Our Thoughts on the Investigation Results of Charles Gilbreth's and David Ortiz's Deaths

San Diegans tired of living in a City that is dangerous to vulnerable road users protest and demand a more livable San Diego at the Charles Gilbreth Memorial Ride. Photo: Randy Van Vleck

NBC News published a story on June 4 regarding two vehicle / cyclist collisions, both resulting in the cyclists's death. Charles Gilbreth, a 63-year old grandfather, was killed while cycling home from work in a bike lane on Collwood Avenue. According to the NBC story, investigators have recommended criminal charges against the un-named driver responsible for Mr. Gilbreth's death. As well they should have. That the motorist violated Mr. Gilbreth's right-of-way is not subject to reasonable dispute. Mr. Gilbreth was exactly where he was supposed to be and it is a crime that he was killed.

David Ortiz, 29 and married, was likewise killed on the streets of San Diego, on Balboa Avenue. Unlike Mr. Gilbreth, David Ortiz was on his way to work when he was struck by a Ford Expedition, weighing at least 5,500 lbs. NBC quoted Lt. Rick O'Hanlon, who stated "[b]oth the driver and the cyclist share responsibility for [Ortiz's death]." Investigators, however, have never provided a reasonable explanation how Mr. Ortiz, struck from behind, shares responsibility for his own death. Did the police determine Mr. Ortiz was responsible merely because he was a cyclist on Balboa Avenue, a road designed with no consideration for anything other than multi-ton vehicles, moving at close-to-freeway speeds? Did Mr. Ortiz veer into the path of the Explorer? Was the motorist blinded by the early morning sun?

The police - or our public officials - must explain to the community how they determined David was responsible for causing the collision that resulted in his death. BikeSD attempted to obtain the Ortiz police report, but its request was denied. BikeSD has reached out to Lt. O'Hanlon but, again, has not received a satisfactory explanation. This is the same Lt. O'Hanlon who previously commented to BikeSD that, "to be charged with a crime, there has to be a death.” That is apparently true for Charlie Gilbreth. But what about David Ortiz?


Chris Taylor is an attorney and everyday cyclist, committed to a more livable San Diego. 

Ride of Silence

Photo from RideofSilence.org

Every year, an international ride commemorates bicycle riders who have been killed or injured while riding on public roads. The goal is to both honor the riders' lives and to help raise awareness among drivers of the dangers that motor vehicles pose to the more vulnerable users of the road.

To find where your local ride will be held, visit the Ride of Silence website.

Michael Ortiz, the brother of David Ortiz, is organizing a Ride of Silence in New York City to honor David and every other rider that has been killed or injured on public roadways.

Chuck Gilbreth's daughter-in-law, Lisa, left a comment here to thank the organizers for honoring Chuck Gilbreth's memory. She stated the following,

We would like thank the bicyclists and their families for organizing this ride for my father-in-law Chuck Gilbreth and the bicyclists who have been killed or injured. I truly hope that city of San Diego changes and make it safer. We live in a beautiful city and we should feel safe. We need to stop being in such a hurry. That driver for forever changed our lives and his. My mother-in-law lost the love of her life. My husband and brothers-in-law do not have a father. Our children will grow up with out their Grandfather and great grand  children will not get to know him or get to meet him. I pray that the Lord keeps you all safe. You are all making a difference. Thank you taking stand. We all proud of you.

Survived a car/bike collision? SDPD says you were party to a simple traffic violation

Lieutenant of Traffic Division, Rick O'Hanlon

In light of Charles Gilbreth’s and David Ortiz’s deaths, I decided to follow up on a small handful of the car/bike collisions that I’ve written about here.

I contacted Lt. O’Hanlon for an update on the following five cases. Specifically I wanted know if criminal charges had been filed against the drivers that were responsible for the death or injury of the following individuals:
1. Justin Newman - Newman died from his injuries after being doored on University Avenue
2. Unknown name - A little 10 year old girl was severely injured when she was hit by a driver in a van as she was riding her bicycle. The little girl was riding with her father when she was struck by the van turning left into her right of way.
3. Grant Fisher – Fisher was injured when he was struck by from behind while riding his bicycle during a lunch time break. The 76 year old driver who hit Fisher claims she swerved into the bike lane where Fisher was riding to avoid getting hit by a truck coming up behind her.
4. David Ortiz - Ortiz was struck and killed when riding his bicycle to work on Balboa Avenue. The first (of three) drivers that struck Ortiz reported that she was blinded by the sun's glare and thus didn't see Ortiz when the collision occurred.
5. Charles Gilbreth - Gilbreth was hit from behind when riding home from work by an apparently impatient driver in an SUV.

