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DA can’t prove criminal conduct in downtown road altercation that led to driver’s arrest

Posted by on May 29th, 2014 at 12:22 pm

SW Jackson just before Broadway.

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office has decided they won’t move forward with criminal charges against a woman arrested for what was initially thought to be an intentional act of road rage.

Celine Geday was arrested by Portland police officers on April 3rd and charged with Assault in the Second Degree for her role in a collision in southwest Portland. According to the Portland Police Bureau, Geday was driving her car on SW Jackson when she and Brian Groce got into a verbal altercation. Groce claimed she almost cut him off. Then, after he caught up to her and told her about it, he claimed she intentionally rammed him as they both entered SW Broadway. Groce suffered lacerations and minor bruises.

Based on an initial investigation, PPB officers had the probable cause they needed to arrest Geday and make the charges. However, as we reported a few days later, Geday was released shortly thereafter because the DA felt there wasn’t enough conclusive evidence to hold her.

Ms. Geday’s behavior cannot be proven to be reckless. She drove in her designated lane of travel and attempt to remove herself from the earlier angry encounter with Mr. Groce.
— Multnomah County District Attorney

Now the DA has completed their review and investigation of the case and we’ve received a copy of their findings.

In a memo dated May 23rd, Christopher Ramras, Senior Deputy District Attorney, explains why they’ve decided to reject criminal charges against Geday. The memo contains new details about what might have led to the collision and sheds light on often complicated task of determining fault in road rage cases.

According to the DA’s investigation, Geday was leaving a parking space on SW Jackson Street as Groce was riding up from behind and “she may have come close to hitting Mr. Groce.” That alleged near-miss caused Groce to become angry and he yelled at her. She honked back and then pulled out and drove away (eastbound, toward Broadway). When she came to a stop at SW Broadway, Groce, “still angry about the initial confrontation” reads the DA memo, “decided he could catch up with Ms. Geday at the intersection to continue to express his displeasure at her nearly hitting him.”



At this point, the DA says, both parties were “roughly parallel” as they entered SW Broadway; but instead of riding up on the right side, Groce was on the left side of Geday’s car. Here’s the DA’s full account of what happened next (emphases mine):

He rode his bicycle into the intersection of SW Broadway, placing himself on the driver’s side of Ms. Geday’s car, roughly parallel with her as they entered the intersection. Ms. Geday was lawfully within her lane of travel and he deliberately entered the same lane on her left side rather than remain behind her car. His bicycle impacted with the driver side mirror housing, causing Mr. Groce to crash and injure his face on the pavement. Ms. Geday claims that Mr. Groce rode his bicycle into her mirror and Mr. Groce claims that Ms. Geday deliberately hit him with her car.

The legal issue here is whether the state can prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Ms. Geday intentionally or knowingly struck Mr. Groce with her car. (Remember, this threshold for the DA is legally higher than the “probable cause” required by police to make an arrest.)

To determine their decision the DA and detectives met with witnesses and interviewed by Geday and Groce at length. They also analyzed physical damage to the car and the bicycle.

The DA found witness testimony wasn’t as strong as initially thought: two of the three key witnesses didn’t even see the impact. Here’s an excerpt about what witnesses observed:

The one witness who saw the collision indicates that she thinks Ms. Geday swerved to the left, causing the impact. This witness could not describe any real change in the angle of Ms. Geday’s car and states that the car “immediately” straightened out after the impact. This leads one to conclude that if Ms. Geday swerved to the left, it was very minimal in nature. Further, the impact point on the exterior housing of the drive side mirror indicates that there was minimal contact between Ms. Geday’s car and Mr. Groce’s bicycle. The third witness did not see the actual collision and could not state whether Ms. Geday hit Mr. Groce or whether Mr. Groce ran his bicycle into Ms. Geday.

The DA explained that it’s possible Geday could have swerved slightly to the left because “a driver tends to steer towards an object that they are looking at or focused upon, even if they are not aware that they are doing so.” In the DA’s mind, Groce put himself in a dangerous situation by “illegally leaving his proper lane of travel to ride alongside the driver’s side door in order to continue to verbally engage with Ms. Geday after she had already left the scene of their initial encounter.” This would have startled Geday, causing her to involuntarily flinch and/or veer slightly left.

