Victoria Chin’s Day in Court: Anticlimactic

Livingston's BikeOn June 12th 2011, Paul Livingston was riding his white Bianchi eastbound on Santa Monica Boulevard when he was struck from behind by motorist Victoria Chin right at Beverly Hills City Hall (Crescent Drive). She fled the scene. This serious collision not only totaled the bike – taco wheel, bent frame, cracked saddle – it sent Mr. Livingston to the hospital with a cracked pelvis and factured vertebra. Fortunately he’s not totaled and Paul and a handful of cyclists attended today’s preliminary hearing to – for the first time – hear the defendant face up to her crime.

The wheels of justice turn slowly, they say, and so it is with the Chin case: at today’s preliminary hearing in State Superior Court in Beverly Hills her attorney simply rescheduled for May 24th. The defendant made no comment – an anticlimactic turn in the slow road to justice for Paul Livingston, hit-and-run collision victim.

That the case has proceeded this far belies the efforts by both the defendant and the Beverly Hills Police Department to let it go away. On that night in June 2011, Ms. Chin struck Mr. Livingston from behind and as he lay in the hospital with internal bleeding that required immediate surgery, she continued on her way. Leaving the scene alone is grounds for prosecution regardless of whatever other negligence may attend her actions. According to the Vehicle Code:

20001. (a) The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person, other than himself or herself, or in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall fulfill the requirements of Sections 20003 and 20004. (CA Vehicular Code)

In fact, fleeing the scene of a collision that resulted in “death or permanent, serious injury” is looked at particularly dimly by the state; the law calls for a state prison stint of 2-4 years (or county incarceration “for not less than 90 days nor more than one year”) with the minimum fine set at $1,000 and range up to $10,000. Harsh punishment if the motorist is caught, if the evidence inspected, and if charges are brought – all hurdles for the hit-and-run victim to surmount, judging by the Livingston Case.

The day after the collision two years ago, as he lay in a medically induced coma awaiting surgery to repair his spine and pelvis (stabilized these days with metal bars and pins), Victoria Chin consulted with an attorney. Then she picked up the phone to turn herself in. But would not produce the evidence.

And when she did appear, the Beverly Hills Police didn’t arrest her. Indeed they took no action when Chin on advice of attorney  refused to produce the car. Five months later, a police report supplemental report described that appearance. Now she had already rescheduled the appearance twice, and when she did show up she was sans car but did have an attorney with her.

I asked Chin where she had parked and she said that she did not bring her car here as she was dropped off. I told her I did not understand why she would have somebody drop her off as I needed to inspect the vehicle. It was at this time that [her attorney] interjected and asked why I needed to see the car as Chin brought pictures with her. I told [attorney] I needed to complete my investigation which included inspecting the vehicle and taking ictures of any damage of lack thereof. I then told [attorney] and Chin that I would just obtain Chin’s statement and [attonrey] advised me that Chin had already given me a statement and her client would not provide me with anything further. (BHPD investigator Sinutko)

This right here is enough to gin up the interest of bike advocates in this case. The blindsided cyclist hit by a now-lawyered-up motorist who refused then and now to produce the evidence under investigation or even give a statement beyond acknowledging that she left the scene.

But in an investigation it takes two to tango, and in this one the investigator evidently didn’t press too hard. Read on from that same report:

[Her attorney] then asked if I was booking her client (Chin). I advised [attorney] I was not booking her client and that all I wanted was for Chin to bring her information and vehicle so that I could finish my investigation, as I was not interested in booking her.

That was the day after the collision. Later that month, according to another supplemental report, the defendant’s second attorney also refused to produce the defendant for any additional statement. He also refused to produce the vehicle. The following month, in July, according to that supplemental, yet a third attorney took over and again he did not heed the investigator’s request to produce the vehicle.

Then the investigative trail runs cold. Very cold. By the time that supplemental was filed in November of 2011, there had been no statement and no inspection since July. And apparently no police action in the many months before or since.

That changed with an appearance by a score of riders in Beverly Hills Council Chambers back in August of 2012 (marking more than a year without police action). The prosecution was then picked up by the District Attorney’s office, which did file charges and, according to remarks in today’s brief preliminary hearing, did see the defendant, Victoria Chin, at some point taken into custody (a fact not previously disclosed).

What’s Next?

Now we look ahead to May 24th at 8:30 am again in Judge Marsha Revell’s courtroom (2nd floor). Paul will welcome your support if you can make the date. You’ll enjoy air-conditioned comfort in a largely empty, soon-to-be-closed courthouse – a tomb so formidable that when you finally see the light again, you’ll feel like Henry Bemis emerging from the post-nuke bank vault on the Twilight Zone.

That must be what Mr. Livingston feels today – nearly two years after a horrible crash he’s finally facing his assailant in the courtroom with his supporters behind him.

Yet keep in mind that this case is precisely a reminder of the obstacles that face any seriously-injured hit-and-run victim. The defendant may want to evade responsibility and investigators may regard your felonious assault as perhaps less newsworthy than other crimes, as we saw this month when the BHPD didn’t release details of an attempted-murder with a motor vehicle for three weeks after the crime – also a hit-and-run.

And last, consider how even the charge of leaving the scene after a heinous injury collision (never say ‘accident’) might vanish according to the court’s discretion. From the Vehicle Code’s section 20001 (as cited previously):

However, the court, in the interests of justice and for reasons stated in the record, may reduce or eliminate the minimum imprisonment required by this paragraph.

“In the interests of justice”? The wheels of justice already turn slowly when they turn at all for the thousands of bike-involved collision victims injured every year in the Southland.