O'Hanlon reported that the investigation on the Newman case has been completed and the results sent to City Attorney’s Office for misdemeanor and manslaughter charges. O’Hanlon did not know if the City Attorney had filed charges. I too have been unable to determine whether charges have been filed in the Newman case.

No charges have been filed against the driver who struck the little ten year old girl who was injured while riding with her father. No charges were filed because the little girl survived.

Since Fisher survived, no charges have been filed. The SDPD has asked the DMV to reexamine the driver’s license. Fisher, in the meantime, has filed a civil suit against the driver that is currently ongoing.

O'Hanlon reported that the Ortiz investigation was almost done. O’Hanlon stated that it would “in all likelihood will go to the City Attorney’s office”.

When asked for specific details on the Gilbreth case and details about the collision. O’Hanlon stated that speed, alcohol, road rage nor the sun’s glare (as was the reason stated in the Ortiz case) were not factors in the Gilbreth crash. He said that investigation was still ongoing as results from the medical examiner and the toxicologist could take anywhere from 6-8 weeks to wrap up. There were no witnesses in this crash as the MTS driver didn’t witness the crash.

I wasn’t familiar with the process on what happens when the SDPD hands a case over to the City Attorney’s office and O’Hanlon stated, "once the case has been submitted to the City Attorney, the City Attorney will evaluate the case based on the evidence and, based on the investigation they’re the ultimate decision makers” on what, if any, charges will be filed. “The police department has no say in that. [The City Attorney’s Office] have complete judicial discretion in that. They can’t tell us how to conduct our investigation and we can’t tell them whether or not to file charges."

O'Hanlon went on to state, “it is not the police department’s decision to file charges. Even if we make a custodial arrest (i.e. arresting someone), the City Attorney has within their latitude to dismiss the charges.”

I was shocked when I heard O’Hanlon state that no charges were filed against the drivers responsible for two cases where the bicyclists survived.

O’Hanlon responded, “to be charged with a crime, there has to be a death.” Thus, the only recourse for the party injured is to pursue the case in Civil Court for damages. In order for a case to go to the District Attorney’s office the case has to be a felony – and the criteria for a felony includes intent, malice, gross negligence or substance abuse. But in a case that is not a manslaughter, "the law is very restrictive. We don't have a misdemeanor." Intentional road rage acts have "malice and premeditation and you have assault with a deadly weapon."  Absent that, "you have a vehicle code violation".

Thus at best, the most the drivers would be charged with if they didn’t willfully injure a bicycle rider was a traffic infraction, or a California Vehicle Code violation.

Remembering David Ortiz and Chuck Gilbreth

David Ortiz (June 25, 1982 - March 22, 2012). via happyholodecks.com

It's been an entire month since David Ortiz was struck by three different vehicles and killed on Balboa Avenue - a road that is designed to encourage speeding.

Nearly two weeks after Ortiz was killed, friends, family and strangers came together to honor Ortiz's life and ask the City of San Diego for changes to be implemented to ensure such a tragic event wouldn't happen again. Specifically, the community asked for:

1) A public apology from the police department to the victim’s family & the cycling community for jumping to conclusions and immediately blaming the cyclist before fully completing the investigation.
2) A stronger commitment (from City) to safer infrastructure and roadway design.
3) A stronger commitment from PD to enforce traffic laws that have an adverse impact on cyclists/pedestrians (failure to stop/yield, distracted driving, etc.)
4) The City immediately become a NACTO affiliate.

Less than a month later, another rider, Chuck Gilbreth was killed. This time the collision occurred on another high speed road, Montezuma Road.

Montezuma Road with the I-8 (in blue) to the North.