Yet another possibility for the collision, the DA says, is that Groce might have leaned slightly into Geday’s car window in order to verbally engage her.

The prior records of both parties (Groce with a conviction for assault and arrest for disorderly conduct and Geday an arrest for assault) was also mentioned in the DA’s memo as a factor that could negatively impact their credibility during a trial.

In the end, here’s how the DA explains why they are unable to prove any criminal conduct by Geday:

“Ms. Geday’s behavior cannot be proven to be reckless. She drove in her designated lane of travel and attempt to remove herself from the earlier angry encounter with Mr. Groce. If anything, his act of leaving his proper lane of travel to catch up to Ms. Geday and ride alongside her driver’s side was closer to behaving “recklessly” than Ms. Geday’s conduct.

In summary, the State cannot prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Ms. Geday acted “intentionally”, “knowingly” or “recklessly” and thus cannot prove that she committed a crime. This was an angry exchange between two people that initially ended with no injury to either party. Ms. Geday drove away from the initial verbal conflict, thus removing herself from a hostile situation. Mr. Groce chose to prolong the hostile conflict by chasing after Ms. Geday, leaving his proper lane of travel and placing himself in a position of great risk. The resulting collision was extremely unfortunate, but the State cannot prove that it was the result of criminal conduct.”

I think this story is valuable not only in understanding the legal issues around road altercations, but also because it reminds us that these type of stories are often much more complicated than we think. Keep this in mind next time everyone gets worked up at the next “Road rage!” headline.


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  • spare_wheel May 29, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    “…but instead of riding up on the right side”

    “…illegally leaving his proper lane of travel to ride alongside the driver’s side door ”

    ORS 814.430
    (1) A person commits the offense of improper use of lanes by a bicycle if the person is operating a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic using the roadway at that time and place under the existing conditions and the person does not ride as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway

    Since Groce was riding alongside Geday he was clearly riding at the “normal speed of traffic and was under no obligation to “ride up on the right side”.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 29, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      Thanks spare_wheel, I didn’t say he was obligated to ride on the right side. I wrote that to illustrate that riding up on the right is both the legal and more common thing for someone on a bike to do in that situation.

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    • Spiffy May 29, 2014 at 3:44 pm

      it looks like he violated ORS 811.410 because he interfered with the operation of the overtaken vehicle by being too close to it…

      but that’s only if you believe that a rider can be charged with violations that clearly state “driver” in them… so far I’m not convinced that the term “driver” in the ORS can be applied to cyclists since laws that apply only to cyclists are very specific and never include the term “driver”…

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    • bay area rider May 29, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      The issue might be the issue of lane sharing.As far as I know Calif is the only state where lane sharing is legal. This is the law that allows motorcycles to lane split legally in CA. Having lane sharing legal in CA is what allows cyclists to ride up along side a long line of cars stopped at an intersection so we can get to the head of the line.

      I googled the question of is lane sharing legal in Oregon and found this link to the city of Portland web site which said no lane sharing isn’t legal but of course the link they provide to the part of the vehicle code is broken http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/103494

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      • spare_wheel May 29, 2014 at 4:00 pm

        lane sharing by cyclists is legal in or (e.g. passing vehicles on the right in lane or riding two abreast). it’s unclear whether lane splitting by cyclists is illegal in OR. (the statute which bans lane splitting in OR refers specifically to motorcycles and mopeds.) my interpretation of the law in OR is that lane splitting by bicycles is not proscribed by law. this is also the situation in CA.

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        • Pete May 29, 2014 at 7:14 pm

          I’m with you on that. Having moved from Oregon to the bay area and researching these differences and rules, I’ve found nothing in either state that says that lane splitting is either permitted or forbidden. Frankly, I don’t think the legislatures, DMVs, or LEOs in either state know.

          This is yet another reason why I believe we should move to nationwide road rules and administrations, and bring mode-specific discrepancies under scrutiny in the process. Ah, Utopia… :-)

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  • Carl Alviani May 29, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    This is a thorough and sensitive handling of a complicated issue, and it’s heartening to see this kind of reporting, despite the emotional response I suspect a lot of us feel to the incident. So thanks for that, Jonathan.

