, I didn’t stand a chance. That woman from the Castro Theatre side got off the bus and charged across the intersection. She was halfway into my lane when the Huis started crossing—look how long her strides are! She’s speed-walking, for crissake! There was nothing I could have done to avoid her that wouldn’t have resulted in hitting Sutchi or Betty. My yellow light was close, I’ll admit that. But this suicidal crossing dance was the opposite of close! That woman who scurried off the bus and the other people in the crosswalk, including the Huis, who crossed more than two seconds early—they caused this accident, more than anything else.”

I had been hearing the words “avoidable” and “preventable” tossed around in the media for months now, in blogs and in comments, as sidelong condemnations of my actions. Viewing the video footage now, I could see that the people who said this were almost right—the accident most definitely could have been avoided: if the pedestrians had waited for the WALK symbol.

Ted and Julie shared my disbelief in what we were seeing unfold in the video.

Floored by the devil-may-care crossing behavior of these pedestrians, I decided I needed to collect more data points. I recorded the frame number in which each person in the crosswalk started crossing. The first WALK frame lands almost halfway between #4452 and #4453, but I gave pedestrians the benefit of the doubt by saying the WALK sign illuminated at the start of frame #4452. By subtracting the frame at which they entered the crosswalk from #4452 and then dividing by 6.2 (the frame rate), I could calculate how many seconds early each pedestrian crossed.

The above frame, #4452, the first frame in which the WALK symbol appeared, shows the impact, which occurred between the Huis crossing from the west and the tall dark-haired woman crossing from the east, sandwiching me between them. This woman crossed almost fourteen seconds before the WALK indicator turned on. The improbable combination of my entering the intersection on a late yellow and eight jaywalkers crossing my path—while my speed was too fast to stop safely, yet too slow to clear the intersection before the pedestrians converged upon me—proved lethal.

Finally, we noted when east/west vehicle traffic started moving into the intersection; we hypothesized that the start of vehicle traffic movement would fall somewhere between one-half to one-and-a-half seconds after the green lights and WALK symbols appear (which happen at the same time). Sure enough, eight frames (or 1.3 seconds) elapsed before the first east and westbound vehicles started to show signs of forward motion.

The video had already proven incredibly valuable in showing that my light was still yellow when I entered and that eight pedestrians jaywalked, crossing between 0.5 and 13.9 seconds before the WALK indicator turned on, which ended up putting me, the Huis, and the other pedestrians at grave risk—with fatal consequences.

But there was even more that this video had to tell us.

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

2 July 2012—95 days since the accident

Thirteen days after the accident, San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andy Ross said they had consulted with an anonymous “law enforcement source” who claimed to have watched the video—this same video we now had access to. This was the very same video that Inspector Dean Taylor said had been taken from his locked filing cabinet. I had wondered if the leaker might be police captain Denis O’Leary, who had told the TV news that he was going to arrest me, even though I had already agreed to self-surrender. But really, I had no idea who the mole might be. What I did have now was the video.

I had been aching for almost three months to find out if the report from Matier & Ross’s “law enforcement source” had any relation to the evidence on display in the video. It always felt like Matier & Ross sprinkled in tiny specks of truth to make their more outlandish claims just believable enough. While Ted and Julie may have had larger motivations, the first thing I wanted to see was if the information leaked to the press lined up with what was actually on the video, because it certainly didn’t line up with my memory of that morning.

According to Matier & Ross, “The video shows Sutchi Hui of San Bruno and his wife stepping into the intersection at Castro and Market streets just as Chris Bucchere rides in from the north side.”

My calculations had the Huis entering a little over two seconds before the WALK symbol came on. I entered about three and a half seconds before (right at the end of the yellow and the beginning of the “all red”).

Clearly the “law enforcement source” didn’t inspect the video frame by frame because—had he done so—he would have known that the Huis started entering the crosswalk about a second and a half after I entered the intersection. Matier & Ross also didn’t mention the tall woman in my lane, and the man with the bag—or any of the other people crossing east to west, some of whom started crossing more than ten seconds early. Moreover, the video reinforced what I already knew: I had entered lawfully on a late yellow, and the Huis, and a half-dozen other people, all started crossing, willy-nilly, half a second to almost fourteen seconds before they got their WALK symbol.

Matier & Ross also quoted their source as saying, “The biker is going fast and looks like he is hunched down. He hits the victim dead-on. There is never a moment where he looks like he is trying to slow down.”

I don’t want to get too hung up on subjective definitions of “fast,” but after making the yellow light, it was in my best interest to move through the intersection quickly. Was I speeding? I don’t know for sure. I certainly might have been going faster than 25 mph on parts of the descent or while traversing the intersection itself. But my speed—somewhere in the mid-twenties or even in the low thirties—would have been similar to the speed of many cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles that traverse that intersection every day. Unfortunately for me, no cars passed through the intersection at the same time, leaving no frame of reference to judge my speed.

As for “hunched down:” My road bike, which I was riding that morning, has a set of brifters (a portmanteau of “brake lever” and “shifter”) mounted in the “drops,” which are the lowest, most forward-facing portions of the handlebars. The instant I sensed an emergency situation unfolding before me, I plunged my hands into the drops and wrapped my fingers around both brifters, braking hard—but not so hard that I would lose control of my bike. In doing so, I instinctively shifted my weight back, so I could pull hard on the front brake. Not using my body weight in this way would have probably sent me flying over the handlebars.

