No Charges for Driver in Death of Bicyclist Amelie Le Moullac

Amelie Le Moullac was killed while riding her bicycle on Folsom Street. Photo from Voce Communications via Streetsblog SF
Amelie Le Moullac was killed while riding her bicycle on Folsom Street. Photo from Voce Communications via Streetsblog SF

San Francisco prosecutors have declined to file a vehicular manslaughter charge against a big-rig driver who allegedly hit and killed a 24-year-old woman riding her bicycle to work in SoMa last summer — a case that led to an apology and promise of reform from Police Chief Greg Suhr after a sloppy investigation initially blamed the victim.

Amelie Le Moullac was pedaling eastbound on Folsom Street just before Sixth Street on the morning of Aug. 14, 2013 when the right-turning truck driven by Gilberto Alcantar struck her. Police faulted Le Moullac for her death until a San Francisco Bike Coalition staffer discovered surveillance video of the crash at a nearby auto shop.

After watching the video, investigators concluded Alcantar was to blame for making an unsafe turn into the bike lane, killing the young public relations professional. Despite that key piece of evidence, prosecutors ultimately felt it wasn’t enough to convince a jury.

“Unfortunately, with the evidence presented, we are unable to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Alex Bastian, a spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.

Micha Liberty, an attorney for the Le Moullac family, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Alcantar and Milipitas-based distributor Daylight Foods. She said the family was disappointed and heartbroken that charges aren’t being filed, and that Alcantar wasn’t issued a ticket.

“After reviewing the evidence that we have, looking at the video of the incident, it’s really hard for this grieving family to understand how a driver can do what he did without receiving even a slap on the wrist for a minor violation of the vehicle code,” Liberty said.

Brent Anderson, a Denver-based attorney representing Alcantar and Daylight Foods, said he could not comment on the case because of the lawsuit, but “our sincere sympathies go out to Ms. Le Moullac’s family.”

Bike and pedestrian advocates say the missteps in the Le Moullac case are typical of police investigations into collisions involving drivers who kill or injure bicyclists and pedestrians.

That troubling trend, advocates say, was also exposed when SFPD Sgt. Richard Ernst showed up at the crash site during during a memorial and safe streets rally for Le Moullac a week after her death. According to the bike coalition, Ernst blamed Le Moullac for the crash. He parked his unit in the bike lane and said he was there to prove a point — that bicyclists need to go to the left of right-turning vehicles.

At a City Hall hearing early this year, Suhr acknowledged mistakes were made and apologized for Ernst’s remarks.

“Unfortunately, the Le Moullac case is par for the course when it comes to the combined lack of follow-up and serious attention bicycle cases are handled with by the S.F. Police Department and District Attorney’s Office,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition.

“It is serious cause for concern that no charges were filed in any of the four cases of people being hit and killed while biking last year,” Shahum added.

In a recent interview, Gascón would not discuss the Le Moullac case but said decisions about whether to charge in these kinds of fatal collisions are predicated on the investigations. The police department decides whether to present a case to the DA’s office for prosecution based on probable cause.

Last year, a total of 25 pedestrians and bicyclists were hit and killed by drivers, the highest number since 2007. The police department presented nine vehicular manslaughter cases to the DA’s office. Of those, six drivers were charged.

“If the driver was the one at fault and there is a death, then we have a prosecutable case and we look at the evidence and whether we can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” Gascón said.

But it can get complicated, he explained, because there are often many pieces of evidence that are sometimes contradictory. That’s one reason why Gascón wants to create a new vehicular manslaughter unit to take on these types of cases.

“These are incidents that increasingly require very specialized understanding of the law as well as a very specialized understanding of the evidence,” Gascón said. The unit would include a paralegal and investigator who can work with police “to round out the investigation.”

Suhr, meanwhile, said he’s working with his officers to improve evidence-gathering, including video.

“Obviously, video is very important, and there’s a lot of it these days,” Suhr said. “So, we want to make sure we get it.”

Bike and pedestrian advocates say the police department needs to make a cultural shift, and there are some signs that’s happening. Both Suhr and Gascón back Vision Zero, the city’s goal to achieve zero traffic deaths within 10 years.