    One concern really sticks out for me about the DA’s response, though. It’s this quote:

    “If anything, his act of leaving his proper lane of travel to catch up to Ms. Geday and ride alongside her driver’s side was closer to behaving “recklessly” than Ms. Geday’s conduct.”

    What the DA’s essentially saying here is that leaving your lane to ride alongside another vehicle is *more reckless* than intentionally driving into them with a vehicle, which is what happened, according to the only witness who actually saw the collision. Even if the swerve was slight, we’re still talking about “nudging” someone with a weapon that kills 36K+ Americans per year. This is akin to saying an assailant wasn’t really dangerous because their attempt to stab a victim was “very minimal in nature.”

    I understand that the “reasonable doubt” requirement is high, and I don’t dispute the DA’s final ruling, but the language that’s used here suggests we’ve got a long way to go before law enforcement and the justice system take car violence seriously.

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    • wsbob May 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      “…What the DA’s essentially saying here is that leaving your lane to ride alongside another vehicle is *more reckless* than intentionally driving into them with a vehicle, …” Carl Alviani

      Read it again, because your interpretation is not what the DA is saying.

      What Groce apparently did, was not just ride alongside the left side of Geday’s car, but pursue her and ride up close to the right side of her car so he could continue an angry exchange with her as both bike and car were in motion. After the initial encounter, she proceeded to leave it behind while he proceeded to escalate it.

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      • Carl Alviani May 29, 2014 at 1:13 pm

        From the DA’s account:

        “He rode his bicycle into the intersection of SW Broadway, placing himself on the driver’s side of Ms. Geday’s car, roughly parallel with her as they entered the intersection. Ms. Geday was lawfully within her lane of travel and he deliberately entered the same lane on her left side rather than remain behind her car.”

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        • wsbob May 29, 2014 at 1:34 pm

          And your point is? Riding to the left side of motor vehicles in traffic, generally isn’t probably a very good idea. Traveling to the right of them allows a better opportunity to get off the road and away from traffic as needed.

          This situation was one in which a guy chose to not just pull up along the left side of a motor vehicle in motion, but pull up apparently quite close to the vehicle, so he could continue a verbal exchange with her that she herself already had to let go. This seems not to have been just ordinary lane splitting with Groce maintaining a reasonably safe traveling distance alongside Geday’s car, but Groce maintaining a too close distance alongside her car that would allow him to angrily say things to her while she was attempting to operate her vehicle.

          Read the DA memo excerpts again. The witness ‘thinks’ she saw Geday’s car swerve, but she isn’t sure:

          “…The one witness who saw the collision indicates that she thinks Ms. Geday swerved to the left, causing the impact. This witness could not describe any real change in the angle of Ms. Geday’s car and states that the car “immediately” straightened out after the impact. …” DA memo

          She indicated she thought the car swerved to he left, but can’t describe any change of angle of the car’s direction of travel that would support her thought that the car swerved towards Groce on his bike. This suggests as do other notes in the memo, that Groce chose to ride so close to the car, that the slightest flinch on the part of the person driving the car, would put Groce in peril.

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          • wsbob May 29, 2014 at 1:36 pm

            Correction: “…that she herself already had let go. …”

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      • spare_wheel May 29, 2014 at 4:13 pm

        it’s amusing that talking to a person driving a car is considered reckless or possibly illegal. it’s almost as if a minority road user is not perceived as having the right to talk back to the motoring majority.

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        • 9watts May 29, 2014 at 4:54 pm

          Right. And this language about Geday leaving and Groce persisting is hardly the whole story. It seems that there’s little uncertainty about who did what in the initial confrontation: Geday pulling into Groce’s lane/cutting him off. Geday’s getting out of there could be interpreted many ways. Hit and run also involves someone behaving in this manner. Groce was peeved because Geday cut him off and didn’t feel like shrugging it off. The DA’s report does not acknowledge any of this.

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          • wsbob May 29, 2014 at 10:58 pm

            I don’t know whether you have something against reading Maus’s story or if there’s some other reason you haven’t realized the answers to questions you pose, are in this story and the DA memo excerpts.

