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Narrow road is a zone of conflict

Frustration boils over after two bicyclists are hurt in 'road rage' in Mandeville Canyon.

July 09, 2008|Martha Groves and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

Bicyclists who crave a steady uphill climb flock to Mandeville Canyon Road and its 5-mile, straight-shot ascent with no traffic lights.

But the route's rising popularity has turned the narrow road into a zone of conflict for Brentwood residents and the hundreds of cyclists who, every weekend, brave its twists, turns and tree-root bumps.

The frustration boiled over on the Fourth of July. In what police describe as a "road-rage incident," two experienced racers on a holiday outing that attracted about 300 cyclists were riding down Mandeville Canyon when a motorist in an Infiniti sedan slammed on his brakes in front of them. Police said the resulting impact propelled one rider through the car's rear window and sent the other to the pavement.

Police arrested the driver, Christopher T. Thompson, 58, on suspicion of felony assault with a deadly weapon -- his automobile. Thompson, who lives on Mandeville Canyon Road and is an owner of a medical documentation company in Woodland Hills, was released on $30,000 bail.

Capt. Bill Eaton of the Los Angeles Police Department said the case could go to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office as early as today.

Peter Swarth, Thompson's attorney, denied that his client had done anything wrong and said the cyclists' account was inaccurate. "This isn't an incident of road rage," Swarth said. "It is a very unfortunate accident. Dr. Thompson hopes for the injured cyclists' recovery."

Cyclist Ron Peterson, 40, whose head crashed through the car window, suffered broken teeth and serious cuts on his face, including one that left his broken nose dangling. The other cyclist, Christian Stoehr, 29, said he suffered a shoulder separation that would require surgery. Photos showing a car's shattered window and what appears to be a blood-covered trunk and a cut-up Peterson on a gurney and in a UCLA Medical Center bed were quickly posted on Internet blogs, prompting outraged e-mails among members of Westside riding clubs.

Peterson and Stoehr said they were starting their descent toward Sunset Boulevard when a fellow cyclist crashed into another rider's bike and was injured. The two remained behind to help. After paramedics arrived and loaded the cyclist into an ambulance, Peterson and Stoehr said they continued to descend, riding side by side at about 30 mph.

Peterson said he pulled in front of Stoehr after a driver behind them honked. The car passed them, missing their handlebars by less than a foot, Peterson said.

The driver "yelled out some profanity and 'Ride single file,' " said Peterson, who works as a cycling coach. Peterson, riding a $5,500 Specialized racing bike, screamed an expletive at the driver. At that point, the driver veered directly in front of the riders and "slammed on his brakes as hard as he could," Peterson said.

Peterson's head slammed through the window. Stoehr, meanwhile, said he tried to steer around the car but clipped it with his bag or a foot. "I ended up being catapulted over my own bike and landed in front of the car," he said.

According to Peterson, the driver emerged from the car and said he was a doctor. But "from that point on, he never offered any help," Peterson said.

Thompson's biography on the website of his company, Touch Medix, says he spent 29 years as an emergency department doctor.

Wendy-Sue Rosen, president of the Upper Mandeville Canyon Assn., described Thompson as "a great guy who has been active in the community." His wife, Lynne, is on the association's board.

"People here are very, very angry at bicyclists and their disregard for the laws of the road," Rosen said, adding that residents had reported being spat upon by cyclists.

Charles Mostov, a lawyer who lives on Mandeville Canyon Road and is an avid cyclist, said the incident had prompted some much-needed conversation.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the area, said he had called for a meeting within the next two weeks of residents, cyclists, traffic engineers and police to discuss the issues and to reinforce the fact that "cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear."

Cyclists urged members of their community not to use the incident as an excuse to act aggressively toward motorists.

"As more people take to the road because of gas prices and the economy," Mostov said, "maybe this is an opportunity for some outreach and for dialogue so that we can get along."

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martha.groves@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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