Suhr has changed the department’s policy of not citing drivers in fatal cases. Now, if the district attorney doesn’t prosecute a case where a driver is found to be at fault, Suhr said his department will go back and issue a ticket.

“We just want to get it right,” Suhr said.

The language that police use is also changing. In the past, police often classified pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities as tragic accidents, which implied they could not have been prevented. Now it’s official SFPD policy to call them collisions.

It’s all a start, according to advocates, that they hope will lead to better investigations and justice for victims like Amelie Le Moullac.

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  • frank

    Why do these stories never mention any responsibility that bicyclist and pedestrians have to obey traffic rules. We see bicycle lanes being created all over the city. Yet the bicyclists do not have to have a license, a registration or insurance. What could possibly go wrong.
    The police need to change not only there approach to fatal accidents but start enforcing basic traffic laws like stopping at stop signs and red lights and not riding on sidewalks.

    • hailfromsf

      Why? Probably because the victim in this story was following said rules. Driver’s licenses, registration and insurance are for motor vehicles because of how dangerous they have proven to be. Cyclists don’t even come close creating the kind of danger for bystanders that a car creates. It’s simple physics: thousands of pounds of metal moving at significantly faster speeds. In fact, we wouldn’t even need traffic lights if it weren’t for the danger caused by motor vehicles.

      Oh, and the SFPD does stop cyclists.

    • dukedave

      I would suggest that it’s because the contentious point is the lack of investigation which took place. We are talking about manslaughter here, yet it appears that little effort was made to establish what the involved parties were doing at the time of the incident.

      This was highlighted with chilling effect recently by the Freakonomics guys, where they discuss conviction rates for this kind of crime: http://freakonomics.com/2014/05/01/the-perfect-crime-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

    • ladyfleur

      If Amelie were driving and another car hit her car and killed her would you expect the news story to talk about how drivers disobey traffic rules? Doubt it. So how does the behavior of other people who happen to also be riding bikes or walking have any bearing on Amelie’s case?

    • LutherZBlissett

      Why do these stories always have one mouthy commenter who feels the need to blame cyclists in general without bothering to learn about the facts of a particular incident?

    • Vernon6

      Let’s license pedestrians. That’ll solve it.

    • Karl Norby

      Drivers need insurance, a license, and so on because cars are incredibly dangerous and it is tremendous responsibility to drive one. Considering San Francisco is one of the few places in the country it is truly possible to live fully without a car, thus making it even more of a choice to do so.
      Yet the average driver in SF is a maniac; as a pedestrian, I’ve had plenty of close calls cross the street at a walk sign, more than anywhere else. This city doesn’t have a bike problem, it has a driver problem.

      • DRang

        Not necessarily the facts here. Several people have been killed by bikers running stop signs (http://abc7news.com/archive/9207580/). Bikers tend to unstop signs, jump curbs, go the wrong way down streets, etc. far more often then cars. Yes cars are larger and can present more imminent danger, but don’t think for a second bicyclists can’t present that same danger. Obviously this trucker didn’t check his mirrors and the police dragged their feet in an investigation resulting in opportunities for the defense (anyone ever heard of OJ Simpson?), but don’t pass the buck onto another community when the greater responsibility is shared equally. You want equality, then be equally responsible.

        I feel for the family on the girl and I think charges should be filed against the driver and company – at a minimum involuntary manslaughter. If it were equipment failure, maybe the driver could skirt a charge. But an improper turn is another story. That’s the person’s fault. I would bet the driver didn’t use the turn signal either. That said, if you are a biker and pull up next to a 10 ton piece of machinery, you may want to be a little extra careful of your surroundings to make sure that if a situation could occur, you have a means of escape. Not saying she didn’t do that, just saying that responsibility is a two way street (no pun intended).

        • http://ellieinouterspace.blogspot.com Elisabeth

          Working link: http://abc7news.com/archive/9207580

          And the bicyclist in this case was convicted of manslaughter, as seems appropriate given the information presented.

          • Karl Norby

            Wow, gee, I guess bikes must be more dangerous than cars for pedestrians then. Get real, the difference in danger is in magnitudes.

