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Driver investigated in earlier bike incident

July 12, 2008|Richard Winton and Joanna Lin | Times Staff Writers

A Brentwood physician charged Friday with stopping his car suddenly in front of two cyclists was investigated earlier this year in another case of road rage against bicycles, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

Christopher Thomas Thompson, 59, was charged with two felony counts each of reckless driving causing injury and battery with serious bodily injury in connection with a July 4 crash.

The LAPD said that Thompson was involved in a similar crash March 11.

Prosecutors allege that on July 4, Thompson slammed on the brakes of his red Infiniti sedan in front of two cyclists riding downhill on Mandeville Canyon Road. Authorities said the impact flung one cyclist through the car's rear window and the other to the pavement.

The July 4 crash has generated much debate in Los Angeles biking circles.

LAPD Capt. William Eaton described the March collision as a "road rage incident with two cyclists" that had "strong similarities" to the July crash.

In March, two cyclists riding on Mandeville Canyon Road accused Thompson of running them off the road and then shouting at them. Detectives presented the case to the Los Angeles city attorney's office, which declined to file charges against Thompson.

Thompson, through his attorney, has denied wrongdoing.

Peter Swarth, Thompson's attorney, said in a statement about the July crash today: "We regret that charges were filed today against Dr. Thompson. The incident was an unfortunate accident and was absolutely not a case of 'road rage,' as some have suggested. Dr. Thompson continues to wish for the injured cyclists speedy recovery."

Swarth did not comment on the March incident.

Patrick Watson, one of the cyclists in the March crash, said in an interview that he and another rider had narrowly avoided hitting the rear of Thompson's car after the physician suddenly braked.

Watson sent an e-mail the day after the incident to fellow cyclists describing what he claims happened: He "ran me off the road and as I jumped back onto the pavement he slammed on his brakes right in front of [us]."

Watson said he skidded to the right of the car as the other cyclist skidded to the left, "right into on-coming traffic." The motorist drove right at the other cyclist, who then punched the car, Watson said. "He then drove straight at me."

Mandeville Canyon Road is a popular weekend route for cyclists.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the area, has called a meeting for residents, cyclists, traffic engineers and police to discuss the issues and to reinforce the idea that "cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear." The meeting is scheduled for Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Felicia Mahood Senior Citizen Center.

Thompson lives on Mandeville Canyon Road and is an owner of a medical documentation company in Woodland Hills.

Cyclist Ron Peterson, 40, whose head crashed through the car window July 4, had broken teeth, a broken nose and serious cuts on his face. The other cyclist, Christian Stoehr, 29, had a shoulder separation he said would require surgery.

Photos showing a car's shattered window and what appears to be blood-covered trunk and others showing an injured 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 that they were starting their descent toward Sunset Boulevard when a fellow cyclist crashed into another rider's bike and was injured. The two stayed to help. After paramedics arrived and loaded the injured 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.

Peterson said that Thompson "yelled out some profanity and, 'Ride single-file!' " Peterson said he then screamed an expletive at Thompson, who he said veered in front of the riders and "slammed on his brakes as hard as he could."

Thompson is free on $30,000 bail. He is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 1 at the airport branch of Los Angeles County Superior Court. If convicted on all counts, he will face up to seven years and eight months in state prison.

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richard.winton@latimes.com joanna.lin@latimes.com

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