Mercury News * April 27, 2001
Death of another cyclist ignites emotions
By Alexis Chiu
A 24-year-old woman was run over by a garbage truck Friday as she rode her bicycle in downtown San Francisco, hours before the city's bike community staged a City Hall rally to protest the recent reduction in charges against a trucker whose big rig allegedly killed a cyclist.
Michelle Lynn O'Connor of San Francisco was killed just after 9 a.m. near the intersection of Oak and Franklin streets, police said. She suffered massive trauma to the head and torso, and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Witnesses told authorities O'Connor was weaving in and out of slow-moving traffic and
"lane straddling,'' or riding between cars, in the congested streets near the Civic Center. She ran into the back of a stopped pickup truck and fell, landing under the rear wheels of a moving garbage truck, said Inspector Michael Mahoney of the police department's hit-and-run division.
O'Connor's death -- the city's first bicycle fatality of the year -- fell on the day cyclists were to ride en masse through the city during the evening rush hour in a monthly, traffic-stopping ritual known as Critical Mass.
"It is an awful irony that another cyclist was killed this morning,'' Leah Shahum, program director for the San Francisco Bike Coalition, said as she asked the roughly 90 cyclists gathered at the previously planned City Hall rally to bow their heads for a moment of silence.
News of O'Connor's death ignited emotions in the already passionate crowd of cyclists, who said they were asking the city to make streets safer and protesting a judge's decision last week in the case of a cyclist killed by a truck.
Chris Robertson, 30, was allegedly killed in November by an 18-wheeler driven by Reuben Espinoza, 42, who later acknowledged he had played a
"game of chicken'' with Robertson and other cyclists who were riding in a funeral procession for a slain friend.
Almost instantly, the case became a cause célèbre for the bicycle community, who lobbied the district attorney's office to lodge criminal charges against the trucker. Espinoza was charged with felony involuntary manslaughter and assault, but Judge Herbert Donaldson dismissed the manslaughter charge and reduced the remaining assault charges to misdemeanors.
Protesters on Friday held signs that read, "Murder is No Accident.'' Some taped posters to their backs with photographs of Mayor Willie Brown astride a bike, saying
"Would it Only Be A Misdemeanor if This Cyclist Had Been Killed?''
Supervisor Chris Daly told the crowd: "Your rage, your anger, is righteous.''
Mahoney, however, warned against making "blanket statements'' about the city's bicycle fatalities.
"Each accident is unique,'' he said, adding that anyone who suggests the incidents are part of an epidemic is
"being a little bit naive or trying to push an issue.''
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