|San Francisco Examiner * April
Bicycle death-case charges reduced
By Dan Evans
of the Examiner Staff
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Herbert Donaldson dismissed a
charge of vehicular manslaughter against Rueben Espinoza on Tuesday,
saying there is not enough evidence to prove the trucker was grossly
negligent when he ran down cyclist Chris Robertson, 30, in November.
Donaldson also reduced two other felony charges -- assault with a
deadly weapon and assault with intent to cause great bodily injury --
Friends of Robertson said they are enraged by the dismissal of felony
charges against the trucker who ran him down. However, they
acknowledged that short of mounting a protest, there is little they
Espinoza's bail was reduced to $10,000 following the hearing, which he
posted. He has been in custody -- evidenced by his attire throughout
the hearing in jail-issue, day-glo orange sweatshirt and pants --
since his arrest Feb. 5. He was unable to meet the previous bail of
Prosecutors began calling witnesses Thursday to convince Donaldson
that Espinoza -- angered by a traffic jam on Fourth Street caused by a
group of bicyclists -- intentionally swerved into Robertson's path
Nov. 17, running him down. The judge's decision, issued just before
noon Tuesday, effectively invalidates that legal theory.
The remaining charges against Espinoza, 43, carry a maximum sentence
of a year in jail. That's a far cry from the 25-years-to-life the
trucker, who has two prior felony convictions, could have faced due to
California's three strikes law. He was convicted in 1979 of voluntary
manslaughter and in 1993 of assault with a deadly weapon.
Eric Murphy, describing himself as Robertson's best friend, said it
was incomprehensible that the judge didn't feel there was enough
evidence to try Espinoza. He said that many of Robertson's friends
felt there was enough evidence to convict the trucker of murder, if
Another of Robertson's friends, Greg Strom, said the judge's ruling
opens the door for more violence against bikers. "If people are
going to be allowed to drive their cars like this, I firmly suggest
that you prepare to be armed, because the justice system is clearly
not able to deal with this," said Strom.
Espinoza's attorney acknowledged that the District Attorney's Office
can still add a charge of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. Chuck
Smith, speaking from his Redwood City office, after being pressed,
also said prosecutors could appeal Donaldson's decision.
"The law is pretty clear on this," Smith said. "They could appeal, but
Fred Gardner, spokesman for the District Attorney's Office, said there
are no plans to appeal the ruling. The judge has spoken, he said, and
the case will be tried as a misdemeanor. A trial date has not yet been
Robertson's death has pitted members of San Francisco's bicycle
messengers against truckers, who they claim routinely endanger them.
The bicyclists also have lashed out against police, with the San
Francisco Bicycle Coalition issuing a report claiming police turn a
blind eye to cyclists' rights. Police officials have categorically
denied those claims.
Bail for Espinoza was originally set at $2 million, but his attorneys
appeared in court Feb. 26 with nearly 40 letters of support for the
trucker, asking that the amount be reduced. A separate judge, Cynthia
Ming Mei-Lee, reduced the bail to $1.5 million, though Espinoza was
still unable to raise the money.
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