A 21-year-old Los Angeles man was charged Tuesday with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and hit-and-run driving for a crash that killed a bicyclist who was in a marked crosswalk last week in Highland Park.
Alexis Virto was scheduled to be arraigned today in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom on one count each of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of an alcoholic beverage causing injury, driving with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content causing injury and hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious injury to another person.
Virto is accused in last Friday’s death of 33-year-old cyclist Jose Luna, who was struck about 3 a.m. in the 4000 block of North Figueroa Street.
Investigators believe that Virto was driving between 60 mph and 80 mph, and said the impact of the crash severed one of Luna’s legs. He allegedly drove away with the victim on the vehicle’s hood for about 200 yards and later abandoned the car.
Police allege Virto was still intoxicated at the time of his arrest several hours later. He was found sleeping on a bed with his girlfriend at a home about six blocks from the crash scene, police said.
He had injuries consistent with the collision and windshield debris in his hair, said Detective John Menese of the LAPD’s Central Traffic Division.
Police tracked down Virto after receiving a report of an abandoned damaged vehicle, which matched the description of the one seen speeding from the crash scene and also had the victim’s biological matter on it, police said.
Virto has remained behind bars since he was taken into custody last Friday morning.
If convicted as charged, he could face up to six years in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Hundreds of people attended a community meeting in Northeast Los Angeles last week to weigh in on the different options being considered for bike lanes on North Figueroa between Avenue 22 in Cypress Park and Avenue 60 in Highland Park. Thirty minutes into the meeting, people began to walk out, complaining it was a “waste of their time.”
The June 12 meeting, hosted by Councilman Gil Cedillo at Franklin High School in Highland Park, was a follow up to a meeting in May, which according to several first-hand reports dissolved into outright hostility between pro-bike lane and anti-bike lane participants. Both meetings were billed as opportunities for the community to provide feedback on the Los Angeles Department of Transit’s (LADOT) proposals for improving bike safety along North Figueroa.
In 2010, Los Angeles approved a citywide plan to increase the number of dedicated bike lanes in the city as a way to create safer cycling opportunities and to encourage more residents to use this form of transportation in their daily commutes.
The plan highlighted several priority areas, including Northeast L.A. The original proposed route ran along North Figueroa from San Fernando Road to York Boulevard, but has since been cut by more than 2 miles. It includes four possible alternatives, including one that calls for removing one of two southbound traffic lanes — referred to as a road diet — which appears to be drawing the most heated responses on both sides of the issue.
Lea este artículo en Español: Participantes Dicen Reunión Sobre Plan de Bicicletas Fue una ‘Táctica de Obstrucción’
Prior to his election last year, Cedillo expressed support for the road diet plan but since taking office has opted to hold more community meetings on the proposal, saying people who travel the corridor and businesses along the route have expressed concern that reducing lanes for cars will cause traffic tie-ups and increase emergency response times.
But supporters of alternatives to physically separate cyclists from cars and trucks, say slowing traffic by 45 seconds is not too much to ask if it prevents injuries to cyclists and saves lives.
“We are advocating for bike lanes on NorthFig because it is part of the master plan that the city already approved,” Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition member Alek Bartrosouf told EGP before the meeting. “There are a lot of cyclists supporting this movement, we have like 1,500 petitions signed online and about the same amount on paper,” he added.
However, the biggest controversy at last week’s meeting was not the proposed street changes, but the meeting format which included a lengthy lecture by CD-1 Special Projects Deputy Sharon Lowe on how participants should behave, Cedillo introducing and thanking friends and staff for their support and discussing several topics unrelated to the bike lanes, and Nat Gale of the mayor’s office speaking on the Great Streets Initiative that includes North Figueroa between Avenue 50 and Avenue 60.
Responding to the raucous May meeting, Lowe warned attendees to be civil and to refrain from clapping, cheering or making any other disruptive noises, or risk being ejected.
Some of the restless participants turned to social media to air their frustration: “It is now 45 min since this community meeting was scheduled to start and it is just Cedillo talking about himself,” tweeted HLP90042.
“If I had a 20 person staff and a $2 million budget, I sure wouldn’t have treated public so disrespectfully,” tweeted Flying Pigeon LA, a bike shop in Cypress Park whose owner Joseph Bray-Ali is an ardent supporter of bike lanes.
Dozens of people walked out early, telling EGP they felt “disrespected” and were unhappy Cedillo chose to “filibuster’ the meeting rather than listen to their feedback.
However, Cedillo’s communications deputy, Fredy Ceja, told EGP via email that the councilman “took the time he felt he needed to connect with the audience” and to address concerns raised during the May meeting. “The councilman felt the meeting was a success” because it addressed the current plan and other alternatives to address public safety on Figueroa, Ceja said.
“We are pleased with the outcome, it was an improvement over the first meeting,” Ceja added.
In his 15 years attending hundreds of community meetings, Bray-Ali said he has “never seen something this ridiculous and insulting … And that not clapping, if we are together as a group they cannot enforce that. Whether you are opposing or in favor, think of all the man hours that have been squandered” here, he said.
When discussion did finally turn to the bike lanes, LADOT representative Tim Fremeaux explained that residents were being asked to vote on one of the four options under consideration:
- No change,
- Option 1: Install buffered bike lanes—removal of one-southbound traffic lane,
- Option 2: Install bike sharrows (arrow and bicycle signage used to remind drivers to share the road with cyclists) – 2 lanes each direction, or
- Option 3: Install a climbing bike lane—southbound sharrow—two traffic lanes in each direction.
Audio problems, however, made it hard for many in the audience to hear parts of the presentation, including the question and answer period, adding to the frustration and both proponents and opponents yelling at the presenters that they couldn’t hear anything. “Bare with us,” LADOT’s Michelle Mowery pleaded with the audience.
But not everyone left upset last Thursday. “What Councilmember Cedillo heard loud and clear in May is that safety is a huge issue on the street and that was reflected in [this] presentation,” Erick Bruins told EGP.
“At the end of the day, no one is going to remember one or two poorly run outreach meetings,” Bruins said.
“At this point, Cedillo has all the information he needs to make a decision.”
Moving forward, LADOT and the council office will select one of the alternatives, with the plan being to begin construction sometime in July.