But these facts remain: A tourist from Washington, D.C., Dionette Cherney, is dead; Ang knowingly broke the law, and ultimately that act killed her. In my mind, he needs to do some time if for no reason than to send the message that breaking the law and killing people in San Francisco is not to be tolerated, whether you do it with a bicycle, car, or bus.
Ang was zipping to work at about 8:30 a.m. on July 15 of last year. As his attorney likes to tell the press, the recent college graduate was starting a job and needed to get to work on time. The 68-year-old Cherney needed to get across the street near the Ferry Building, and she was doing it legally in the crosswalk. Witnesses said Ang pedaled through the red light and slammed into Cherney, causing her to hit the back of her head, which ultimately killed the woman.
Since this is San Francisco, it took the Medical Examiner months to prepare the final report, and somehow it got to the DA the day after he was elected so as not to have political repercussions in a city with a growing bike constituency. Prosecutors went for involuntary vehicular manslaughter, merely a misdemeanor that may bring jail time and a fine. The assistant DA then wanted the judge to take Ang into custody (after all, someone died), but the judge declined to force him into a bail situation despite the criminal charge. After all, he was a recent Bucknell graduate, had no criminal record, worked in media marketing, and was apparently apologetic at the scene. (We don't care if he was a high school dropout with a previous record, but these things are important to the court.)
In order to play the legal game correctly, Ang pleaded not guilty despite his remorse. He and his attorney want the DA to think it could go to trial, and so then there's the "who-knows-what-a-San Francisco-jury-will-do" consideration. A defense could be that thousands of citizens on bicycles break these laws with impunity. The police aren't doing much about it beyond the occasional show of stopping speeding bikers on one street for a few hours. The odds are pretty good that someone committing the same infraction on a daily basis could be on the jury.
Most of the time I think we are a country of laws set up to protect everyone. Does it work that way? No, it's a selective process that's not always fair. Many laws, for instance, favor drivers. But it seems bicycle activists want it both ways. They want to break the law for their convenience and then require everyone else in cars to obey it. I can hear the screams from bike-riding readers. What about the lawbreakers in cars? They're certainly out there but not to such a high percentage as law-breaking bike riders. Have I rolled through a stop sign on a bike or in a car? Yes, but I won't in the future.
I wonder how Ang now feels about breaking the law to save time. We may hear in court next month when he is sentenced to community service. That's right, no jail time for breaking the law and taking a life. If I were the judge I would throw the plea deal out and insist he do 30 days of time on weekends.
At the very least, Ang should pay the Cherney family for all expenses incurred in her hospital stay and burial.
We have a recommendation on that community service: Ang should write his personal story, tell us what lessons he learned about disregarding traffic laws and what happens to two lives when 150-plus pounds of man and machine slam into a woman at 15 to 20 miles an hour. It will be a sad and compelling story if he honestly deals with the devastation his impatience brought.
He should offer to spread his cautionary tale wide in San Francisco; perhaps send it to members of the Bike Coalition. Still better, it should run on blogs like this one.
Tom Walsh is the editor of SF Weekly.