Bicycle death-case charges reduced

Bicycle death-case charges reduced
	By Dan Evans
	Of The Examiner Staff
San Francisco Examiner | Friday, 20-Apr-2001

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 -- to misdemeanors.

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 can do.

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 $1.5 million.

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 not manslaughter.

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

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 they'll lose."

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 set.

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.

E-mail Dan Evans at

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