With my hands in the drops and my rear-end over the seat, I certainly appeared to be “hunched down.” But this wasn’t because I wanted to go faster—I was crouched down so that I could apply the brakes heavily without losing control of my bike.

This is a perfect example of why it it’s problematic for anonymous law enforcement officials to speak to the media: One, they shouldn’t be talking to the media about an in-progress investigation; two, they have no idea what they’re talking about as it pertains to cycling.

According to Matier & Ross’s source, “The video shows only three or four people in the crosswalk when the collision occurred.”

I counted eight. Technically, though eight people were crossing, only seven did so in a crosswalk, because one person—the gentleman to the right of the man with the bag—was a couple of feet north of the crosswalk. Because he too was heading directly toward my anticipated vector, I would say there were eight people in the crosswalk. That’s twice the number of people the source claimed.

One thing the video did not show was whether the light was red or yellow when I entered the intersection. “The light was out of the camera’s view,” said the source.

This untruth was probably just an oversight. The source probably didn’t see the lights. It doesn’t appear as though the ADAs saw them either.

“He hits the victim dead-on,” the source said. “There is never a moment where he looks like he is trying to slow down.”

My last memory of the accident is as follows: The left side of my body and head slammed into the pavement. In my mind—and based on my injuries—I turned this into a story of how I “laid it down” and “plowed through the crowded crosswalk.” Fewer pharmaceuticals and one less massive blow to the head and I might have said something more like, “I did everything I could to avoid the pedestrians, but in the end, I could not and did not.” Watching the video, it doesn’t look like I “laid it down.”

It does look, however, like I gave it a try. Looking closely at the last four frames before impact (as seen below in chronological order), shows that I made at least two evasive maneuvers to supplement the hard braking I described above.

In the first frame, my bike has an even keel, indicating that I’m going straight. In the second frame, more of my black arm-warmer is showing, indicating that I’m turning to the right, most likely because I had seen the tall woman who crossed from the east and was now walking briskly on a collision course with me. The third frame is perhaps the most telling. In this frame, my body and bike lean sharply to the left, perhaps because I had seen that trying to avoid the tall woman from the east put me on a different collision course, this time with the Huis. This was the last move I remember—sending myself and my bike into the pavement—“laying it down.”

But in the fourth frame, two events happened that I didn’t remember: 1) I pulled up out of my port-side dive, sending me away from the tall woman coming from the east and straight toward Mr. Hui; and 2) what little ability I had to avoid the jaywalking pedestrians became further compromised in that Mr. and Mrs. Hui appear to be lunging, perhaps because they finally did see or hear me—but at this point, it was all too late.

In seeing the video, I realized that my only hope of making it through the intersection accident-free that morning was attempting to squeeze through the closing gap of people by going as quickly as possible. Sadly, all my braking and evasive maneuvers right before impact might have contributed more toward the accident than anything else—except, of course, for the eight pedestrians crossing against a solid DON’T WALK indicator.

I don’t know if it would have been possible to “shoot the gap”—I would have had to do all the physics/math in my head in a fraction of a second and then pull off a miracle. Despite what the papers said, I don’t have the bravado and reckless stupidity to attempt a maneuver like that. Plus, last-minute movements by the Huis threw another wrench into the works.

At this point, Ted, Julie, and I were mentally exhausted. The video would undoubtedly yield more useful information the more we analyzed it, but not now because our heads were spinning in three different directions.

One thing on which we all agreed: It was time to circle the wagons and put together a sound strategy for taking all of these discoveries back to the prosecutors.

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

7 July 2012—100 days since the accident

From: Chris Bucchere

To: Ted W. Cassman

Cc: Julie Salamon

Ted and Julie—here is a bit of perspective to help you frame your initial discussions with Omid. I would like to go in with the position that my family and I want a complete dismissal of all charges and a public apology from the DA.

Seven pedestrians, including Mr. and Mrs. Hui, crossed before the walk indicator causing me to wreck my bike while trying to avoid them and rendering me unconscious for at least ten minutes.

From the first article in the media, I was wrongly accused of running a red light and speeding. No mention of the jaywalking was ever made.

Since the accident I have incurred almost $50,000 of expenses (in legal fees and the bail bond), I’ve spent a day a jail during booking and I’ve been hounded by the media, who have printed innumerable false statements by the DA and members of the police department.

All the media attention has caused me to lose my job and now I can’t find another one (for the same reason). My wife, six-year-old daughter, and I have received death threats and have spent thousands of additional dollars on security measures to protect ourselves. To compound this, my wife is now bedridden with a stress-related medical condition as a result of these circumstances.

The permanent damage the DA and the media have done to me and my family will cause continued suffering over the long haul and it’s hard to even anticipate what sort of horrible thing will happen next.

Ever since a post-concussion, drugged-out email of my own composition made its way from my computer to the New York Times, I had made a habit of giving every message one extra read, asking myself, “How would this email fare if it went viral?” It was during the extra read of the above note that I noticed an unintended tone—a tone rife with defiance and resolve—yet also riddled with despair and fear of what was to come. It had the ring of a man not yet broken, but precipitously bent.

It was here at the precipice—at the verge of snapping—that I finally caught a break.

Finally, I could prove my innocence—based on that one traffic light in the video.

