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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Wheels of justice grind slowly

The recent conviction of a California doctor of deliberately injuring two cyclists by slamming on his car’s brakes on a narrow road last year prompted me to look into the case against the driver facing felony charges in an 2007 accident that left Belleville cyclist and photographer Gerry "Chief" Frierdich, pictured at left, paralyzed from the chest down.

The California case against Dr. Christopher Thompson moved relatively quickly through the legal system. On July 4, 2008, Thompson stopped his car after passing the two cyclists and shouting at them to ride single file. According to a Los Angeles Times story, the cyclists testified they began maneuvering to ride single file when they noticed Thompson's car approaching fast behind them and that the driver passed dangerously close before abruptly stopping.

USC and UCLA cycling coach Ron Peterson was thrown into the rear windshield of the doctor's red Infiniti, breaking his front teeth and nose and lacerating his face. Cyclist Christian Stoehr suffered a separated shoulder.

A police officer testified that Thompson told him soon after the accident that the cyclists had cursed at him and flipped him off, so he slammed on his brakes "to teach them a lesson," according to the Times account.

The three-week trial ended Monday when a Los Angeles County jury convicted Thompson of mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon, battery with serious injury and reckless driving causing serious injury.

Meanwhile, the St. Clair County case against Keith Joseph McCoy -- the St. Charles, Mo., man accused of driving the truck that struck Gerry Frierdich's recumbent bicycle -- still is not close to resolution. In late 2007, a St. Clair County grand jury indicted McCoy on two counts of aggravating driving under the influence, a Class 4 felony charge in Illinois.

On Aug. 17, 2007, Belleville police allege McCoy's pickup truck struck Gerry's recumbent bicycle while Gerry was biking to play golf at The Orchards on South Green Mount Road in Belleville. Police have said McCoy was asleep at the wheel when the accident occurred and that he had been drinking in the hours before the accident..

For all of 2008 and much of 2009, little action was taken on the case. On June 6, St. Clair State's Attorney Robert Haida's office filed new charges superseding the indictment. In addition to the two counts of aggravated DUI, McCoy was charged with two counts of reckless conduct, also a Class 4 felony.

Under Illinois law, a person convicted of a Class 4 felony can be sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison, up to 30 months of probation and a fine. A felony DUI conviction also could lead to the loss of full driving privileges for a minimum of 1 year.

In recent weeks, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Milton Wharton found there was probable cause to charge McCoy on the new charges and denied a defense motion to dismiss them. The next scheduled court hearing is Feb. 3 at the St. Clair County Building in Belleville.

Gerry is continuing his long, difficult recovery from the injuries, but he's hoping to be able to ride a specially made bike by next year. You can read more about Gerry's road to recovery at his CaringBridge site.

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Roger 1 comments links to this post 2:18 PM

Good work, Roger. That's more than two years. I'm sure the defendant's lawyer is hoping that everyone's memory is a little hazy when this thing finally comes around to trial. Maybe he can cop a plea and miss jail altogether. It would certainly help the cause of justice if people held the d.a.'s feet to the fire.
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