This was the same location where KPBS’ Tom Fudge, was struck five years ago. In the five years since, the City's engineers made zero improvements to reduce drivers' tendencies to treat Montezuma Road as a highway despite running parallel to an actual freeway (the I-8) located less than 4,000 feet to the north - less than a mile away.

Like Balboa Avenue, Montezuma Road serves as a critical link connecting neighborhoods and thus as a feasible route for someone riding their bicycle. But these connector routes are dangerous. To quote Stephan Vance, a senior regional planner for SANDAG,

Our city streets are dangerous because they are built to accommodate high speeds that are lethal. This creates an expectation by drivers that they should be going fast, and leads to frustration when they can't.

In the five years since Fudge was struck, the City's engineers could have reduced a travel lane on Montezuma Road and created a protected bikeway to ensure the safety and comfort for any one who wanted to traverse Montezuma on a bicycle. But instead, Montezuma Road was neglected. Fudge's experience was forgotten. And now we have another needless death on our hands.

Gilbreth worked at Hamilton Sundstrand Power System(HSPS). He was 63 years old when he was killed last Wednesday. According to one of his co-workers and close friends, Phillip Young, Gilbreth was looking forward to retirement and rode his bike to and from work most days. Young goes on to say that Gilbreth was,

a great guy that mentored many folks at HSPS. He will be greatly missed.

San Diego's High Speed Roads Claims Another Life

Less than a month after David Ortiz was killed in an environment that fosters speeding, 63 year old Charles Raymond Gilbreth was killed after being struck by an apparently impatient driver in an SUV. The collision occurred on Montezuma Road by Collwood Boulevard yesterday shortly after 3:30 pm. One of our readers, Shane, just left the following comment (from the U-T coverage),

Just wanted to mention one of the comments on the poor guy who was hit and killed on Montezuma yesterday:

“The guy that hit him was behind a transit bus and got mad because the bus driver was ging [sic] a little too slow so he went around him in the bike lane my good friend was driving the bus and when the suv hit the man he knocked him in front of the bus and the bus ran him over. My friend is just devastated! He keeps having visions of the mans face poor guy!”

This was the same location where KPBS' Morning Edition Anchor, Tom Fudge, was struck five years ago. Fudge survived, but lives with the daily physical pain as a constant reminder that the City of San Diego is a city that only encourages and supports high speed roads that discourage any mode of transportation but the automobile.

Despite its proximity to San Diego State University, the roads surrounding the university are all designed  to encourage speeding. College Avenue, not far from where Gilbreth was killed yesterday afternoon, is the site where 11% of all speeding tickets were handed out by the SDPD last year.

Yet, despite the knowledge that the environment is dangerous by its very design, the leaders at the City of San Diego has not undertaken any traffic calming measures to ensure the well being and safety of the city's residents. If I were to personify City Hall, it strikes me as unbelievably callous that the leaders in the city are unmoved and unwilling to take action to address this deadly problem.


Alison Whitney expressed her feelings about yesterday's death on her blog and I too join her in expressing my anger and disappointment at everyone in City Hall who has the ability to effect change, but has to date failed to do anything about it.
UPDATE: I'm quoting Ted Rogers here who writes, a comment on Bike San Diego says that the SUV driver became impatient following behind a bus, and used the bike lane to go around it; the writer says the SUV hit Gilbreth’s bike and threw him in front of the bus, which then ran over him. However, it’s important to note that the description of the rider being run over by a bus doesn’t fit with the ME’s report, or explain why his body was found off the side of the road instead of than within the traffic lanes as would be expected under such circumstances.

Hopefully the SDPD will release more information when their investigation is complete, and the press will follow-up so we can understand what actually happened and why.

UPDATE at 12:05 PM: One of Gilbreth's co-workers just wrote in to state the following,
It is very sad that yesterday we lost another San Diego bicyclist and my friend, Chuck Gilbreth (see the 10news article below). I worked with Chuck Gilbreth at Hamilton Sundstrand Power Systems in Kearny Mesa for many years. He rode his bike almost every day from his home in the College Area to work and back.

It again points out the need to improve the road conditions for bicyclist, automobile driver's awareness, and traffic law enforcement for the safety of San Diego bicyclists.