In September of 2016, three-quarters of the way into the Tour de Fuzz, Amy Suyama was killed on Eastside Road. Driver Courtney Rudin, who veered into her lane in order to pass a slow-moving truck, was charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. After months of investigations by the California Highway Patrol and the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office, and a lengthy trial, Judge Barbara Phelan today declared a mistrial.
While we were hoping for a conviction, a hung jury is preferable to a verdict of not guilty. While we found Kim’s arguments clear and compelling, we were not privy to the discussion and debate in the jury room. A jury’s decision must be unanimous; we can only guess what aspects of the evidence presented swayed the two jurors who voted “not guilty.” The defendant, his attorney, and the DA’s office must now decide the next step.
We spoke with Amy’s friends and family members and sat through several days of testimony. The pathologist testified that her injuries were consistent with impact from a moving vehicle. Other lines of investigation focused on things like whether grease marks on her jersey were made by a truck tire or a bike tire, where she and her companion Andy Dean were located in the lane, the path her body took when she fell, and so on.
Assistant District Attorney David Kim did a stellar job; his arguments were clear, logical, and relentless. He demonstrated the negligence of Rudin’s actions through words and photos and even arranging the bicycles on a measuring tape; there clearly wasn’t enough room for Rudin to make his pass safely. He further stated that even if the defendant’s truck didn’t actually make contact with the cyclists, any defensive maneuvers they may have taken were still caused by his negligent action.
Defense Attorney Spiegelman’s chief arguments focused on reasonable doubt and the lack of witnesses. He and his witnesses offered alternative scenarios in which Amy and Andy caused their own crash and Amy’s injuries were caused by landing on Andy’s bicycle. He accused the DA of introducing irrelevant items in order to distract the jury from a lack of incriminating evidence.
We applaud the persistence and diligence of the District Attorney’s office; if they had not questioned and pursued the details and inconsistencies of the initial CHP report there might have been no trial. Regardless of the jury’s decision, Kim’s persistence and dedication sent a strong message to the cycling community that the DA takes our safety seriously.
Our condolences to the Suyama family, Andy Dean, and all who loved and miss Amy.