The end of this nightmare finally seemed near.


>> Continue to PART VI: The Waiting


For a closer look at the research behind Bikelash, visit the companion GitHub project.

Bikelash PART IV: Cooperating with the Authorities

On the morning of March 29, 2012, while riding my bicycle, I hit and killed a man who was crossing the street.

This is not a story of who was at fault, though at first it seemed that way.

We all share a critical responsibility when we go out into the world: the duty to keep one another safe. I failed in that responsibility and, as a result, we will never get back the life of Sutchi Hui. Words cannot adequately express how sorry I am for his death and for the loss to his family. I carry that sorrow with me every day.

This story is about what happened after the accident—and it’s a story that happens all too often: High-profile cases get tried not in courtrooms, but on TV and the internet. Media fans the flames, the public quickly passes judgment, and elected officials bend the system to secure political wins—at the expense of due process and fair outcomes.

The narrative is based on court transcripts, newspaper and online articles, television broadcasts, and extensive notes and journal entries I made in the months after the accident. To protect the privacy of others, I changed some names. All else is true to my memory of what happened.

I am sharing this not for redemption or personal profit, but because this side of the story rarely gets told. To make sure our justice system treats all defendants fairly, we need to speak up when it doesn’t.

I’m Chris Bucchere.

And this is Bikelash.

PART IV: Cooperating with the Authorities

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

13 June 2012—76 days since the accident

Carroll, Ashley, and I were slowly beginning to adapt to life on the run, trying to leave no trace of our whereabouts. I paid for everything in cash. An acquaintance of mine sold me a police scanner and helped me program it. If anyone was coming for me or my family, I wanted to be the first to know. Despite our precautions, we were too scared to be anywhere near our home, or even within the jurisdiction of the SFPD.

Each time my phone buzzed with an IFTTT alert, I had that sinking feeling in my chest: Would we be sleeping in our own beds tonight, or would we be forced to hit the road?

With the news of my impending “arrest” and booking/arraignment still smelling like fresh meat to the media, I had to be on high alert. I went back to Ted’s office, and he called Inspector Cadigan to arrange the details of my arrest. He put her on speaker. The inspector advised me to use the side entrance to the Hall of Justice. She instructed me to wait inconspicuously in a discreet employee parking lot. She said to arrive at 10 a.m. and call her to come and escort me inside. And she said I should wear a baseball cap.

This whole notion of being “booked” was very foreign to me, but apparently it’s something that the police must do to every person accused of a serious crime. The media seemed to think this was a big deal, as there were several print, internet, and TV news stories explaining this process and how it applied to me. To Vinnie, the bail bondsman, and to Ted, my attorney, this was just a matter of procedure, but not so with the local journalists.

With the prying eyes of the media upon us, we weren’t taking any chances. Carroll, Ashley, and I were hopping from one budget hotel in the East Bay to another on the Peninsula and back again. Ashley asked why we were going on so many “vacations.”

“Because everybody needs a getaway, darling. Aren’t we having so much fun?” I asked, casting a sideways glance at Carroll.

On the evening before the booking, I drove my family through Berkeley while Carroll tried to find us a place to stay for the night. The U.S. Open golf championship was in town that week, so she was having a difficult time. We spent more than an hour meandering about the East Bay as Carroll tried hotel after hotel. Finally, I decided that it was time to call in a favor.

My first call was to an old pal. Clint Lockyer and his wife, Estella, said they would be happy to welcome the three of us into their home. We had a place to stay for the night.

At sixty-eight years old, Clint was the person with whom I had my longest-lasting friendship. We met when I was six, shortly after my parents and I moved to a small neighborhood nestled in the foothills of Mt. Diablo, about thirty miles from San Francisco.

Soon after we had settled in, Clint became our family’s primary care physician, and his former wife, Pollyanna, became our eye doctor. He and his buddies were avid mountain bikers, and Clint taught me how to ride. Under his guidance, we romped along the trails of not only Diablo and Trampas, but ventured out to Tilden Park, China Camp, and up to Lake Tahoe. To me, Clint was more like a stepfather than a friend.

That night, when Clint and Estella turned on the 10 o’clock news, the lead story was about me. I began to flush as the skin on the back of my neck prickled with embarrassment and outrage. I wondered what my lifelong friend and his wife believed as they watched this garbage. Was it different because they knew me? What about people who didn’t know me? They only know the narrative that makes me out to be a monster.

Again I experienced the unsettling feeling of living in two different worlds. On TV, a renegade cyclist was still on the lam; tomorrow he would be hauled in for his booking/arraignment. There was a quote from Randy Ang’s attorney, Tony Brass, about how this cycle-terrorist should be punished for his crimes and how the fact that Ang “stayed at the scene and cooperated with authorities made all the difference.”

As if I had much of a choice, having been taken away from the scene in an ambulance.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

14 June 2012—77 days since the accident

The next morning in Clint and Estella’s living room, the announcer on the morning newscast sounded very concerned. Oakland was on fire, she said. A big construction site close to the West Oakland station had gone up in flames. BART—the rapid transit train I was planning on taking from Walnut Creek to San Francisco—wasn’t running west of downtown. It was seven o’clock. In three hours, Inspector Cadigan would be expecting me to show up at the Hall of Justice and turn myself in.

