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Judge Rules Dog May Ride on Motorcycle

Court: Jeremiah Gerbracht fought a ticket citing him for carrying his Siberian husky Harley on his bike. He won.

February 22, 1996|TIM MAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VAN NUYS — Jeremiah Gerbracht and his husky fought the law--and the "paws" won.

After a seven-hour ordeal Wednesday at Van Nuys Municipal Court, Gerbracht, of Woodland Hills, and his Siberian husky Harley were declared not guilty of violating Section 21712-A of the California Vehicle Code, the section titled "Unlawful Riding."

The ruling, made by Municipal Judge Michelle R. Rosenblatt, means man and man's best friend may ride together on motorcycles without fear of being ticketed by the police.

The tale started tongues wagging almost four months ago, when Gerbracht, a retired dog trainer, was driving his motorcycle down a street in Canoga Park with Harley seated in front of him, as they usually ride. As Gerbracht prepared to make a turn, Los Angeles Police Department Officer Terry L. Webb, cruising in his patrol car, spotted them.

"It appeared to me to be an unsafe riding situation," said Webb, who ticketed Gerbracht under a section of the vehicle code, which, in his police manual, states that no passenger or "load" can be carried on a part of a motor vehicle not intended for use of a passenger.

Gerbracht, an experienced motorcyclist who said he taught Harley specifically how to ride with him, contacted noted motorcyclists' rights attorney J. Russell Brown Jr.

"Look," Brown said before Gerbracht arrived at court on Wednesday, pointing to a copy of the vehicle code. "Nowhere does this say anything about dogs, or about 'loads.' It says: 'No person . . . shall knowingly permit any person to ride" on part of a vehicle not intended for the use of passengers.

Gerbracht arrived at court about 8:45 a.m. clad in a black leather three-piece suit, top hat and tie. Harley, of course, was in tow.

Gerbracht had to wait five hours before a courtroom became available.

At 1:45 p.m., Gerbracht was summoned to a courtroom on the seventh floor. Attorney Bob J. Epstein, an associate of Russell's legal practice, agreed to wait outside the courtroom with Harley. "I'm part of the doggy 'dream team,' " Epstein joked.

Inside, Deputy City Atty. Deborah Weinrauch called on Webb.

"Would such a large dog create an imbalance on the front end of the motorcycle?" she asked.

Webb said that it would, adding later that he was concerned that if the dog sat or stood up suddenly while riding in front of Gerbracht, it could obscure Gerbracht's vision.

Soon, it was Brown's turn to question Webb. "Would you admit that a dog is not a person?" Brown asked.

"Certainly," the officer said.

Brown also asked Webb if he knew about a series of modifications Gerbracht had made to the motorcycle to make it safer for the dog, including raising the handlebars, tucking away wires and installing double-thick heat shields to protect the animal's paws and tail from getting singed.

Webb said he couldn't recall whether they had discussed those things.

After about two hours of testimony, the suspense ended.

"Section 21712-A of the vehicle code applies to persons," Judge Rosenblatt said. "There is nothing that suggests it applies to animals or any other thing . . . The code has to be clear," she continued. "The mere fact of a dog on a motorcycle does not appear to be covered. The case is dismissed."

Officer Webb left the courtroom quickly. "The bottom line is, it was still unsafe," he said. He shook Gerbracht's hand. "See you next time."

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