Second trial begins for driver charged in 2016 death of Sebastopol cyclist
Attorneys in a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter case hit the restart button Monday when they began the second trial for a man charged in connection with the 2016 death of a Sebastopol cyclist. They had to retry the case after jurors in the first trial were unable to agree on a verdict earlier this year.
Courtney Rudin, 75, is accused of causing a crash that killed cyclist Amy Suyama, a 55-year-old woman who was participating in the Tour de Fuzz charity ride near Windsor with her boyfriend on Sept. 10, 2016.
Rudin was traveling south on Eastside Road in his Chevrolet truck when he tried to pass a slow-moving truck while the two cyclists were heading his direction in the oncoming lane, authorities said.
Rudin told officers he did not feel or hear any sign that he’d made contact with either bicyclist while making the pass, but pulled over in a nearby driveway when he saw from his sideview mirror the two bicyclists fall to the ground, video evidence presented on Monday showed.
The lead CHP investigator found no evidence that the truck or bikes ever made contact with each other. However, prosecutors filed charges against Rudin nearly 11 months later, claiming Rudin’s pass was unsafe for the narrow, rural road, regardless of whether his vehicle hit either bike.
A 12-person jury was asked to consider the prosecutor’s argument Monday, nearly four months after Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Barbara Phelan declared a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury. The jury was split 10-to-2 toward a guilty verdict.
“Was there sufficient clearance for the pass?” Steve Spiegelman, Rudin’s attorney, asked the new set of jurors during his opening statements. “That’s the question of the case.”
Monday’s hearing began with testimony from CHP Officer Daniel Alconcel, who was dispatched to Eastside Road the day of the fatal crash and was later assigned as the lead investigator for the case. Jurors were shown a videotaped interview he did with Rudin the day of the incident, in which Rudin said he could see “there was plenty of room” to make the pass, regardless of the incoming bicyclist.
“I didn’t feel or hear anything,” Rudin said in the videotaped interview. “But as soon as I saw that mirror, I thought, ‘oh no.’?”
Alconcel told jurors he also checked as part of his investigation Rudin’s Chevrolet for signs of a collision but found none. A dark linear scuff mark found on Suyama’s shirt was also examined, but Alconcel could not pinpoint whether the mark came from Rudin’s tire or something else, he said during his testimony.
He also measured the northbound lane where the crash happened three years ago, as well as Rudin’s car. Unable to find the truck Rudin passed, Alconcel relied on an estimation from a similar vehicle. After nine months investigating, he determined he could not definitively say what caused the crash,
However, Alconcel offered two possible scenarios: Either there wasn’t enough room on the roadway for Rudin to pass, resulting in the fatal crash, or there was enough room but the bicyclists overreacted.
The first day of the trial also included a trip to the site of the crash. Orange traffic cones blocked off public access to Eastside Road, and a District Attorney’s Office investigator kept guard while jurors, attorneys and the judge visited the scene.
Sonoma County Deputy District Attorney David Kim said he asked Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Barbara Phelan for permission to take jurors to the crash site so they could get a better understanding of the roadway.
“It was really to drive home the point for what I would consider an extremely negligent act,” Kim said after the hearing.
The courtroom’s gallery was dotted with a handful of people who had gathered to watch Monday’s opening statements, including Virginia Outmasguine, Rudin’s sister-in-law. She flew in from Southern California to go to the trial, the second she has attended for Rudin in the case, she said.
“It’s been devastating,” Outmasguine said. “The District Attorney has been going after (Rudin) for years now.”
Also in the court room was Barbara Iannoli, who identified herself as a longtime friend and former partner of Suyama. She said that she was surprised after the prior jury deadlocked and hoped for a different outcome in the second trial.
“I feel like he made a bad choice and he’s responsible for her death,” Iannoli said. “I’d like him to show some remorse.”
Eris Weaver, the executive director for the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, also sat in on the hearing and said she had attended the final portions of the first trial. She applauded the District Attorney’s Office for prosecuting the case, saying it showed the safety of cyclists in Sonoma County was being taken seriously.
“He passed another vehicle unsafely,” Weaver said of Rudin. “That caused them to go down, whether he physically touched them or not, it caused them to go down.”
Additional witnesses are expected to take the stand Tuesday morning, Spiegelman said after Monday’s hearing. If convicted, Rudin faces a maximum one-year jail sentence.
You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct a quote from Sonoma County Deputy District Attorney David Kim.