Southern California bicycling advocates ask: Are police above the law?

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Bike ride and vigil scheduled Wednesday evening

Last December, Milton Olin was enjoying a bicycle ride along the shoulder of Mulholland Highway in Calabassas when he was struck from behind by a car and killed. Investigators learned the driver was texting on a mobile device in the car and didn’t see the cyclist.

Milton Olin Jr.

Milton Olin Jr.

Sounds like an open-and-shut case of distracted driving.

In this case, however, the car was a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department patrol car and the driver was an on-duty Sheriff’s deputy. At the time of the crash, he was typing a message into his mobile digital computer to another deputy regarding a fire call he had just left.

After the case hung in limbo for months, the Los Angeles District Attorney announced late last week that no charges would be filed against deputy Andrew Wood for distracted driving.

According to the Daily News, the letters from the DA’s office reads:

“Wood entered the bicycle lane as a result of inattention caused by typing into his (Mobile Digital Computer). … He was responding to a deputy inquiring whether the fire investigation had been completed. … Since Wood was acting within the course and scope of his duties when he began to type his response, under Vehicle Code section 23123.5, he acted lawfully.”

Took eyes off road

Apparently, the patrol car was heading down the road at 48 mph, 3 mph over the speed limit. As Wood started typing and took his eyes off the road, the road curved slightly to the left and the patrol car went straight into the bike lane.

Olin was knocked off his bike and slammed into the windshield, shattering it. He then rolled off the patrol car onto the ground. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Olin, 65, was an attorney in the entertainment industry and a former executive at Napster.

Disturbing technicality

The DA’s decision not to file charges based on a technicality is disturbing to many, including Eric Bruins of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. He’s quoted in the Daily News:

“Just because the law allows someone to do something while driving doesn’t mean they are allowed to do something unsafely while driving. …  Hitting someone from behind is very clear evidence that whatever was going on in that car was not safe and should have been considered negligent.”

The blogger at BikinginLA writes:

“Either the deputy was at fault for driving distracted — even though he could legally use the computer, he is still required to drive in a safe and legal manner.

“Or the Sheriff’s Department itself is negligent for a policy allowing its officers to use the onboard computer in a manner that places everyone else at risk, as they will undoubtedly be found responsible for in the civil suit filed by members of the Olin family.

“Either way, thanks to the complicity of the DA’s office, no one will ever be held accountable for the death of an innocent man, whose only crime was going for a bike ride on a sunny afternoon.”


Since the DA’s decision, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department said it has opened its own investigation to determine whether Deputy Wood violated any department policies. Also, a committee is looking into changing the department’s policies regarding use of the mobile digital computer in patrol cars.

Meanwhile, the Olin’s family is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit. Attorneys for Olin’s sons and wife filed the lawsuit in July, saying that Wood was distracted by either his computer or cellphone while he was driving. Perhaps Olin’s family can find justice in the civil courts.

Justice for Milt Olin Ride and Vigil

The LA County Bicycle Coalition, in conjunction with Yield for Life, is holding a Justice for Milton Olin Ride and Vigil on Wednesday. Participants will gather at the crash site, then ride to the District Attorney’s office for a candlelight vigil. Details here.



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