Clint dropped me off at the Walnut Creek BART station and wished me good luck. I rode BART to downtown Oakland’s 12th Street Station, which on that day more closely resembled the Oakland Zoo. Everywhere I looked, people were running around, trying to find a way to get to San Francisco. A few hundred of them had formed a mob around some sort of charter bus that could probably hold about forty. I now had just over two hours to get to the Hall of Justice, and I didn’t see any options.

I started walking west toward Jack London Square, where I knew there would be at least one passenger ferry to San Francisco. After about a block, I broke into a light jog and worked my way up into a brisk run. When I reached the ferry terminal, there were several hundred people waiting in line for the next boat, which had a capacity of probably around a hundred. From the ferry building, I’d have about a twenty-to-thirty-minute walk to the Hall of Justice, so I still had a chance of showing up for my arrest and incarceration more or less on time.

All of a sudden, one of my worst fears was realized. TV news crews descended upon the long line of waylaid commuters. The fire, BART closure, bridge traffic, and the congestion at the ferry terminal made great fodder for the morning news and, as a result, my cover was about to be blown.

Trying to act as naturally as I could, I turned in such a way that none of the cameras could see my face. I grabbed my pay-as-you-go phone, put it up to my ear, and answered an imaginary call, just so I could think. My eyes darted about the ferry plaza looking for a place to hide. With some semblance of a plan in my head, I put the phone away and started to chat up the guy behind me. He was a rather friendly French software developer in town for a conference. Once we chit-chatted for a bit, I popped the question: “Hey, would you mind holding my place in line?”

I knew the cameras were rolling because I could hear the newscaster right behind me: “There are thousands of people in line waiting for ferries that aren’t here. This has people wondering, ‘Will we ever make it to work?’” I tried to focus on my plan. It was time to make my move. I slinked off toward the restroom.

Once I found a place where I could think, something occurred to me: No one knows that I’m here. The media crews that wanted to film my surrender were waiting for me at the Hall of Justice, if they were anywhere at all. I had managed to strip down every photo and nearly every video of myself from the internet, so no one would recognize me. Plus, I had the world’s greatest disguise—a baseball cap—at the ready.

Gaining my composure, I straightened up my shoulders, walked right back into the fray, and gave my best merci to the Frenchman. Then I turned toward the news cameras and I smiled and waved, because that’s what everyone else was doing.

I boarded the ferry with a throng of antsy commuters, many of whom were calling their offices and rearranging their schedules. Having dodged a bullet with the TV news, I started to worry again about my other problem. There was a warrant out for my arrest. I promised self-surrender at 10 a.m. I didn’t have a very good frame of reference for criminal proceedings, but I imagine that if you promise to turn yourself in and then don’t show up, all sorts of bad things start to happen.

On the upper deck of the ferry, I bumped into an old colleague of mine. After imploring him not to share this with anyone, I told him that I was off to be arrested on felony manslaughter charges. By his reaction, I could tell that he thought I was joking. I wished I had been.

As a regular ferry rider, my friend had a large booklet of tickets. I bought two from him with the twenty-dollar bill I had tucked next to my driver’s license in my back pocket, one of my few possessions. I gave one ticket to the Frenchman and thanked him again for helping me out. I now had about forty minutes to get to the Hall of Justice.

CHAPTER THIRTY

14 June 2012—77 days since the accident

It was 9:45 a.m. by the time I arrived at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. In my pocket I had a few remaining dollars, my driver’s license, and a cheap flip-phone registered under a fake name. I didn’t even consider hailing a taxi, not that I could have found one amid what was probably the most insane commute day since the BART strikes of the late 1990s.

I started to run, making a beeline for the Hall of Justice, which lies about two miles from the Ferry Building. Inspector Cadigan was expecting me at ten. Given that I left San Ramon—a mere thirty miles from San Francisco—almost three hours ago, it was hard to believe that I was in danger of missing my appointment for self-surrender.

As I ran down Howard Street, I tried to avoid thinking about all the horrible things bound to happen if I showed up late for my arrest. Plus, there was this puzzling “baseball cap” business. Why had Inspector Cadigan asked me to bring a baseball cap? Was it supposed to be some sort of disguise? Or was it supposed to help me stand out, so she could lead me into some kind of trap?

I had trusted the inspector in the hospital, but now I wasn’t sure who to trust. I quickly pushed those worries out of my head because I had a list of bigger things to worry about. At the top of that list was the outstanding warrant for my arrest. Next was that I was still two miles from where I needed to be to turn myself over to the authorities.

The fire in West Oakland made for the opposite of a slow news day and the press had more interesting things to cover than my impending incarceration. As I ran, I appreciated this little dose of good fortune. When I was within a few long SOMA blocks of the jail, I stopped, caught my breath, and called Prince. As promised, he was waiting outside of the Hall of Justice, wearing a baseball cap.

Prince stands about five feet ten inches tall and weighs around 165 pounds. He’s taller, slimmer, and much better built than I am, but with his dark skin and hair, he could potentially be mistaken for me, perhaps if you squint your eyes a bit. Given that I had disappeared myself and my family from the internet just after news of the story broke, there remained a few scant images and videos of me online. Most of them depicted me seventy pounds heavier with a different haircut and facial hair configuration, so most people would be pretty hard-pressed to pick me out of a crowd. And that is precisely why Inspector Cadigan’s “wear a baseball cap” struck me as highly suspicious. With his shoulder-length hair tied up and wearing that aforementioned baseball cap, Prince spent the morning loitering around the Hall of Justice as my near-perfect media decoy, looking as conspicuous as he could.