  • hk

    This is very sad. I feel for her family and loved ones. I am astounded by Sgt. Richard Ernst’s awful behavior — shows up at the memorial being held at the site of the crash and parks his car in the bike lane to make a point? This is just plain sick behavior.

  • LutherZBlissett

    Unfortunately, having evidence and being able to prosecute a case are different things.

    There’s still a culture of impunity towards killing cyclists with motor vehicles — reflected in the institutional indifference of SFPD and the outrageous behavior of Sgt Ernst. Let’s see if Suhr and Gascón are serious about addressing that.

    • JimmyFoosDad

      “a culture of impunity” … hyperbole much?

    • whomedoyou

      This is a truly an unfortunate case. I was driving on Embarcadero one time and a bicyclist rode past so quickly that I was well and truly astonished as to when he got there. I barely missed him and unsurprisingly got the birdie flashed too.
      There is something to be said about motorcycles (on the freeway) and [fast moving] bicycles in the right most lanes being unsafe to themselves and pedestrians alike.
      Ideally they should have their own lanes in which to ride in, especially as more and more people opting for 2 wheels to get around is going to, unfortunately, increase the frequency of these tragic incidents.

      • Cee Mai Bikes

        I suspect there’s more to your story then that.. such as you were turning and didn’t check behind you perhaps? What you’re describing is the marginalization of non automobile traffic.. that’s not going to happen the right to travel is fundamental, the ability to drive is a privilege. Perhaps we should simply ban cars and trucks.. I guarantee accidents will drop to virtually zero and there will be next to no need for police officers to issue tickets…

        • whomedoyou

          I was on Embarcadero looking for a parking spot just before the Ferry Building. I agree that probably was a
          good learning experience for me as I live in South Bay I’m so was not used to
          having bikers flash by me that fast. But you have to agree too that
          some bikers do ride really fast for a road that has cars, pedestrians
          and of course bikes everywhere.
          Besides he flashed past me in less than a second – might give you an idea of how fast he was riding and how fast I was moving.

          Ban cars and trucks in some areas – they do it in Europe, I’m ok with that.
          But lets not put our head in the sand – fast riding bicyclists have injured and led to deaths too. Being hit at speed can be dangerous to everyone, especially the elderly.

          • ekarider

            “Flashed by me”……… The cyclist was probably doing all of 20 mph….. I get a chuckle at comments about cyclists traveling a high rates of speed, though many are unable to even obtain the posted speed limit on a flat city street.

          • whomedoyou

            Which should tell you I was going slower than 20 mph myself in the middle of a busy street.

          • LutherZBlissett

            I’m sympathetic to this, because perception of bike speed is something that drivers have to learn (or be taught) and can’t be truly learned until it’s encountered on the roads.

            Separating modes properly is ideal, but that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

            There’s another issue here: when cyclists are systematically marginalized, they’re more likely to behave in somewhat more marginal ways. When cycling is integrated into a city’s transportation infrastructure — and respected as part of that infrastructure — then the minority of stupid cyclists stick out a lot more.

          • ShaneHarter

            I know this is a judgmental thing to say but our city would be a lot easier to navigate for everybody if people weren’t afraid to ditch their car and take trans. In your case, you live in the south bay and your destination was the ferry building. IMO the right move there is to drive to, say, Daly City, park in the garage and take the train. It’s probably no slower quite honestly.

            Of course some people have disabilities that would prevent that, and our train system is not that great so sometimes park-and-ride like that just isn’t an option. But I, for one, would love to see a toll to drive into san francisco.

            I know when you live in the suburbs it can be hard to remember that San Francisco is densest 49 square miles in the country outside of Manhattan. A car there is you saying that YOU deserve not the 9 square feet of personal space around you, but, oh, 350+ square feet for your car.

          • whomedoyou

            Not judgmental at all – a little swing at the end but overall fair comment. :-)

  • lilguy

    it is completely unacceptable that it’s a-ok to hit and kill cyclists. no penalties, no tickets, nothing. if this isn’t a deranged situation, i don’t know what is.

    • Scott T.

      Luckily we have the civil court system to remind all companies with truck drivers in SF how much a wrongful death suit can cost. It’s not the right solution but it’s a solution.

