Hit and Run hits everyone

By Alex Thompson

(Editor’s note – this article originally circulated in CityWatch, an email newsletter on City Hall.  If you want to understand LA politics, you must read CityWatch! Subscribe here!)

Blood In protest, Photo by Gary Kavanagh

Blood In protest, Photo by Gary Kavanagh

“The drivers that hit us and run are driving in your neighborhoods, past your kid’s school, your mother’s church, and your house” – that was the message from cyclists to citizens at a protest on Tuesday.  The protest was sparked by a light sentence handed down by Judge Elden S. Fox last Tuesday in a case of felony hit and run.

Seven months ago Celine Mahdavi clobbered cyclist Louis Deliz so hard his teeth were left in her car.  Mahdavi drove away, leaving Deliz to die in the street.  Deliz was rushed to Cedar Sinai where his life was saved by modern medicine.  He spent 8 days in a medically induced coma, 11 days in the ICU and 49 days total hospitalized.  Today Deliz suffers from debilitating physical injuries and suffers panic attacks and seizures.

For felony hit and run, Judge Fox sentenced Mahdavi to 90 days community service, 3 years probation, and ordered her to pay full restitution to Deliz.  Mahdavi will serve no jail time for nearly killing Deliz, and her 90 days of community service amounts to 720 hours, much less than 1176 hours Deliz spent in a hospital bed.

When Mahdavi was breathalyzed several hours after the hit and run, she blew a .05, in violation of California’s zero tolerance law.  Judge Fox therefore included alcohol counseling as part of her sentence, and stipulated that even when Mahdavi turns 21, as part of her probation she is not allowed to drink.

While Fox addressed the drunk part of the drunk driving (2 counts: felony hit and run, violation of CA zero tolerance law for underage drinking), he did nothing to address the driving aspect of the felony count. Mahdavi’s license is currently suspended, but not by the justice system, by the DMV.  If the DMV chooses, Mahdavi could be back on the roads in January.  She’ll be driving to work on your streets, past your kid’s school, you mother’s church, and your house.

Joining her will be Glenn Gritzner, who hit cycling icon “Roadblock” and fled the scene.  Gritzner plead “no contest” to the charge of misdemeanor hit and run, and paid a small fine.  In the style of hit and run, Gritzner didn’t attend the hearing, but sent his attorney on his behalf.  He drives a Jaguar, and he’ll be driving it past your kid’s school, your mother’s church, and your house.

Sounds like cyclists have a problem, doesn’t it?  Sounds like cycling is an unsafe thing and we should probably stick to cars and buses.  Not exactly.

It’s worse for motorists … 38% of ALL collisions in LA are hit and run.  For cyclists the figure is 23%. Our problem is your problem.  Pedestrians get it worst of all – more than 1/3 of all traffic deaths in LA in 2008 are pedestrians.

Tuesday, 60 cyclists stood in front of the Beverly Hills Courthouse, where Judge Fox gave his tepid sentence, and agreed on this: these are our streets, they ought to be a safe, they can be safe, we can make them safe, and we will make them safe.  We are committed to this.

Today the streets are dangerous.  They’re dangerous because we let them become dangerous, we let them stay dangerous.  I allow it, you allow it, we all let this happen.  We allow people like Mahdavi and Gritzner to drive.  We make stupid excuses about needing a license to get to work.  Is it more important that dangerous drivers get to work, or is our safety more important?  We send people for alcohol counseling but we don’t take away their license.  We let people who drive carelessly, who drive recklessly, who don’t care one whit for human life, we let them go out there and do it again.

We are rewarded for it with oppressive, unwelcoming street lives.

These are our streets and this is our fault.  It is our responsibility to do something about it.  We do have the power to take back our streets.  We can insist that we step into a welcoming environment.  We can demand that LA’s streetlife be civilized and enjoyable, safe and secure.  These are our streets, and we control their destiny.

Drivers who hit and run are, simply put, ill.  Their self interest overrides their empathy at the most critical moment, when they have a human obligation to render aid.  You may argue that self interest is paramount, but you would be wrong.  Greater is the instinct, greater in civilization and greater in nature, to attend to suffering.  Drivers who hit and leave, ignoring that instinct, should not be driving.

Bikeside LA, a cyclist advocacy organization, will seek legislation in Sacramento that makes the revocation of hit and run drivers’ licenses mandatory upon conviction.  We hope that activists and community leaders of all stripes will join us in our initiative to put Life Before License – a small step toward restoring life to our streets.  Join us!  If you would like to support, endorse, collaborate or participate in our efforts, email me at alexcthompson@gmail.com.

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5 Responses to “Hit and Run hits everyone”

  1. Could not agree more. The DMV, as the regulatory agency responsible, needs to take a more proactive role in removing dangerous drivers from the streets by revoking licenses. Yes, we already know that will not solve the problem, people drive without a license now just as they drive without insurance, but it is another weapon that law enforcement can use to put dangerous drivers behind bars. Just curious, do you know if legislative measures for this have been attempted in the past?

  2. I don’t know Michael. I know that Tom Ammiano, an SF based state senator submitted a bill for stiffer penalties for hitting cyclists, and that lost, but apart from that I don’t know. Definitely something to research!

  3. “He drives a Jaguar, and he’ll be driving it past your kid’s school, your mother’s church, and your house.”

    “(Mahdavi) will be driving (her dad’s SUV) to work on your streets, past your kid’s school, you mother’s church, and your house.”

    LA is a cold place to live, I don’t give a damn about the weather. People are so caught up in the rat race, trying to get rich or famous or find “security” for their family that they stop caring about everyone but themselves.

    Until someone they know is indirectly affected by their actions, or lack of action. In some cases, they still don’t get it even after it hits close to home.

    And that’s when you know you’re in Los Angeles.

  4. LA is something new man – it’s not a standard big city. It’s SPRAWLtropolis. How do you create community in an infinite sea of near urbanness? I don’t think we really know how. The geography of LA destroys communities . . . we can take that as a a given


    we can rise up, get creative, and find new ways to connect, create, and foster community.

  5. this post is very usefull thx!

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