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Bicyclist Won't Go to Jail for Pedestrian's Death

Victim's husband wants biker to educate others about traffic safety

A San Francisco bicyclist who hit and killed a woman as she was crossing a street will not serve time in jail for her death.

Randolph Ang, 23, pleaded guilty in San Francisco Superior Court Monday to one misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter, as part of an agreement with prosecutors. Although Ang faced up to a year in county jail, a judge sentenced him to three years' probation and 500 hours of community service, and ordered him to pay $15,375 in restitution to the family of Dionette "Didi" Cherney.

The sentence angered some pedestrian advocates, but not Cherney's husband, who told prosecutors he did not want Ang to go to jail.

“He didn’t think it would bring back his wife,” said Assistant District Attorney Sarah Hawkins. “He sees this an opportunity for Mr. Ang to do community service and educate other bikers.”

Hawkins said that the sentence was appropriate because Ang was charged with a misdemeanor and because he had no prior criminal record.

Prosecutors have said the case marked the first time in recent memory that a bicyclist killed a pedestrian in San Francisco. 

Cherney, a Washington, D.C. real estate executive, was visiting San Francisco with her husband when Ang ran a red light and crashed into her as he hurried to work along the Embarcadero on July 15. Cherney died 27 days later on Aug. 11 from head injuries she sustained in the accident.

Didi Cherney

At an emotional sentencing hearing Monday morning, Colburn Cherney sat at the prosecutor’s table sobbing as Hawkins read a statement that described the “27 days of pure torture” he spent in intensive care with his dying wife.

“We had 20 wonderful years of marriage, but we expected to have 20 more,” it said. “My life is ruined, and I will never be the same.”

Beth Harvey, Cherney’s daughter, also came to the hearing to show pictures of her mother to Ang.

“Think about the pain you’ve caused,” said Harvey, breaking down in sobs. “Spread the word to other bikers to think of others and their surroundings, not just themselves.”

Ang, who was wearing a sweater over a collared shirt, offered an apology before slumping down in his chair.

“I have no words to express how sorry I really am,” said Ang, a recent college graduate. “I will forever be in debt to Mr. Cherney.”

Ang's parents listened as their son spoke to the courtroom.

His lawyer, Tony Brass, said that Ang's would use his 500 hours of community service to talk to bicyclists about safety on the roads. Brass said a new biker education program would result from the case.

The case stirred strong emotions in San Francisco, especially among pedestrians who must often dodge stop-sign- and stop-light-running cyclists. In fact, running red lights is one of the leading causes of collisions in which bikers are found to be at fault, according to The Bay Citizen's Bike Accident Tracker, which tracks bike crashes that have been reported to the police. 

Some advocates for seniors and pedestrians were critical of what they considered a light sentence for Ang. 

“The DA has given bicyclists a green light to run red lights,” said Bob Planthold of SF Walks and Rolls.

Planthold said he believed that Ang received a light sentence because District Attorney George Gascón was “pandering to the bike vote.”

But the overall number of pedestrian-cyclist collisions is low. Out of the 2,268 crashes that San Francisco cyclists were involved in between 2005 and 2010, just 168 — or 7.4 percent — were with pedestrians, according to the Bike Accident Tracker.

In 2010, 811 pedestrians were hit by cars, while 18 were hit by bikes, according to the San Francisco Police.

“Its important to make it clear that it's not OK to hit a pedestrian, whether you're in a car or on a bike,” said Elizabeth Stampe of WalkSF. “I only wish we had serious prosecution of drivers who hit pedestrians with cars, which happens roughly three times a day in San Francisco.”

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