  • DS

    This case has been a tragic disaster from the beginning. Now it’s ending the same way, as a complete farce of justice. Discounting the lives of cyclists and pedestrians and highlighting these pathetic aspects of the ridiculous car culture American cities still feebly cling too. This is a huge failure on the part of the City of San Francisco that casts a long shadow of doubt over any goodwill recently extended and promised by government officials.

  • RB

    This makes no sense since they really made a cyclist pay for hitting a pedestrian: http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Bicyclist-sentenced-for-fatal-S-F-crash-4736312.php

    • whomedoyou

      They certainly got it right that time and should use that instance as some sort of precedent for this case.

  • RICHwLIFE

    While I am not sure how prevalent it is, there is this attitude in rank and file of the SFPD that the cyclist is automatically at-fault for any injury accident involving a cyclist. This is based on the stereotype that all cyclists are reckless speed demons–an availability heuristic and confirmation bias caused whenever one witnesses a reckless cyclist disregard a traffic law. While there is cognitive ease in accepting such associative coherence as truth, the truth is much more nuanced. Motorists and pedestrians are not always focused and attentive to their surroundings while in motion and cyclists more often are. Accidents occur when one party is unattentive and the other misjudges the situation.

    SFPD would understand this reality better if Police Chief Greg Suhr pulled more of his beat cops out of their cruisers, off their motorcycles, and onto bicycles so that they can begin to understand how motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians interact in the streets. Frankly it is impossible for them to know this while speeding around from block to block in their cruisers and on their motorcycles. The beauty of riding a bicycle is that you are way more attune with your surroundings than a motor vehicle and cover a lot more ground than on foot. I understand that motorized policing is more responsive to crime in progress; However, bicycle patrols are simply more effective at policing the community.

  • Kurt Texter

    “Ernst blamed Le Moullac for the crash. He parked his unit in the bike lane and said he was there to prove a point.” PLEASE clarify this for myself. To prove his point, the SFPD Sgt. Richard Ernst purposely created a traffic violation, in hopes of forcing bikers into a sketchy traffic situation, simply to prove a point…?

    • Kurt Texter

      Honestly, this is the SFPD violating the law and putting additional lives in danger (on purpose), while taking NO measures to actually have these laws changed. Nothing but a pure abuse of power, he should be cited for obstructing traffic and reckless endangerment of human lives.

    • gregm123456

      Yes.

  • rtuko

    there is a lot of hostility towards cyclists (and from cyclists towards drivers) and I expect this post to explode. But as a driver and non-cyclist (it’s too scary, to be honest) I always keep in mind that in a contest between car vs bike, the car will always, always win. So no matter how idiotic or not the cyclist may be behaving, I give them right of way, because I don’t want to cause someone to be injured or killed.

    • whomedoyou

      But what do you do when they spring out from nowhere – especially those line riding motorcycles on the freeway. The jitter inspiring booming sound or the ‘mere’ flash-by at high speeds on the freeway are enough to leave one wondering ‘wtf’.
      And I’m not even talking about the ones that consider cars driving at 65 mph some sort of a mobile obstacle course.

      • Cee Mai Bikes

        No one springs from nowhere… and if you count cars speeding at ridiculous rates and then wait to get the same number of motorcycles.. you’ll be waiting a long time to fill the motorcycle category. Sounds like you need to watch out on the road more eh?

        • whomedoyou

          On the freeway and motorcycles I can not agree with you. Motorcycles have sprung on me out of nowhere enough times – many times I’ve done a double or triple take to check the lane and suddenly a motorbike flashed by. This doesn’t happen with the big Harley types – clearly they realize they need more space. They respect cars and I think cars do respect their need of space.
          Besides I don’t pretend to defend anybody moving at speed ‘at ridiculous rates’ and least of all cars. The realization should be for all that nothing moving at speed is a toy.
          And BTW if you will keep on insisting – lets just choose to agree to disagree on motorcycles.

          • Cee Mai Bikes

            I see David already answered you, and we do disagree. You believe a falsehood and I believe you’ve been an inattentive driver.. there’s very few clowns out there that blow through heavy traffic at over 100+ weaving.. and that’s about the only way I can see your “scenario” being true.