The plan was simple enough: Prince would give me the lay of the land and, if there were any media personnel anywhere in my path to the Hall of Justice, he would draw them away from me, goad them as much as he could, and then, once I was safely inside, he would take off his baseball cap, unfurl his giant Kenyan mane, and answer their questions—in Swahili.

Prince stood near the entrance of a small parking lot nestled in between the west side of the Hall of Justice and the jail. As I came within a few hundred yards, he turned south, walked to the corner of Bryant Street, and then turned left and walked east toward the main front stairs. If the media were looking for the brown-skinned man in the baseball cap heading toward the Hall of Justice, there he was.

Meanwhile, I walked briskly past the spot where Prince had been standing. I ducked between two parked cars in the employee lot and knelt down where no one could see me. I pulled the baseball cap out from where I had tucked it inside the waist of my pants. Exhaling deeply, I put the cap on my head and dialed Inspector Cadigan’s number. It was nearly 10:30. I had been traveling—by car, train, ferry, and foot—for three and a half hours. This was the first time I had sat down since I disembarked from BART in downtown Oakland—a lifetime ago.

Moments later, a tall, strapping black man in plain clothes opened the side door and asked me to step inside. Inspector Cook led me down a hallway toward SFPD’s Hit and Run Investigation Unit.

“Of course it wasn’t a hit and run; that’s just what they call our unit,” Inspector Cadigan had told me, in what now seemed like a dream. But this was no dream. It was a nightmare.

And it had only just begun.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

14 June 2012—77 days since the accident

I followed Inspector Cook down a short hallway and into a small room crammed with cubicles. Inspector Cadigan swung around in her chair to greet me. As she stood and took my outstretched hand, I took note of her black sweater, black jeans, and black boots. I vaguely recalled our initial meeting in the hospital, where I sat on a bed in a post-concussion fog. “I’m just going to ask you a few questions,” she had told me. “This will only take a minute or two. This is no big deal.”

I had looked into her kind eyes then, as I did now. I had trusted her. I had believed her. How could I have been such a fool?

As I shook her hand, not a word was exchanged between us. There was so much I wanted to say. But there was something in Inspector Cadigan’s eyes that hadn’t been there when we met in the hospital. There was sadness. Her lips curled into a frown and she spoke slowly and deliberately.

“Chris, I am so, so sorry about all of this.”

I breathed in and opened my mouth as if to speak, but no words came out. Had I said anything, it wouldn’t have mattered, because just then Inspector Dean Taylor—Inspector Cadigan’s boss—interjected.

“Look here, son. It’s a good thing I gave this case to Lori. Because if this was my case, I would’ve retired!” Inspector Taylor spoke with the slightest remnant of an Irish accent. Or maybe it was the type of accent that remains in hiding until anger causes just a smidge of it to show through.

He rolled his chair closer to where I was standing. I had just released Inspector Cadigan’s hand. She sat down and motioned to me to do the same. Inspector Taylor had delivered quite a hook with that “I would’ve retired” line, so he had my full attention. Sliding his reading glasses down the bridge of his nose, he pointed at a gunmetal gray file cabinet.

“You see that? That cabinet? That drawer right there? We had the only DVD of the accident video locked right in there. No one had seen the video but Lori and me. Not a soul but Lori and me! Then the DA’s office spoke to the media about what happens in the video. And then? And then they blamed the whole thing on us! On the police. On my department.”

I nodded. Again, I dug deep, searching for the right thing to say and came up empty. Good thing, because Inspector Taylor wasn’t finished.

“It’s not fair what’s happening to you, Chris. Really, it’s not fair. It’s bowlshit. What the DA’s doing to you? That’s bowlshit. What the media’s doing to you? Bowlshit!”

The more Inspector Taylor got spun up, the more his accent showed through. He moved his finger from the direction of the file cabinet, pointed it directly at me, and continued.

“This was a routine accident and it shoulda been handled as such. We process dozens of cases like this every year. If you was in a car, no charges woulda been filed. This is all bowlshit! Complete bowlshit.”

Suddenly, Inspector Cadigan’s eyes darted up and focused directly on Inspector Taylor’s. She tilted her head to one side, pushed a few strands of hair off of her forehead, cleared her throat, and gave Inspector Taylor a death-stare. Clearly, she was warning him to stop talking. But this was her boss, so there was no way she could say anything, especially with me sitting right there.

With the air getting heavier and heavier amid the staring contest I was witnessing between Inspector Taylor and Inspector Cadigan, I struggled to think of something to say, something to break the ice.

“Would you be willing to go on the record about any of this?” I asked with a sheepish grin. I wanted Inspector Taylor to think I was just kidding. But, of course, I wasn’t.

“Well, I’m close to retiring, my boy—but not that close,” Inspector Taylor said with a hearty chuckle. And with that, he spun his chair back around, pushed his reading glasses up the bridge of his nose, and dove back into whatever it is an inspector does.

I nodded, feeling defeated. But at the same time, new energy welled up inside me. I could feel the back of my neck starting to get hot. Inspector Taylor might not be willing to testify or speak to the media about this, but knowing that the SFPD thought I was getting a raw deal gave me more reasons to suspect that the DA wasn’t playing fair.