            “…According to the DA’s investigation, Geday was leaving a parking space on SW Jackson Street as Groce was riding up from behind and “she may have come close to hitting Mr. Groce.” That alleged near-miss caused Groce to become angry and he yelled at her. She honked back and then pulled out and drove away (eastbound, toward Broadway). When she came to a stop at SW Broadway, Groce, “still angry about the initial confrontation” reads the DA memo, “decided he could catch up with Ms. Geday at the intersection to continue to express his displeasure at her nearly hitting him.” …” maus/bikeportland with quotes from the DA memo

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  • captainkarma May 29, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    As Humphrey Bogart said in the Maltese Falcon, “You’re gonna take it. And like it.”

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  • John Liu May 29, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Seems pretty clear. DA can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver swerved into the cyclist, or that any such swerve was intentional. The eyewitness’ account was so indistinct, it would get shredded on x-exam. Since the cyclist chased after the driver to pick a fight, a jury probably wouldn’t have much sympathy for him. Nor do I.

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    • Austin May 29, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      Seriously. If you repeatedly chase down someone and scream at them, don’t be surprised if at some point they stop putting up with it. The guy is lucky it wasn’t a dude in a white pickup truck (the mortal enemy of all cyclists).

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      • spare_wheel May 29, 2014 at 4:04 pm

        and her skirt was too short.

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        • Austin May 29, 2014 at 4:53 pm

          Aggressively pursuing someone who is actively trying to escape you and then being surprised when that person responds aggressively? I’m not saying that I think either of these people acted in a responsible or respectful manner, I’m just saying it isn’t a surprise.

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          • 9watts May 29, 2014 at 6:02 pm

            “actively trying to escape you”
            after you cut them off…

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          • spare_wheel May 30, 2014 at 12:12 pm

            why is on earth is attempting to *TALK* to another human being aggression?

            when someone comes close to colliding with another person i think it’s a very good idea to let them know. especially since some motorists are fairly oblivious to near misses.

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        • Mike May 29, 2014 at 8:29 pm

          Nice one. Have you ever been able to see two sides to a story when it involves a car and a bike? It appears not.

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    • Jim May 29, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      Well, hold on just a second here – the incident started when she nearly hit him. He, now with a body full of adrenaline after someone almost killed him, he yells at her, and according to the only eyewitness, she swerves into him, and he gets no sympathy? I call nonsense – once someone almost kills you, you’ve earned sympathy, and if you overreact a bit, esp. without actual violence, he is still way in the right IMHO.

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      • Pete May 29, 2014 at 7:58 pm

        I wish I could agree with you, but in doing so I’d be failing to admit I’ve been wrong. I had an experience not unlike this a few months ago. I took the lane at a red where a lane drops across the intersection, which is technically outside a marked bike lane but in practice protects both me and the flow of right-turning traffic (and is allowed by CVC 21202). Unfortunately I’m sometimes chastised (honking, screaming) by drivers for doing this, and in one case confronted a driver who yelled but soon was waiting to turn left (into his own driveway) a few blocks up. It’s here where I let adrenaline get the best of me and rode up to his driver’s side window. Although I spoke calmly he threw the door open into me, and still being clipped in I dropped to the ground in front of oncoming traffic and bounced off the pavement with some minor ouchies.

        When he got out I thought he might swing so I positioned with the dropped bike between us, then pulled out my cell phone to take pictures and call the police. He panicked and turned nice, picking up my bike and commenting how he was a biker too but always stayed to the right, out of traffic’s way. When he realized I was dialing the police he handed me the bike and jumped in and drove down the road and took a right. He eventually came back to pick up his son at his house while I was still waiting for the police, so I took pictures of him and his license plate. After ~30 minutes I’d gotten cold so went home and later got a call from the cops following up.

        The next day at the police station I ran into a cyclist officer who happened to be my neighbor. Long story short, we came up with the same conclusion, in that my actions were the real cause of the escalation, and adrenaline is no excuse for recklessness, regardless of how legal a right I had to take the lane without being verbally harassed. I was wrong to ride up to the left of him, and if that’s what Brian did (as witnesses state) then I also believe he was more wrong – as much as I can truly empathize with him. The DA and police are constrained by balancing the letter of the law, and riding the double-yellow to cause a driver to better hear you tell them that they’re wrong is neither sensible nor likely to result in a conviction of anyone but you.