          • whomedoyou

            Yes we do disagree – and I’ll repeat what I mentioned on an earlier post. Someone riding on the line between 2 cars faster than either of us does not make me inattentive, especially as my focus is on cars and not a vehicle moving between 2 cars that are a few feet apart.

      • David

        The only thing that can “spring from nowhere” on an automobile is a jet. Drivers are responsible for constantly scanning all around the vehicle, including the 3 rear view mirrors. You should always know what’s in front of you, on your left, your right, and behind you. It’s for your safety as much as everyone else. Remember what your Driver’s Ed teacher said, “Always know your outs!”

        • whomedoyou

          I’ll start a little differently and say that it defies logic, to me at least,
          to allow motorcycles to ride the line. I have no other issues with motorcycles on the road.
          I am not denying that as drivers we are responsible for knowing whats around us but when you’re doing a certain speed and somebody comes riding on the line between 2 cars at 10 to 15 miles faster you’re focus is on cars and not a vehicle with 2 wheels especially between your car and another car less than 3-4 feet away.
          If you’re willing to admit that that you’re not surprised by a motorbike in that scenario I will retort that you are a much driver than I am, may I even suggest a bit of the super-human variety.

          • ShaneHarter

            You’re clearly talking motorbike, the other are clearly talking bicycle. Certainly a motorbike riding the line *can* sneak up on you. And yes I find their behavior idiotic.

            But bicyclists? No springing from nowhere there IMO.

    • Kevin

      Well put. “Winning” a show of force in a car over a cyclist isn’t really winning at all.

    • Danny Wade

      “…in a contest between car vs bike, the car will always, always win.”

      Welcome to this years-long discussion. You can tell when someone is new by the way they toss out the same tired, oft-repeated arguments.

      I would counter that statement by pointing out that if there’s a contest, it’s usually because the motorist had a case of craniorectosis.

  • Cindy Jacqueline Hawks

    Officer Ernst’s choice to park in the bike lane is disgusting, distasteful, and unsafe. He should have been ticketed for illegally parking in the bike lane. I ride in SF daily, and the number of drivers that never see cyclists, cut cyclists off, double-park in the bike lane, swerve without signaling to illegally double-park in the bike lane, make illegal u-turns (in particular cab drivers) and drive too closely to cyclists is astounding. At the very least driver Gilberto Alcantar that killed Amelie Le Moullac should be ticketed and tried in court. Let the jury decide whether or not to convict him. Not the police who made assumptions and botched the investigation from the beginning, or the DA. If Mr. Gilberto Alcantar had side-swiped a car and totaled it, he would have been ticketed, charged, and held responsible. Instead, his driving killed a young woman, and he is free of responsibility. My sympathies go out to Amelie Le Moullac, her family, and all those who knew her.

  • betonit

    i used to work in a factory in Chicago. There were signs on all the walls that stated: “Accidents don’t happen. They are caused.”

  • Annie Modesitt

    This blog post by the San Francisco Bike Coalition is required watching for anyone interested in this (and angry at the actions of Officer Ernst)

    http://www.sfbike.org/news/concerns-raised-about-police-conduct-in-bicyclist-fatality/

    • sfparkripoff

      “It is serious cause for concern that no charges were filed in any of
      the four cases of people being hit and killed while biking last year,”
      Shahum added.

      The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has collected millions of dollars in public funds for “promoting the bicycle for everyday transportation” and now they are using their tax exempt, non-profit status to criminalize traffic accidents? Is this the reason why the city funded non-profits exist? So that they can create a police state against the taxpayers who fund them?

      There are already criminal and civil laws on the books to address traffic collisions.

      1. Is a bike lane safer than a car? NO
      2. Does a bicycle have seat belt restraints to protect you during a collision? – NO
      3. Does a bicycle have front and rear airbags that were tested for safety? – NO
      4. Are cyclists licensed to show that they understand the rules of the road? – NO
      5. Do cyclists carry liability or medical insurance to themselves in the event
      of a collision- NO
      6. Are cyclists required to wear helmets and follow the rules of the road? NO

      Lets get to the point Leah Shahum? How much MORE TAXPAYER MONEY do you need to make riding a bicycle as safe as riding in a car?