Inspector Taylor had said his piece; now Inspector Cadigan was doing the talking.

“We’re going to walk you over to the jail together. Before we go inside, I have to handcuff you.”

I handed her a bag containing my ID, my pay-as-you-go flip phone, a few dollars, and the cap I had borrowed from Clint.

Then Inspector Cadigan cuffed me behind my back and led me to jail.

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

14 June 2012—77 days since the accident

The first thing I found out about being in jail was that I wasn’t actually in jail. I was in a holding pen of sorts inside or adjacent to the jail—where people get booked. Basically, it’s like the DMV—a bunch of cubes chock-full of government employees with bad attitudes and a ring around them of disheveled, miserable people looking even more disgusted than the employees do about having to be in this awful place.

This strange sort-of-jail was crawling with all sorts of people in uniform, most of them probably sheriff deputies. As is the case with the DMV, the goal of the “customer” here is to get the hell out as quickly as possible without pissing anyone off. But unlike the DMV, which makes people wait, sitting uncomfortably close to one another on rows of chairs buckled together, here they make people wait in soundproof, locked cells, alone.

In this tiny cell, I had a narrow bench I could sit on and a toilet with a half wall in front of it. I took a piss, the half wall obscuring my business but not the upper half of my body. It felt weird, but so did everything about this experience. I flushed the toilet. Water also came out of the sink, so I rinsed my hands and face. There was no soap. I took a drink of the water from my hand. Then, since I had pretty much exhausted all of the things I could do in this pen of mine, I rolled up my sweater to form a makeshift neck pillow, and I laid down on my back and closed my eyes.

Fingerprinting. It was time for fingerprinting. Somebody led me over to a gentleman who greeted me pleasantly with an accent I thought I recognized.

“Are you Bahamian or Jamaican?” I asked. I spent a year living on Grand Bahama Island as a kid, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Bahamians, some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I knew he was a West Indian Islander, but I couldn’t nail the island.

“Very good guesses. I’m a Creole from Haiti.”

This trilingual islander—hours away from the end of his sixteen-hour shift—was patient enough to tell me all about the fingerprinting process as he gently pressed my hands against the glass while images of my fingerprints turned up on screen. I had my mug shots taken too. I was thirsty and hungry and tired and strung out, but the simple motions of doing something helped break up the monotony.

After fingerprinting, I was put in a group cell, where I sat, head in hand, again not really knowing what to do with myself. This larger group cell also sported a telephone. I played around with it a bit; it had this foreboding voice-intro loop that warned the receiving party that they were about to get a call from an SF county jail inmate, giving them the option to drop the call.

After who knows how long—maybe an hour, maybe two or three—a young Caucasian woman in a sweatshirt came calling for me. “It’s time to getcha outta here,” she said with a half smile. “We just need to wrap up some paperwork and then you can go.” That meant the $150,000 bail had been processed and that they had received confirmation that my fingerprints hadn’t resulted in arrest warrants from Interpol or whatever. The woman left, and I continued to wait.

The minutes turned into hours. Suddenly, a black man in a blue uniform holding a small brown bag walked by the holding pen. I jumped up and hurled myself at the door, knocking wildly. The deputy opened the little slot so we could hear one another through the soundproof wall.

“Whaddya want?” he asked. I had a feeling that whatever I wanted, I wasn’t going to get it.

“Well, this nice woman in a white sweatshirt came over and told me I could go. But that was more than an hour ago and I’m still here.”

“Hmmmmm, let’s see. You want to go, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s nice. But do you see this bag of coffee?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, making coffee is important. You, on the other hand, are not important. Do you understand?”

With that, the little window snapped shut.

Finally, a deputy arrived and cooly told me that my time here would soon come to an end. Officer Kim led me back to where I had started my day, when I walked past the front desk. We passed the intake nurse and a few other desk workers. Officer Kim directed me to sign some documents, as he stepped around the office partition to a small desk. After signing one of the documents and feeling a bit uncomfortable about where to put my hands, I rested them, slightly folded on the counter, and leaned forward and crossed my legs.

At that moment, another man in uniform sauntered out of the nearby breakroom, pointed aggressively at me, and barked, “Get your hands off the table!”

I gently lifted up my hands and held them over my shoulders, palms facing Officer Kim.

But the angry cop wasn’t finished.

“What do you think this is, a bank or something?”

I did not respond.

“Put your hands down! By your side!”

I put my hands down by my side, feeling the tension build up inside me and trying desperately to figure out how to make the officer stop.

“Not like that! Like a normal person,” he growled.

He sneered the word “normal,” as if to imply that I had never heard it before or could possibly comprehend what it meant. I relaxed my arms a bit. And then, this civil servant took a few steps closer, looked me squarely in the eye, pointed at me with his index finger, and said slowly and provocatively.

“You look like an idiot.”

I turned to face the officer of the peace, and I stared at him with a puzzled look. I didn’t know what to say.

Trying to keep in mind what Vinnie the bail bondsman had advised, I said nothing. Vinnie knows best.

At this point, the angry cop stormed off and returned to eating cake and drinking coffee in the breakroom.

I turned back to face Officer Kim and politely asked, “There’s just one more quick thing before I leave: Could I please have the name and badge number of the officer who was just here?”

