San Jose Mercury News * December 2, 2000

DA tells protesters he'll step up investigation of cyclist's death

By Putsata Reang
Mercury News

As more than 200 impassioned bicyclists rallied at San Francisco's Hall of Justice on
Friday, District Attorney Terence Hallinan promised to step up the investigation into the
death of a cyclist hit by a truck driver.

The incident also prompted the mayor's office on Friday to announce it would look for ways to improve road safety for bicyclists.

Hallinan met Friday with several bike activists who urged him to formally charge the driver, who they contend deliberately ran into 30-year-old Chris Robertson on Nov. 17. Reuben Espinoza, 42, of San Francisco, was arrested and booked that night on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter but was released the next day on $15,000 bail.

But Hallinan told the activists he is still waiting for more details in the investigation before making a decision.

Robertson died near China Basin as he rode with about 30 others as part of a tribute to a friend, a bike messenger, who was found killed in his Mission district apartment Nov. 9.

Last week, Hallinan met with police officials to review the case but decided the investigation was incomplete.

Now, the district attorney wants to review the autopsy report, conduct a re-enactment of the incident, and re-interview and hear from other witnesses next week before deciding whether to charge the driver.

Bike activists said at least two people who saw the incident from cars have contacted them and the police.

Activists and friends of Robertson who spoke with Hallinan said the hour-long meeting was productive.

"He assured us that the department was undergoing a thorough investigation,'' said Leah Shahum, program director for the Bicycle Coalition.

Ron Salkin, 34, a friend of Robertson's who witnessed his death, said he can't shake the images of that night.

The bikers were riding en masse on Fourth Street in front of Espinoza when he allegedly threw a wooden block at Robertson, hoping he and other cyclists would move out of his way.

Salkin heard honking coming from the truck, and people yelling and screaming. Then suddenly, nothing.

"Everything around me got quiet,'' Salkin said.

Then he saw his friend lying on the ground.

"From my head to my toe, I shuddered like when you get the chills,'' said Salkin, who has been a bike messenger in the city for 10 years.

"My head was like a camera. I'll never forget what I saw.''

Thomas Miller, 31, a San Francisco messenger for three years and another of Robertson's friends, said he was the first person to approach Espinoza after the incident.

"I asked him, `Why did you throw the block of wood at him?' '' Miller said.

"He said he was in a hurry to get around us.''

Espinoza was trying to drive the 18-wheel rig to Casey's Office Moving and Services Inc., just a few blocks away, Salkin said.

Activists who spoke at the rally say they will continue to pressure the district attorney's office, the San Francisco Police Department and Mayor Willie Brown to make the streets safer for cyclists.

"The biggest problem is that bicyclist injuries and incidents are not treated as seriously as other cases,'' Shahum said.

Shahum said her office regularly receives calls from cyclists who report getting hit but complain that police officers won't file a report.

Police officials say they make reports on any incident involving an injury.

"There is an ongoing feeling that police officers don't care,'' Inspector Sherman Ackerson of the San Francisco Police Department said.

"That's not true.''

Ackerson said his department has been an advocate for more bike lanes and increased safety for cyclists.

The mayor's office also wants to make road safety a priority. It plans to start a driver's awareness program.



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