SFPD investigation into bicyclist death called into question 

Bicycle advocates are calling into question the thoroughness of the San Francisco Police Department's investigation into bicyclist Charles Vinson's death on March 2 after he was hit and killed by a car. - MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Bicycle advocates are calling into question the thoroughness of the San Francisco Police Department's investigation into bicyclist Charles Vinson's death on March 2 after he was hit and killed by a car.
Old wounds of distrust between bike advocates and local police have reopened following the recent death of a cyclist.

Bicycle advocates are calling into question the thoroughness of the San Francisco Police Department’s investigation into a cyclist’s death on March 2, after he was hit and killed by a car.

The police said publicly that the cyclist ran a red light, leading to his death.

“We have questions about what is currently being reported by the police, and told to the public,” Tyler Frisbee, policy director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition told The San Francisco Examiner. “We want to make sure we get as fair a look at this issue as possible.”

Charles Vinson, 66, was riding his bicycle through the intersection of 14th and Folsom streets when he was hit by an oncoming car, and ultimately died. Two weeks later, an SFPD spokesman told SF Streetsblog that Vinson ran a red light, leading to the collision.

This contradicts what witnesses told The San Francisco Examiner that day.

Oakland resident Noe Orozco told The Examiner he witnessed the vehicle “cruise very fast” through a red light and strike the bicyclist. In response to the conflicting statements, the bike coalition is calling for the police to remember one controversial bike death investigation.

“We appreciate the police for looking into this report,” Frisbee said, but, “there’s certainly a history of reports being filed that don’t take a comprehensive look at the scene. [This has] huge consequences for the victim, the family, and everyone involved.”

She’s referring to the death of Amelie Le Moullac, a 24-year-old woman hit and killed by a big-rig truck in the South of Market area. The SFPD investigation initially found le Moullac to be at fault.

But when the bike coalition conducted its own investigation, it found video from a nearby shop owner’s security camera showing the truck driver was at fault. This new evidence helped Le Moullac’s family win a $4 million suit against the driver in January in Superior Court.

“Our own staff, who were obviously not trained in police enforcement, took 10 minutes walking around and found footage that may be used as evidence down the road,” former bike coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum said before the ruling.

Commander Ann Mannix is newly in charge of the SFPD’s MTA division, and she walked back initial statements that the driver was at fault.

“As far as we can tell based on conflicting witness testimony for sure they determined the bicycle had a red light,” she said, which was based on pedestrian witnesses.

The intersection in question goes from a one way to a two way street, and has three unique sets of traffic lights, she said. “They might’ve both had a red light, or maybe the guy in the car may have just gotten a green.”

Mannix also said investigators found the intersection’s unique light scheme may encourage cyclists to run the red light. She then inquired with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency if it was possible to re-engineer the intersection to make it safer.

Despite these efforts, the police’s incomplete investigation of Le Moullac’s case haunts claims by the SFPD.

The Examiner asked Mannix if she was iron clad in her certainty that SFPD were thorough in Vinson’s investigation.

“I stand by what my investigators have determined,” she said, but, “we can’t definitively determine fault.”

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Bio:
Born and raised in San Francisco, Fitzgerald Rodriguez was a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and now writes the S.F. Examiner's political column On Guard. He is also a transportation beat reporter covering pedestrians, Muni, BART, bikes, and anything with wheels.
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