“Yeah, you can,” Officer Kim said.

“Can I have it now?”

“I said I would give it to you!” Officer Kim was visibly annoyed. His brows were furrowed, and his face was turning red.

“Yes, you said you would give it to me,” I said slowly and calmly.

There was a pregnant pause, and then I was escorted into an airlock. Because there was a big sign that read, “WAIT BEHIND THE RED LINE,” I dared not do anything other than wait behind the red line. Suddenly, two deputies escorted a four-person chain gang in orange jumpsuits into the airlock to join me. Then the deputies uncuffed the prisoners’ wrists and unshackled their ankles. This was the first time during my booking that I was in a room with real prisoners. If booking was Level One, these guys looked like they were Level Eleven. Orange jumpsuits, cuffs, shackles, and everything. I felt petrified, afraid to move a single muscle. I was outnumbered, but that hardly mattered. They were all very large and mean-looking, and any one of them could have easily beaten me to a pulp.

Suddenly, a buzzer inside the airlock rang, nearly giving me a heart attack. One of the inmates—the meanest and scariest looking of them all—looked directly at me and kindly said, “I think that’s for you, sir,” while he politely pushed the door open. I thanked him and walked through.

My jail experience, however, was not yet complete. On the outside of the buzzing door, behind a thick wall of glass, stood Officer Kim and one extremely red-in-the-face officer, arms crossed in defiance.

“So, you want my name and badge number, ha?”

He stood with an aggressive stance and snickered, making me feel that whatever I was going to say was going to be exactly the wrong thing to say.

“You want my name?” he snapped. “Ha! Here’s my name!” He pointed self-righteously and indignantly at the words “J. DUTTO” on the right breast pocket of his blue uniform. He sharply poked himself several times in the chest. “D-U-T-T-O,” he said, spelling out his name for me.

“You want my badge number? Here’s my badge number!” He repeated the pointing/poking routine on the gold star pinned on his opposite breast pocket, which read #1235. “ONE TWO THREE FIVE.”

“See now? You got it. Ha! Name and badge number.”

“Can I please have a pen?” I asked.

“No, you can’t, ha!” he sneered. “Now get the fuck outta here!”

I turned around slowly and walked toward the lobby. I was pretty sure this nightmare was finally over, but I found out—yet again—that it wasn’t.

“You know what?”

I turned back around to look at Officer Dutto.

“You ARE a fuckin’ idiot!” He stormed off, chuckling and seeming very proud of himself.

I walked away. I felt ashamed, confused, exhausted, hungry, and thirsty.

I feebly turned my focus to the matter at hand: how to use the five-odd dollar bills I had in my pocket to find my way out of the jurisdiction of the SFPD. With downcast eyes, I walked north on 7th Street, bought a BART ticket at Powell Station, and boarded the next eastbound train.

For the first time in my life, I was being completely honest when I told the panhandlers who solicited me that I had nothing to give them.

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

14 June 2012—77 days since the accident

I disembarked from BART at the Dublin/Pleasanton Station, some thirty-five miles southeast of San Francisco. Carroll had managed to find us some slightly nicer digs at a great price, so a new hotel on a large property that included an outdoor pool and a hot tub awaited me. After a shower, twenty minutes in the hot tub, a few laps in the pool, thirty more minutes in the hot tub, and then another shower, I felt I had sufficiently cleansed myself of the rotten stench of the holding pen.

Try as I might, however, I couldn’t shake the memory of the behavior of officers Kim and Dutto. Should I file a complaint? Should I seek retribution for the way I was treated? I considered it, but decided against it. If Internal Affairs operated anything like the other parts of this city’s government, then filing a complaint would be a waste of everyone’s time.

Expecting the worst, I sat down in front of my laptop and was greeted with something even worse than the worst. It turns out that while I was busy getting locked up, pushed around, and taunted in jail, the DA’s office had produced the following press release.

DA George Gascón Charging Bicyclist with Felony Vehicular Manslaughter

For Immediate Release

Thursday, June 14, 2012

CONTACT: Stephanie Ong Stillman, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-1167 or (415) 740-5134 Alex Bastian, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-1931

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – District Attorney George Gascón announced today that a felony vehicular manslaughter charge will be filed against Chris Bucchere, age 36, a bicyclist who struck Sutchi Hui, a 71 year old man who was crossing the street with his wife on Market and Castro.

“Mr. Hui was a husband and a father and he was killed because of a bicyclist’s need for speed,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “This incident could have been avoided and we can do better as a city to avoid these tragic consequences. In order to preserve our diverse transit community, everyone has to follow the rules of the road.”

On the morning of Thursday, March 29, Hui was crossing the street with his wife on Market and Castro when he was struck by Bucchere, who was riding his bicycle through the intersection of Market and Castro. Hui sustained blunt force trauma injuries from the collision that led to the cause of his death on Monday, April 2.

“This tragic death caused by a bicyclist illustrates the worst case scenario when traffic laws are not obeyed,” said District Attorney Gascón. He explained that Bucchere displayed gross negligence in operating his bicycle warranting a felony vehicular manslaughter charge. His office intends to prove that there was a pattern of traffic laws being broken by Bucchere leading up to the accident.

