A San Francisco Superior Court jury has found the driver of a big-rig truck negligent for striking and killing a 24-year-old woman who was bicycling to Caltrain in the city's South of Market.
Amelie Le Moullac's family had sought $20 million from the driver, Gilberto Alcantar, 47, and Milpitas-based Daylight Foods. On Thursday morning, the jury awarded the family $4 million, and also found Daylight Foods legally responsible for the August 2013 crash at Sixth and Folsom streets.
The most important finding, said Le Moullac's family and their attorneys, was that the jury determined the young woman was not at fault, as police initially alleged and defense attorneys had argued in the monthlong trial.
"This was not a mere accident, and I’m relieved to hear from the jury that something wrong was done, and I’m very sorry that the police missed that," said Denis Le Moullac, Amelie's father. "One can only be relieved to hear that our daughter had done nothing wrong. This is not really something that deeply consoles us, but it satisfies us."
Le Moullac said he went to the site of the fatal collision last night, and saw for the first time that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency had reconfigured the bike lane, and painted it green to make it safer.
"I wish that the streets of San Francisco become safer for cyclists, and that this doesn’t happen to other people," said Jessie Jewitt, Le Moullac's mother.
Police initially blamed Le Moullac but later faulted Alcantar after surveillance video was uncovered by a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition staffer. However, prosecutors declined to file charges.
A sloppy investigation, and a police sergeant's victim-blaming tirade at a memorial for Le Moullac, led to an apology from Police Chief Greg Suhr. The department's top brass pledged to reform how police investigate collisions caused by drivers who injure bicyclists and pedestrians.
Attorney William Veen argued that Le Moullac was pedaling eastbound on Folsom Street when Alcantar made an illegal and unsafe maneuver into the bike lane, where he struck and killed her while turning southbound onto Sixth Street.
In closing arguments Friday, Veen described the seconds leading up to the collision, pointing to a large diagram of the intersection.
"By the time she could do anything about this, we were at the point of no return," said Veen. "It was unavoidable, like a piece of artillery shell falling over you."
A blown-up photo of Le Moullac, shown above, was placed before the jury, along with the victim's damaged bike. Veen implored the panel to hold Alcantar and Daylight Foods accountable for Le Moullac's death.
At one point in closing, defense attorney Kevin Taylor argued there was no physical evidence the truck ran over Le Moullac.
"This is a case of two well-intentioned people that accidentally had an accident, and one of them suffered greatly," Taylor said. "We wouldn't wish this on anybody."
Taylor argued that once the bike lane becomes dashed and drivers are allowed to enter it and turn, it becomes a shared lane where "the burden shifts to bicyclists to think, 'What do I have to do to protect myself as I approach the intersection?' " He claimed Le Moullac ran into the truck and was wearing earbuds that prevented her from hearing nearby traffic.
Veen later countered: "She's in her own separate bike lane. She has the right of way and nothing to indicate he's coasting, nothing going on, no sound, nothing, nothing to indicate it to her."
Taylor said the collision had also taken a toll on Alcantar, who "carries a heavy burden." The Le Moullac family's attorneys said Alcantar is no longer driving a truck for Daylight Foods, and is doing other work for the company.
The jury deliberated over four days before reaching a verdict. The trial started Dec. 18.