“It was great for both of us; he’s not in his steel/glass cocoon, I’m not on my bike… looking at this guy, it was therapeutic. You kind of humanize each other. He’s looking at me as the guy he almost ran over and I’m looking at him as just a normal guy. Not a motorist, not a cyclist.”
— Sgt. Joe Santos, PPB
Two weeks ago we reported on a case of alleged road rage involving a man on a bicycle in Northwest Portland. That man was off-duty police officer Sgt. Joe Santos. He was biking into work when he was nearly run over and then allegedly assaulted by Larry Fornshell. The PPB arrested Fornshell shortly thereafter for hit and run and attempted assault.
It seemed like the classic bike vs. car road rage incident; but this one just happened to involve a Portland Police officer on the bike-side of the equation. For that reason alone, the story spurred considerable discussion in the community (233 comments at last count).
Yesterday, Fornshell’s son-in-law Gordon Neitling left a comment about the incident, saying that the two parties had met and that had both admitted some degree of fault. Neitling also referred to Sgt. Santos’ conduct as being much more aggressive than the PPB let on. Here’s a snip from his comment:
“So now Larry comes to a stop at the intersection, and Sgt. Santos, who is both scared and now angry, catches up with Larry, smack on his car to get his attention, lays his bike down in front of Larry’s car, and aggressively approaches Larry in his car… Larry was caught completely off guard in that moment, and panicked.
Larry did NOT want to be involved in any confrontation, and had no idea what this bicyclist wanted from him. In panic mode, he made a rash decision to get out of there and get away from this cyclist, without first finding out what the deal was. Larry backed up, knowing that the cyclist had laid his bike down in the street in front of his car. He then turned and drove forward, trying to drive around the bike to leave the area, but actually hit the wheel of the Sgt. Santos’ bike as he left the scene. Larry was so scared in that moment, he didn’t even know he had hit the bike.”
This morning I spoke Sgt. Santos on the phone to confirm if he’d actually met with Fornshell and if so, what happened at that meeting.
Sgt. Santos confirmed that he and Fornshell sat down for coffee last week (it was arranged by Fornshell’s attorney). They talked for an hour about what had transpired. “He gave me a sincere and heartfelt apology,” Santos told me today, “and I accepted and agreed to drop the charges. He agreed to pay for the bike he crunched and we called it good.”
Sgt. Santos said he and Fornshell had similar accounts, but different perspectives about what happened.
“It meant a lot to me to sit across table form the guy and have him say I’m sorry. That was enough for me to have compassion for the guy and not drag him through ringer of the criminal and civil justice system… He’s not a bad guy… He’s a nice guy who made a mistake.”
Sgt. Santos said meeting Fornshell face-to-face was the key:
“… It was great for both of us; he’s not in his steel/glass cocoon, I’m not on my bike… looking at this guy, it was therapeutic. You kind of humanize each other. He’s looking at me as the guy he almost ran over and I’m looking at him as just a normal guy. Not a motorist, not a cyclist, just looking at each other as two people coming to a resolution that doesn’t involve the legal system.”
Friends of Sgt. Santos’ urged him to sue Fornshell, but Santos says he had no interest in that approach.
“As a cop, and especially as a cyclist, you’re just looking for people to comply with the law; and I’m certain he’ll never make that mistake again and he’ll think twice about it in the future.”
I asked Sgt. Santos whether he felt the community was right to complain about the relatively swift justice the PPB brought to this case, compared to similar situations when the person on the bike isn’t a police officer.
“Each case has to be taken on its merits,” Sgt. Santos said, after reading some of the BikePortland comments, “In my case, I had my bike run over and I had two witnesses.” Sgt. Santos also acknowledged that being a police officer definitely sped up the process.
“With a normal cyclist [not a cop], a report is taken, the officer writes the report, then it goes to the assault team, it can take two days to a week for the report to go through the system… My case spread quicker. I don’t think it was by any design, it was by nature of the fact that I’m a police officer. It [the report] got to the assault sargeant quickly… Being a cop has very few advantages, I would certainly hope that if I fall victim to a crime that I could have my case investigated as thoroughly as anybody.”
I’m not that interested in figuring out exactly what happened in this incident (I still find it fascinating, however, how much different this case was framed in the local media than others involving non-cop bike riders). What’s more important is that judging from both Sgt. Santos’ and Neitling’s accounts, it seems everything has been resolved. This proves once again that — while far from fool-proof — it’s amazing what a bit of face-to-face dialogue can do.
The attorney for Larry Fornshell, James J. McIntyre, just issued this statement to the media (note the reference to BikePortland.org in the last paragraph):
On March 22, 2011, Larry Fornshell and Joseph Santos, an off duty Portland Police employee were involved in a traffic incident that resulted in damage to Joe Santos’ personal bicycle.
Larry Fornshell and Joe Santos have agreed that this matter was an accident that resulted in damage to Joe Santos’ personal bicycle. Larry Fornshell has agreed to reimburse Joe Santos for the cost of his bicycle as he acknowledges that he damaged the bicycle.
Both Larry Fornshell and Joe Santos agree that they honestly reported these events as they both perceived them at the time of the incident.
However, after a closer evaluation of the events and a lengthy discussion between Larry Fornshell and Joe Santos it is apparent to Joe Santos that, although it may have been a dangerous situation as it developed, there was no intent on Larry Fornshell’s part to harm him.
Many other individuals who were not present and are not associated with the case or the investigation have expressed their opinions of what occurred. Neither Larry Fornshell nor Joe Santos agree or adopt their opinions.
Specifically, many of the opinions and summaries of what may have occurred as stated on bikeportland.org are not accurate and not supported by either of the gentlemen who were directly involved in the incident.