I was a little nervous this morning when I pedaled to the Hall of Justice from the San Jose Caltrain station. The case of the People vs Schiro was finally going to trial nearly three years after a hit-and-run collision left Ashleigh Nelson bleeding and convulsing on the side of the road. I was nervous because I’d never been in a courtroom and didn’t know the protocol–who would have guessed that helmets aren’t allowed? But I was mostly nervous about how I would react to Ashleigh being cross-examined by Schiro’s attorney.
I had heard details of the collision through my network of cyclists and through the local news media, including how her boyfriend Dave and the cycling community rallied to find Schiro’s car, how a woman who worked for Schiro was appalled by his behavior and helped with a sting operation, and how Schiro and his attorney had tried various creative strategies to keep the convicted drunk driver out of jail.
Still, I felt like I had walked into a suspense movie an hour late. Why was Schiro’s attorney asking Ashleigh what position she usually keeps her hands on the handlebars? Why was he pressing her to calculate the exact date a photo was taken? Ashleigh got emotional on the stand: “I can’t answer these questions. My brain doesn’t work the way it used to.” She teared up and the judge called a recess.
I needed the recess too. It was painful for me and I wasn’t on the stand. The sad fact of being the victim of a traumatic head injury is that you probably won’t remember much. That makes it really hard to defend yourself, much less help in the conviction of your assailant. And as a cyclist, I couldn’t help but put myself in her position. It could have happened to me. I’ve ridden that road many times before and I ride similar ones every week.
I would say it could have happened to my husband, except that it actually did. In 1972 my husband was riding with his girlfriend on Uvas Road, headed home to Gilroy from a camping trip. He remembers hearing the car’s screeching tires long before it careened past them. Further down the road, they saw the car was pulled over on the shoulder. As they passed, the middle-aged driver scolded Dick, “You were in the middle of the road. You scared my wife.” Dick responded with a flat “I was on the shoulder.” As he rode away, the man yelled, “You do that again and I’ll run you off the road!”
It was no idle threat. Minutes later, the man drove past Dick’s girlfriend and swerved onto the shoulder and hit Dick, breaking both bones in his lower left leg and sending him flying. Dick landed on his head and spent a month in the hospital for the massive head injury. He came close to losing his leg and losing his life.
His girlfriend gave a description of the car and the driver to the police. But without a license plate number, they had no interest in investigating. No case was opened, no one was interviewed, no one was detained, no one was tried, and no one was convicted. It probably didn’t help that Dick had long hair and muttonchop sideburns.
So it’s no surprise that I take road violence seriously, as do most cyclists. Schiro’s attorney accused the cycling community of being a “lynch mob”, but a lynch mob wouldn’t have waited three years for justice. We are tired of cyclists being run down and left to die on the side of the road with little success in getting killers convicted. Until the legal system can protect us without our help, we will stand up for our rights and will work to help victims get justice. We are not roadkill. We are people.
Have you been subjected to road violence on your bike? Have you been verbally threatened, had something thrown at you, or worse? How did you react?
One more thing: Do you find today’s Pearls Before Swine as inappropriate as I do?