Cyclist Ron Peterson breathed a sigh of relief this week after a driver who deliberately slammed on his car’s brakes in front of him, leaving him with horrific injuries, was jailed.
Los Angeles doctor Christopher Thompson was convicted of mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon (his car), battery with serious injury and reckless driving causing injury, and sentenced to five years in prison.
“I’m satisfied and my first reaction was relief,” Peterson told BikeRadar. “There are so many variables and it was a jury trial so you don’t know what’s going to happen. You could have some juror who, unbeknown to you, hates cyclists.
“You try to tell the truth and get them to understand, but you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s just a relief. What came back was a decent five-year sentence and that was a relief. I was worried about that.
“But, the whole general experience is that it’s just sad. None of this had to happen and no-one won anything. A doctor got sent to prison for five years. No-one benefits from that. It’s a lose-lose [situation] across the board.”
Peterson and fellow cyclist Christian Stoehr sustained major injuries in the incident in Mandeville Canyon Road, California on 4 July 2008. Peterson hit the rear of the car and suffered a partially severed nose, broken teeth and lacerations to his face. Stoehr hit the car and crashed into the side of the road in the oncoming traffic lane and suffered a separated shoulder.
“When I was in the emergency room the plastic surgeon pulled my nose away from my face and picked out glass with his fingers,” said Peterson, whose injuries took more than three months to recover from.
“My teeth were done 10 days after the accident, they were capped. I had one major plastic surgery procedure done a month later because of all the internal damage in my nose. I had a deviated septum, all cartilage destroyed. They had to break and reset my nose. The nurse said it was a mess.”
According to Peterson, the court proceedings should have ended months earlier but Thompson’s defense attorney postponed the trial date on up to five separate occasions and for up to four months each time.
“Since the beginning, within days, I was talking to detectives because they were gathering all the information,” he said. “I would meet the district attorney at the scene and walk the detective through what happened. I’ve been up to the canyon several times. It wasn’t every day but an ongoing thing. I went up onto the witness stand and gave my story to the judge and that was a year ago.”
Thompson was found guilty during a five-day trial in November. Following sentencing last week, the former emergency room physician told his victims: “I would like to apologise deeply, profoundly from the bottom of my heart.”
Peterson said: “It seemed heartfelt but, it was surreal in that he had multiple chances to apologise over the past 18 months. While he was apologising, I kept thinking that he could have done that a long time ago. He never apologised before.”
“I kept going over what had happened in court,” he added. “He and his lawyer called us liars, they would laugh at us in the court. I thought, ‘now all of a sudden he is remorseful and hopes everyone follows the word of the bible and gets along?’ It felt disingenuous.”
The incident still isn’t completely over. “The criminal side is all done and the civil side is finished but there’s still the restitution,” said Peterson. “If you’re convicted of a crime the perpetrator has to pay for the medical expenses of the victim. Mine are between $15,000 and $20,000.”
Peterson is eager to put this incident behind him and get back to a normal life. He is a full-time cycling coach and owns his own firm, Peterson Training Solutions. He is also a Category 1 racer for Team Synergy Racing and a multiple-time California state champion.
“Now, I want to have a life that’s a little less interesting,” he said. “I want to focus on work, living life and getting back into Master’s racing. I want to really enjoy myself on the bike again.”