        My story has a different ending though! Needless to say I declined to file charges or make a matter of the incident, but shortly after I saw my ‘attacker’ Bill out in front of his house. I rode up cautiously and asked if he recognized me, and needless to say he was defensive. When he said yes I apologized to him and explained that I had only wanted to talk reasonably about why I was positioned where I was. We chatted quite a while and sorted things out, and he showed me his new bike that insurance paid for because he was right-hooked the week after that happened. (Karma, we joked??). A few weeks later he attended a TS101 class I invited him to (and was teaching), and we’ve run into each other (not literally!) quite a few times since then (I ride by his house daily so it’s hard not to).

        Sorry for the unabridged novel, but I’ve kinda wanted an excuse to share that story with BP… :-)

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      • John Liu May 29, 2014 at 9:11 pm

        But the DA has to be able to prove it happened as you say, beyond a reasonable doubt, to bring charges. Here, they can’t. So, no charges.

        I don’t think anyone is saying that it is okay to intentionally run a car into a cyclist, even during an argument, and the DA isn’t saying that either. But what most people commenting here are overlooking is the required “proof” aspect.

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  • Jane May 29, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Attacking someone with a car still isn’t justified. All this tells us is it’s more important than ever to travel with a camera running because if not even the “justice” system is going to look out for us, we’ve got to be vigilant.

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    • Pete May 29, 2014 at 8:43 pm

      If the “attack” actually happened. All we can say for sure is she started off by doing something to cause a ‘near-miss’… which isn’t cool but at least it’s not a hit.

      Yesterday I was (yet again) passed closely on the right by someone driving down the bike lane while I was riding just outside it in one of the absurdly-designed intersections in Sunnyvale (http://windluvr.com/FremontDilemma.jpg). Today I called my friend at GoPro to see if I can score her employee discount…

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  • Chris I May 29, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Seems reasonable. While it may seem logical when you are jacked up on adrenaline, it’s best to just avoid the confrontation. The legal system is rarely on your side in situations like this, because the DA’s know that the jury would identify more with the driver. I used to be more confrontational in the past, but I realized that it just isn’t worth the risk. Assume that every driver is packing heat and won’t hesitate to use it. A car is a deadly weapon.

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    • spare_wheel May 29, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      someone has to tame the bull. (and i think the risks are ridiculously exaggerated.)

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      • Chris I May 29, 2014 at 4:07 pm

        Better you than me, then. I won’t hesitate to act as a witness, though.

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    • gutterbunnybikes May 29, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      “Jacked up on adrenalin?”

      Someone that can’t behave properly because of adrenalin, should not only NOT bike, but ditch the drivers licence as well.

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    • El Biciclero May 30, 2014 at 6:30 pm

      I’d love drivers to assume every cyclist is packing heat and act accordingly.

      I tend toward non-confrontation, but if someone confronts me, I will respond–either with assertive (and legal) road positioning or with words, if needed. Otherwise, it is exactly the same as giving in to a bully, which only further empowers them. History tells us that appeasement is not sound policy.

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  • Aaron May 29, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Seems to be a lot of paranoid interpretations going on here.

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  • Popo May 29, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks Jonathan for this excellent reminder of this lesson!

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  • Buzz May 30, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Is the DA an elected office?

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  • RRRoubaix May 30, 2014 at 11:31 am

    I wonder how often you can “prove” ill intent when motorists ram/bump cyclists?
    Good reason to get a Go Pro, I guess. I’m sad that it’s needed.
    (Although, not to be cynical- but I’d wager that unless you had a clear head shot of the assailant screaming “I’m going to kill you!”, they would STILL get off).

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    • Pete May 31, 2014 at 8:03 pm

      I’m seriously thinking of creating a cycling jersey with a big yellow (70′s) smiley face with clearly legible words “for the CAMERA” below it…

      My friend in Texas said drivers are noticeably more considerate towards him since he started wearing the jersey with crossed pistols on the back that he got for Christmas.

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  • Ralph C May 30, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    All this blaming. Notice both have assault arrests, anger. When I make a mistake or unexpected move in my car and cause a bike rider and I to stop, for example, we both are startled, both smile, both thank each other and move on. Letting anger dictate your actions puts no one in the right.

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  • Mossby Pomegranate May 30, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Sounds like this guy was a road-rager on a bike. Can’t feel to sorry for him crashing.

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  • texter? May 31, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Did the DA or police investigate (phone records) whether the driver was texting as the cyclist alleged? If not, why not?

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