According to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, since 2006, there has been a 71% increase in the number of people biking in San Francisco. The District Attorney is asking the public to respect pedestrians’ right-of-way and to avoid behaviors that could lead to accidents. For information on pedestrian safety, visit http://www.walksf.org. For information on bicycle safety, visit http://www.sfbike.org/edu.

Chris Bucchere is scheduled to be arraigned early next week. San Francisco Police Department Inspector Lori Cadigan is assigned to this case. Assistant District Attorney Omid Talai is the prosecutor on this case.

Gascón had held multiple press conferences earlier in the day in which he augmented the press release by adding a litany of other accusations, including this stunning conclusion: “I think that when you look at the totality of this case, you’re looking at someone that really doesn’t care for anybody except himself.”

Has any DA ever made a value judgment as outrageous as that after any vehicle accident, no matter how egregious?

Gascón continued, claiming, “the tragedy that occurred here did not need to occur. It was predictable. It was avoidable.” And, “his selfish motivation, you know, his need for speed and his behavior were completely, uh, horrible.” And furthermore, Gascon wanted “to send a very clear message here that we believe that the conduct in this case was gross, was very egregious,” claiming that I was interested in “beating [my] own record on that course” and that I “was bragging about it online.”

The feeling of listening to a person of authority tell the media, thereby telling the world—that I don’t care for anybody but myself, that I was racing during rush hour past an elementary school and in a busy intersection, that I have a “need for speed,” and that my behavior was “completely horrible”—was infuriating, especially when I knew not a word of it was true.

My teeth and fists clenched in rage, I stared at the glowing screen of my laptop.

At some point, at least some of the stories about this accident might have had something to do with me, I thought. However, that no longer seemed to be the case. The larger narrative had become less and less about what happened in that intersection; it wasn’t even about the accident—or me—anymore.

This was about a DA sending a clear message that he hates cyclists, using me as the messenger.

It wasn’t my fault that some cyclists flaunt the rules of the road and it wasn’t my fault that Randy Ang had been given a supposedly light punishment, but it seemed—regardless of what I did or didn’t do—I was going to have an example made out of me. Was there any hope of getting a fair shake in this situation?

Any confidence I might have had was fading quickly.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

21 June 2012—84 days since the accident

It was late in the afternoon on my first full week back at work that my manager, Pradeep, whom I respected immensely as a technologist and also really liked as a person, came over to my cube.

“Chris, can I borrow you for second?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Um, let’s go grab a conference room.”

It was at this point that I realized something was awry. If this were anything related to normal, tactical work, we would have had the conversation right there in my cube. I had a sinking feeling about this impromptu meeting already, and I hadn’t even gotten out of my chair yet.

Pradeep led me over to a nearby conference room and shut the door, leaving us inside a room with a dozen chairs, a long boardroom-style table, and bunch of “world clocks” set to different time zones.

“Chris, I’m really sorry to have to do this. You’ve been a real asset to our team.”

“What’s going on, Pradeep?”

“I’m afraid that we’ve had to terminate your contract.”

“Wow. I don’t really know what to say. When does my contract end, exactly?”

“Two weeks. I want you to schedule knowledge-transfer sessions with each person on the team for a couple of hours each day for the remainder of your time here.”

“Is this negotiable?” I asked. It seemed like a fair question.

“I’m afraid not.”

“Well, I’ve really enjoyed working with you guys, and I’m going to miss you all dearly. I’ve learned so much from all of you.”

“It’s mutual. You’re leaving really big shoes to fill, and we were happy to have you for as long as we did.”

“If that’s the case, why are you terminating me?”

“You know I can’t say anything other than that it’s for no official reason.”

“Uh-huh. Is the ‘unofficial reason’ what I think it is?” I asked, with air-quotes around “unofficial reason.”

Pradeep got flustered and started to turn red in the face. His eyes darted from corner to corner, as if to see if anyone else was in the empty conference room with us. He had once told me—over a homemade lunch of rice, mung dal, and naan, which he ate with his bare hands—that he grew up in a village in southern India that lacked any kind of refrigeration. Sometime in the mid-1980s, someone managed to get their hands on a freezer. He recalled how he and the other kids came from miles around to see this marvel of modern technology. They experimented by putting all sorts of liquids in the freezer to see what would freeze and what wouldn’t. Water? Yes. Milk? Yes, but badly. Gasoline? No.

Pradeep and I, other than the fact that we worked together, had very little in common. He emigrated from his village a little over ten years ago. Eating with his bare hands was more than just a lingering cultural difference; he once told me he felt as if he couldn’t taste the food properly if he used utensils to eat it.

With my last question still lingering in the air, I decided to try a different, more direct approach.

“I’ve done nothing but great work for you guys, Pradeep. You know that. I’ve personally made millions upon millions of dollars for this company through search optimizations. It’s obvious you’re not canning me because of my performance. So this is about the crazy charges and the media circus, isn’t it?”

“You know I can’t say anything about that.”

“Fair enough. But you know they’re complete bullshit, right?”

Of course I know that! In India, there would just be another dead guy in the street. No one would even blink an eye.”

“But here, it’s like the whole goddamn world is revolving around it! The press is having a field day with it. And the DA is playing along! Now you guys, too?”

Pradeep threw his hands up in the air and shook his head. Then, he pushed his chair back and stood up.

“I don’t know what to say, Chris. This is America.”


>> Continue to PART V: The Light


For a closer look at the research behind Bikelash, visit the companion GitHub project.