  • Vandy

    Fox news wants you to know that bicycles do not burn petroleum. They are slow, dangerous, and do nothing to improve the economy. Bicycles are unamerican. Al Qaida wants you to ride bicycles as do the libtards on the left coast. In fact we might as well call them French-cicles since they smell like cheese. Give it up and buy a Suburban instead. You will save the values of Americans for future generations. And that is sustainable!

  • lite104me

    If a “progressive” city like SF take this kind of stance towards bicyclists, what chance does the average cyclist have when involved with a motor vehicle in other parts of the country? All the cyclists in the USA cannot move to Portland.

    • nogodplease

      Don’t bike then

      • whomedoyou

        That’s not exactly fair, neither is it practical to keep adding cars to an area that has no place to expand into. Especially when there are individuals willing to take it upon themselves to move about in green manner.
        Maybe some roads should just be blocked totally during rush hours and only bikes and pedestrians allowed at those times.

  • Rusanoff

    San Francisco… Russian Roulet… Vehicals, licence to kill… SFPD FAIL!

  • mdk

    honestly, the people that really need to shoulder some of this blame are the legions of reckless bicyclists the roam the SF streets. it is sad and probably incorrect for the police to assume fault with the bicyclist, but having been a long-time SF resident, I have nearly inadvertantly killed dozens of bicyclists who drive the streets with a self-righteous attitude to the cars. even to the pedestrians sometimes. I’ve actually been side-swiped by bicycles running stop signs before. the SF police force should make some policy changes and hopefully will, but I sure don’t want to hear a bunch of self-righteous high-horse bicyclists pointing their fingers. the bicycling community in SF is out-of-hand and just as at-fault for this bungled investigation. the death is a complete tragedy. the investigation should be an eye-opener for both sides. Bicyclists, you want to be treated with more respect than this by the law, then act more respectful to the law. You’re all a part of a community whether you signed up for it or not. You see another bicyclist running stop signs and veering dangerously through traffic, stop them; set them straight. I don’t wanna hear some “that’s not how I ride” line. No bicyclist deserves what happened to this lady, but if any good comes out of it, it will be if the biking community starts behaving better as a whole.

    Now go on and yell at me and tell me I’m a horrible person for not making some easy PC response.

  • sfparkripoff

    “It is serious cause for concern that no charges were filed in any of the four cases of people being hit and killed while biking last year,” Shahum added.

    The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has collected millions of dollars in public funds for “promoting the bicycle for everyday transportation” and now they want to use their tax exempt non-profit status to criminalize traffic accidents? Is this the reason why the city funded non-profits exist? To use their resources to create a police state against the taxpayers who fund them?

    There are already criminal and civil laws on the books to address traffic collisions.

    1. Is a bike lane safer than a car? NO
    2. Does a bicycle have seat belt restraints to protect you during a collision? – NO
    3. Does a bicycle have front and rear airbags that were tested for safety? – NO
    4. Are cyclists licensed to show that they understand the rules of the road? – NO
    5. Do cyclists carry liability or medical insurance to themselves in the event
    of a collision- NO
    6. Are cyclists required to wear helmets and follow the rules of the road? NO

    Lets get to the point Leah Shahum? How much MORE TAXPAYER MONEY do you
    need to make riding a bicycle as safe as riding in a car?

    • VWWV

      liability insurance in case they scratch your lexus because you angrily veer too closely to them while you’re playing with your cell phone?

      Terrifying

    • SF_Abe

      but driving a car ISN’T safe– 25 people were killed by them just last year in SF.

  • VWWV

    I, for one, just got 2 Go Pros, one for the front, and one facing backwards. I commute on a bicycle and, almost daily, some driver angrily charges me in some fashion or another.

    I’ll be calling in every single incident and filing the footage away, or publishing it. That way, even when SFPD fails to do their job, the footage will be on the internet for the rest of the Driver’s life

Author

Bryan Goebel

Bryan Goebel is a reporter focused on transportation and housing issues. He was previously the editor of Streetsblog San Francisco, and an anchor/editor at KCBS Radio. He's a lifelong Californian and has also worked at radio stations in Barstow, Redding and Sacramento.

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