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Police Reopen Cyclist Crash as Possible Aggravated Assault

NBC Los Angeles: Police Reopen Cyclist Crash as Possible Aggravated Assault

Police officers witnessed a cyclist fall off her bike, contradicting reports of motorist road rage

By Melissa Pamer and Angie Crouch | Thursday, Apr 12, 2012 


Two LAPD officers witnessed a cyclist falling off her bike and severely hurting herself, contradicting her earlier story. NBC4's Angie Crouch reports from downtown Los Angeles.

Police are reopening the investigation into what caused a cyclist to severely injure herself Friday night as a potential aggravated assault case, citing growing community concern and a second interview with the 42-year-old cyclist Susanna Schick.

During two separate interviews with police, Schick claims she yelled at the occupants of a white Lexus that got too close to the Spring Street bike lane she was riding in on Friday night.

"When she confronts the car and they roll up the window, part of her statement was she took her hand and she hit their side-view mirror," Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Paul Vernon said.

Two Los Angeles police officers who witnessed the incident said they tailed the vehicle and it turned right at the next light and never struck Schick.

"And we have police officers that tell us that vehicle never confronted her at all and her own statement said they never said anything, never did anything," Vernon said.

"It's just that after that vehicle turned, at some point she falls down on her bicycle and now she makes the assumption that's she been stuck by the car," he said.

On Tuesday, a police spokeswoman had confirmed the incident was not being investigated as a hit-and-run although Schick's friends and the cycling community were quick to accuse the driver of road rage, saying Schick had been purposefully hit from behind. Schick did not remember the moment of impact.

Some in the cycling community argue that Schick's many broken bones suggest she was indeed struck by a car.

"A lot of folks in the cycling community feel like a balanced investigation wasn't always done, and a lot of times --- even with pedestrian issues, too -- that the victim often ends up being viewed as the perpetrator," said Alexis Lantz of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

Initial reports incorrectly stated that Schick exchanged words with the driver. It turns out, she yelled into the vehicle's passenger-side window, which was then rolled up without a verbal response from those inside, according to Schick, her friends and police.

Schick awoke moments later face-down on the pavement to find paramedics treating her. She had a broken collarbone, six broken ribs and a shattered pelvis and was sent to the intensive care unit at County+USC Medical Center.

Vernon said Wednesday that police did see what happened: Two officers from Newton station – on duty in their patrol car – were passing through the area when they saw Schick fall off her bike. The officers called the fire department to attend to Schick, and they returned her bike to her home, Vernon said.

“They saw her fall … her bike started going wobbly,” Vernon said. “The officers said, for a fact, no car struck her from the point that they were watching.”

The case comes as there is heightened attention to the recently opened Spring Street bike lane, which generated some controversy for its bright green color. Several highly publicized crashes in which cyclists were injured in recent years have also increased tensions between operators of cars and bikes.

In Schick’s case, an initial investigation into a possible hit-and-run – both by the LAPD Central Traffic Division and Central Area detectives – is no longer going on, Vernon said. He called the original hit-and-run supposition "unfounded." The officers from Newton came forward on Monday after media and cyclist attention to the crash, he said.

“They witnessed a woman on a bicycle fall down and injure herself,” Vernon said. “That’s not a crime.”

Vernon said the incident had been distorted by Schick’s friends, who have “caused all this confusion” by expressing their outrage over an alleged case of deliberate cyclist harassment.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition on Tuesday issued a statement in response to Schick's crash. The coalition called for additional resources to be devoted to investigations of collisions involving cyclists and pedestrians.

Schick’s friend Jennifer Beatty, who had spoken to media on the cyclist’s behalf, said she was disappointed that the police had ruled out a hit and run, citing Schick's injuries and a bent rear tire as what she believes is evidence of a collision.

She said late Tuesday on Twitter that Schick was out of the intensive care unit but “still exhausted and spending time” with family.

Some cyclists questioned the police department's handling of the case, and continued to point out in blog posts and on Twitter that Schick’s severe injuries were not consistent with simply falling off her bike.

But Vernon said speed may have been a factor. Police said Schick told them she looked at her spedometer right before the crash and was traveling at 18 mph, Vernon said.

Schick admitted to detectives that she was riding without lights or reflectors, Vernon said.

NBC LA's original article paraphrased Vernon as saying officers had the option of performing a sobriety test at the hospital, but did not. He later clarified that there is no evidence that alcohol played a role in the crash.