Mercury News * December 2, 2000
DA tells protesters he'll step
up investigation of cyclist's death
By Putsata Reang
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
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
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
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
Salkin heard honking coming from
the truck, and people yelling and screaming. Then suddenly, nothing.
"Everything around me got quiet,''
Then he saw his friend lying on the
"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
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
The mayor's office also wants to
make road safety a priority. It plans to start a driver's awareness
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