Trial Begins in Wrongful Death Suit Against Driver Who Killed Bicyclist

An enlarged version of this photo of Amelie Le Moullac was shown to jurors in a San Francisco courtroom Wednesday. The panel will decide a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver who killed Le Moullac while she was riding her bike on August 14, 2013.  (Courtesy of Voce Communications )

Amelie Le Moullac was riding her bike to Caltrain "following all the rules of the road" on the morning of Aug. 14, 2013, in San Francisco's South of Market district, when she was fatally struck by a 26,000-pound delivery truck whose driver made an unsafe right turn, the attorneys for the young woman's family argued in court Wednesday.

Gilberto Alcantar "failed to follow all the rules of the road and crushed and killed Amelie Le Moullac," attorney William Veen told jurors at the start of a civil jury trial in the wrongful death lawsuit against the 47-year-old truck driver and the company he works for, Daylight Foods of Milpitas.

At first, police blamed Le Moullac, 24, for her death, but later faulted Alcantar after a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition staffer did some simple detective work and uncovered surveillance video of the crash, something the police had failed to check for. An attorney for Le Moullac's family has said it shows the truck making an unsafe lane change, overtaking the bike lane with Le Moullac in it.

Le Moullac's death and the shoddy investigation by police galvanized safe streets advocates, who demanded the San Francisco Police Department reform its procedures for handling collisions involving drivers and bicyclists and pedestrians. The advocates said it was typical of the way investigators handle these types of crashes, and explains why drivers are rarely charged.

Despite the video evidence, San Francisco prosecutors declined to file charges, saying it would be difficult to land a jury conviction for vehicular manslaughter. The attorneys for Le Moullac's family say the lawsuit is "their last chance for justice."

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In court, Veen said Le Moullac was wearing a helmet but her head was crushed and she was left bleeding in a crosswalk at the intersection of Folsom and Sixth streets.

A Muni driver passing the scene around 7 a.m. brought a bus full of passengers to a stop and rushed to Le Moullac's side. The driver, Anna Contreras, a former Army medic, fought tears on the witness stand as she described how she found Le Moullac unconscious and breathing shallowly.

Le Moullac was transported to San Francisco General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 8:20 a.m.

Driver's Conflicting Stories

Veen said Le Moullac was alert and "doing everything within the law" when she was riding her bike, heading to the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets. He accused Alcantar of giving conflicting stories, and said he failed to change lanes safely -- as the law requires -- and, based on a witness account -- did not have a turn signal on.

Veen said Alcantar saw Le Moullac pedaling eastbound and passed her on Folsom Street, but later lost sight of her -- and without slowing down, turned right across the bike lane, southbound onto Sixth Street.

"She didn't have a chance. It was unavoidable for her but very avoidable for Mr. Alcantar," said Veen.

Rather than dial 911, Veen said Alcantar stopped the truck and called his employer after running over Le Moullac while other people came to her side.

In his opening statements, Alcantar's attorney, Brent Anderson, alleged Le Moullac was wearing earbuds and was distracted. A photo displayed in court showed a piece of Le Moullac's helmet found at the scene tangled in what Alcantar's attorney said were earbuds.

That allegation was disputed by Contreras, the Muni driver, who testified the helmet was "intact" and Le Moullac did not have any buds in her ears.

Anderson claimed the truck slowed to 7 mph before turning onto Sixth Street, and that Alcantar did use his signal. He alleged Le Moullac was riding "two times as fast" and "caught the truck and was passing it on the right while the truck was making a right."

"Those were the choices that she made," Anderson told jurors. "We think it is unfair to blame Mr. Alcantar for this accident."

Anderson said bicyclists have an "obligation" to pass on the left of a right-turning vehicle, which is good safety advice but not actually the law, according to the California Vehicle Code.

That same passing advice was told to bike advocates by an SFPD sergeant who blocked the bike lane at a memorial for Le Moullac. The sergeant, who was later disciplined, had blamed Le Moullac and other cyclists who have been killed for their deaths.

The law says that bicyclists have the right-of-way in a bike lane, and right-turning drivers are supposed to safely merge into the bike lane where the solid line becomes dashed, and yield to bicyclists.

Le Moullac's family filled one side of the small courtroom. Her mother and father wept at times. Veen described their daughter "as the glue that held the family together." Alcantar, dressed in a black suit, sat on the opposite side.

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The trial in San Francisco Superior Court is expected to last a few weeks.

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