A driver who hit a bicyclist in downtown Los Angeles and then fled the scene was sentenced to 90 days in jail Wednesday, a verdict celebrated by cycling activists who hope it will set a new precedent for the way such cases are prosecuted.
"This is huge," said Ross Hirsch, an attorney for Ed Magos, 32, who was injured in the Jan. 6 crash. "You don't often see jail time for hit-and-runs. This could change that."
The case has been closely watched by many in the city's cycling community.
The Los Angeles County district attorney's office and the city attorney at first declined to press charges against Angelina Everett, the 37-year-old fashion designer who, witnesses said, struck Magos with her white Porsche SUV while making a left turn onto 2nd Street, just west of Figueroa.
Activists said the incident — and the city's response — proved that officials didn't take bicycle safety seriously. On Feb. 24, they organized a protest ride that traced the route Magos took each morning on his commute from East Hollywood to City Hall, where he works as a computer programmer.
The next day, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck responded to their charges in a news conference in which he announced new department-wide training on cyclists' rights and promised a new investigation into the crash. The city attorney's office later decided to take up the case.
Everett, who turned herself in about an hour and a half after the incident, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges of leaving the scene of a collision resulting in injuries and property damage.
In court Wednesday, prosecutor Michael Schwartz played 911 tapes from the incident.
In one, Everett called in to report that she had "collided" with a bicycle, and told the 911 operator that she kept driving after the accident because of heavy traffic. When she returned to the site of the crash, she went on, Magos was gone. She asked the 911 operator, "Am I going to jail?"
"No, ma'am," responded the operator, who went on to tell Everett that people didn't go to jail for hit-and-runs involving cyclists.
Bicycle activists have long called for harsher punishments for motorists who hit cyclists.
"Cyclists need to be considered viable users of the road, and drivers need to ensure the safety of everyone on the road," said Aurisha Smolarski of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.
Earlier this year, the LAPD convened a bicycle task force, which now meets every month. The new LAPD training acquaints officers with laws that protect cyclists, including traffic codes that relate to bicycle lanes and rights of way, according to Cmdr. Jorge Villegas, the LAPD's liaison with the cycling community.
"We're teaching them that these are enforceable violations," Villegas said.
At the hearing Wednesday, both Magos and Everett shook with tears.
Superior Court Judge Elaine Mandel sentenced Everett to 90 days in jail, which — in part because she has a young daughter — she will be allowed to serve on weekends at Glendale City Jail. She also will have to pay restitution of nearly $20,000 to cover Magos' medical expenses and lost wages. For three weeks after the accident, he was out of work with back injuries.
After the hearing, Everett refused to comment on the case. Her attorney, Robert Helfend, said, "It's a very sad situation for everyone."
As for Magos, he said the trial had helped him heal: "I just feel grateful that the justice process actually proceeded."
He said he's only been on a bike once since the accident. That was during last month's CicLAvia event, when the city turned several miles of streets into big bicycle lanes — no cars allowed.