San Francisco Bike Coalition enraged over cyclist's death

San Francisco Bike Coalition enraged over cyclist's death
DA is pressured to file murder charges against driver
	By Alexis Chiu, Mercury News
The Mercury News | Front Page | Tuesday, 28-Nov-2000 10:45 p.m. PST

After a truck ran over and killed a bicyclist in front of dozens
of fellow riders, members of San Francisco's bicycle community
have been turning up the pressure on authorities to charge the
driver with murder.

Chris Robertson, 30, was hit near China Basin the night of
Nov. 17 as he rode with 20 to 40 other cyclists.  The group was
leaving the wake of a bike messenger who was slain in his
Mission District apartment, police said.

No charges have been filed against the driver.  The district
attorney's office said 42-year-old Reuben Espinoza of San
Francisco was arrested and booked on suspicion of vehicular
manslaughter the night Robertson was killed.  He is free on
$15,000 bail.  Under the law, vehicular manslaughter is an
involuntary act.

The district attorney's office plans to review the case Friday
to determine whether Espinoza will face charges, said district
attorney spokesman Fred Gardner.

The city's bicycle community plans a noon rally at the Hall of
Justice the same day to urge prosecutors to treat Robertson's
death as an intentional act.  Organizers include the 300-member
San Francisco Bicycle Messenger Association and the San
Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Police said the drama unfolded about 10:30 p.m. when Espinoza,
behind the wheel of a big rig, encountered the bicyclists at
Fourth and Channel streets.  Apparently annoyed at the slow
speed of the procession, the truck driver exchanged angry words
with a group of cyclists that included Robertson, police said.

An argument ensued, and the driver tossed a wooden wheel block
at Robertson, police said.  That's when Robertson allegedly
pulled in front of the vehicle to block its path and was struck
and killed.

``What happened that night was an act of road rage and murder,''
said Damon Votour, 31, president of the messenger association,
who said he talked to people who saw the truck hit Robertson.
``It's like loading a gun, pointing it at somebody and pulling
the trigger.''

Espinoza could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The decision on whether to charge him will be made ``on the
basis of the evidence'' and not because of pressure from
bicyclists, said Gardner.

Police say getting the evidence hasn't been easy.

``We need to talk to more people. Lots of bicyclists were far
ahead of this guy, and lots left when officers arrived,'' said
Inspector Sherman Ackerson, a police spokesman.  ``We're simply
asking for additional witnesses to come forward so the DA can
make a proper decision.''

Votour, however, contends that some who witnessed Robertson's
death wanted to give statements -- and were turned away by
police officers.  He and others in the bike community claim that
San Francisco authorities are notoriously lax on crimes against

Authorities deny that charge.  District Attorney Terence
Hallinan is considering the creation of a bicycle safety task
force, his spokesman said.

According to literature distributed by rally organizers,
Robertson was an ``avid bicyclist, social activist, vegetarian,
and a warm and loving man.''

Acquaintances said he was a former employee of the same San
Francisco bike messenger service where Joseph Woods once worked.
Woods, 31, was fatally shot Nov. 9 by intruders in his apartment
on Mission Street.

It was Woods' wake that Robertson attended just before he died.

Contact Alexis Chiu at or 415/477-3795.

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