March 7 (Bloomberg) -- A San Francisco bicyclist will face a felony charge of vehicular manslaughter for striking and killing a 71-year-old man last year in what prosecutors say is the first case of its kind in California.
Judge Andrew Cheng in San Francisco criminal court ruled today that Christopher Bucchere, a Stanford University-educated technology consultant who once rode for the school’s cycling team, must stand trial in the death of Sutchi Hui, who was killed crossing an intersection last year. Cheng reviewed evidence that Bucchere was going 32 miles an hour and ran three red lights.
It’s the first time a California cyclist has been charged with felony vehicular manslaughter, said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who called Bucchere’s behavior “completely horrible.” Bucchere, 36, was completing a two-hour ride to Marin County with a friend, following a course taken by members of a local cycling club, when he hit Hui on March 29.
“It was really his need for speed,” Gascon told reporters after Cheng’s decision. “He was basically bent on beating his own record, he was bragging about it.”
While Bucchere, a lifelong cyclist who trains others in bike safety, had no prior record of bicycling or car accidents, he was “extremely reckless,” Assistant District Attorney Omid Talai told Cheng today. He said Bucchere wrote a social media post the day of the collision dedicated to his helmet.
“It’s very telling of his character,” Talai said in a hearing.
Bucchere, sitting at the defense table with his two lawyers, wept as Talai spoke about the posting.
In allowing the charge to proceed, Cheng said he “recognized the severity of the crime” as well as the “enormous potential” of Bucchere to do good. Vehicular manslaughter carries a penalty of as long as six years in prison.
“Mr. Bucchere will carry this mistake for the rest of his life and so will the family of Mr. Hui,” Cheng said. He said he hoped the case can be resolved and set a March 21 arraigment.
Ted Cassman, Bucchere’s attorney, and Betty Hui, the victim’s wife, declined to comment after the ruling. Cassman told Cheng during the hearing that his client “is a man of great character, of great substance and great potential.”
“He has ridden over 30,000 miles, has never been in accident, and has never hurt anyone,” Cassman said.
An accident reconstruction expert for prosecutors calculated Bucchere’s speed at 32 miles an hour based on videos of the accident and traffic light data, according to testimony in court yesterday. Bucchere struck Hui at 8:02 a.m. as he began crossing the street with his wife on his way to a medical appointment.
Witnesses and investigators yesterday told Cheng that Bucchere ran two red lights and a stop sign before running the red light at the busy intersection in San Francisco’s Castro District where Hui was crossing.
Cassman said his client didn’t run the light. He said Hui entered the crosswalk before the pedestrian “walk” light went on and other pedestrians who crossed early “severely limited” Bucchere’s ability to avoid the accident, according to a court filing yesterday.
Cassman also challenged the claim that Bucchere was going over the speed limit, saying that data on Strava Inc., a website for cyclists that logs athletes’ data from wireless devices, inaccurately recorded him going 32 miles an hour at the time of the crash.
Cassman asked Cheng to throw out the charge or reduce it to a misdemeanor. Vehicular manslaughter carries a penalty of as long as six years in prison.
The case is California v. Bucchere, 12015554, California Superior Court (San Francisco).
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