San Francisco Cyclist to Get Probation, Community Service in Pedestrian Death

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San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced Tuesday a plea deal with Chris Bucchere, the Marin County bicyclist who notoriously ran over and killed 71-year-old Sutchi Hui at Market and Castro streets in March, 2012. Bucchere agreed to a charge of felony vehicular manslaughter, but will avoid jail time with a sentence of three years probation and 1,000 hours of community service. The Chronicle is reporting that Bucchere could potentially have the conviction reduced to a misdemeanor after six months.

The intersection at Castro and Market streets, where bicyclist  Chris Bucchere fatally plowed into 71-year-old Sutchi Huiran.
The intersection at Castro and Market streets, where bicyclist Chris Bucchere fatally plowed into 71-year-old Sutchi Hui. (Photo by Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Gascon said the family of Sutchi Hui was in agreement with the deal. "I think that the family, certainly the son himself, has made it very clear that he did not believe that sending Mr. Bucchere to prison would actually do anything for the community," he said. "He believed that actually what is happening today is the best outcome for the community."

Bucchere originally pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter last June. In March he was ordered to stand trial. According to the Chron, "The felony case had no known precedent -- at least in California."

Bucchere certainly didn't do himself any favors when he posted his account of the crash -- before knowing that Hui had died -- on the Mission Cycling Club of San Francisco's Google group. The post began like this:

"I wrecked on the way home today from the biweekly Headlands Raid today. Short story: I'm fine. The pedestrian I clobbered? Not so much.”

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And then there was this:

"In closing, I want to dedicate this story to my late helmet."

That comment in particular caught Gascon's attention.

"His helmet was more important than a human being," Gascon told Forbes' Kashmir Hill.

In response to Bucchere's post, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition released a statement that said it was "deeply troubled by the just-released online account of the incident." (You can read more from Bucchere's post here; the Bay Guardian published it soon after the accident.)

You may recall that this was one of several bicyclist-pedestrian accidents last year, and that caused a bit of a stir. The death in San Francisco was the second area fatality in a year. As Forbes' Hill wrote:

As in many urban environments, there is strife between the different classes of commuters in this city. Bucchere epitomized for many the reckless biker who takes liberties with the laws of the road — annoying drivers — and does not take seriously the damage that can be done on two wheels to those on two legs — annoying pedestrians, and in this case, mortally injuring one.

KQED's Forum responded to the issue with a show about bicycle safety, which featured this lively online debate about bicycle-pedestrian encounters.

Also coming under criticism at the time was Strava, a social fitness website that Bucchere was using to track his time when he plowed into Hui. The Chronicle's C.W. Nevius took the site to task for encouraging reckless bicycling in this column.

And again from Forbes' Hill: "District Attorney George Gascon told me the Strava data was part of the reason the city had decided to bring such severe charges against Bucchere. 'It implies he was trying to compete with himself.'"

The family of William Flint sued Strava last year after Flint died following a bike bike while trying to win the site's "King of the Mountain" title for a particular route in Berkeley. That suit was later dismissed.

Despite the high-profile nature of this case, Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian advocacy group, told us Tuesday she considers cars to be a far greater pedestrian menace than bikes. She said she was satisfied with the penalty against Bucchere in so far as it might herald more prosecutions against reckless automobile drivers.

"Walk San Francisco thinks it's important that there be a penalty for endangering or killing other people on the streets," Stampe said, "and in that sense the day's action here sets an important precedent for the three people a day who get hit by cars in San Francisco, which is really far more common than this unusual bicyclist case. We hope this will set a precedent for the many people who are killed by drivers on our streets every year."

The Center For Investigative Reporting reported in April that Bay Area drivers who kill pedestrians rarely face serious consqeuences.

Full Bucchere post after the accident:

I wrecked on the way home today from the bi-weekly Headlands Raid today. Short story: I'm fine. The pedestrian I clobbered? Not so much.

Around 8 am I was descending Divisidero Street southbound and about to cross Market Street. The light turned yellow as I was approaching the intersection, but I was already way too committed to stop. The light turned red as I was cruising through the middle of the intersection and then, almost instantly, the southern crosswalk on Market and Castro filled up with people coming from both directions. The intersection very long and the width of Castro Street at that point is very short, so, in a nutshell, blammo...

The quote/unquote 'scene of the crime' was that intersection right by the landmark Castro Theatre – it leads from a really busy MUNI station to that little plaza where The Naked Guy always hangs out. It was commuter hour and it was crowded as all getup. I couldn't see a line through the crowd and I couldn't stop, so I laid it down and just plowed through the crowded crosswalk in the least-populated place I could find.

I don't remember the next five minutes but when I came to, I was in a neck brace being loaded into an ambulance. I remember seeing a RIVER of blood on the asphalt, but it wasn't mine. Apparently I hit a 71-year old male pedestrian and he ended up in the ICU with pretty serious head injuries. I really hope he ends up OK.

They asked me a bunch of stupid easy questions that I couldn't answer, so they kept me for a few hours for observation, gave me a tetanus shot and sent me on my way.

Anyway, other than a stiff neck, a sore jaw/TMJ, a few bruises and some raspberries, I'm totally fine. I got discharged from the hospital during the lunch hour. The guy I hit was not as fortunate. I really hope he makes it.

The cops took my bike. Hopefully they'll give it back.

In closing, I want to dedicate this story to my late helmet. She died in heroic fashion today as my head slammed into the tarmac. Like the Secret Service would do for a president, she took some serious pavement today, cracking through-and-through in five places and getting completely mauled by the ragged asphalt. May she die knowing that because she committed the ultimate sacrifice, her rider can live on and ride on. Can I get an amen?

Amen.

The moral of this little story is: WYFH

 

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