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[whitespace] Joe Gutierrez, Shawn Duncan
Hit and Walk: While Joe Gutierrez (left) prepares to drive home, cyclist Shawn Duncan is left with the blame and a battered bike.


Wheels of Justice

ON THE AFTERNOON of Jan. 20, as George W. Bush was being inaugurated in Washington, a bizarre sequence of events played out in front of the main post office in Santa Cruz that got Nüz feeling that democracy really is dead. The events (witnessed by Nüz) were all the more ironic because they took place in front of 250 demonstrators who had gathered at the Town Clock to peacefully protest the coronation of "King George."

At 12:50pm, as protesters blocked Water Street ahead, driver Joseph Gutierrez, honking and gesturing, turned his white GMC pickup, wheels squealing, onto Front Street and hit 28-year-old Shawn Duncan who was cycling past the demonstration. First, Gutierrez allegedly rammed Duncan's bike with his left bumper and ran over the bike's rear wheel, then his truck lunged afresh at Duncan, who scrambled out of the way, thereby narrowly escaping being run over.

Gutierrez continued driving for about six feet with a crowd of people running after him shouting, "This is a citizens' arrest. It's a hit and run. You have to stop."

Gutierrez then stopped and got out of his truck, hands above his head, to face his accusers, one of whom tried to hold him down until the crowd intervened, suggesting that the driver be jailed, lose his license or, at the very least, get anger-management counseling. Meanwhile, an ambulance and paramedics arrived and attended to Duncan, who was shaking, his bike mashed, but otherwise seemed physically intact. Some of the ambulance personnel interacted with the crowd, the police not arriving until 13 minutes later.

At this point, the anti-Bush demonstrators continued on their way to the county court house, as planned, while a score of witnesses waited on the post office steps, eager to give testimony to the police.

Then something weird happened.

Though the witnesses interviewed by Nüz were unanimous in their allegation that Gutierrez' behavior had been reckless and irresponsible, the officers, overseen by Sergeant Loran Baker of the Santa Cruz Police Department, did not make an arrest or press any charges against the driver of the pickup. Instead, they dismissed it as a traffic accident. Eighty minutes after the incident occurred, Gutierrez drove away a free man while Duncan was left standing in the street with nothing but a police report number, a battered bike and a growing sense that justice had not been served.

The next day, Sunday, Jan. 21, homeless activist Robert Norse broadcast a series of interviews on Free Radio Santa Cruz, which he had recorded at the scene of the incident moments after it happened. Again, a picture of allegedly reckless driving emerged, but driver Gutierrez, who lives in Santa Cruz and commutes to San Jose-based engineering firm Biggs Cardosa Associates, said, "I voted for Gore. I'm a local. I would never hit anyone intentionally. I was trying to get to the bank before it closed."

On Monday, Jan. 22, an increasingly perturbed Duncan obtained a copy of the police report and discovered that he, Duncan, had been cited as having "caused the collision when he turned left against a red arrow."

Furthermore, although scores of people volunteered to testify, only one witness, Dirk Andrews, was quoted directly. Andrews, the police reported, said that although Gutierrez appeared to be driving unsafely due to his impatience, the idea that he hit Duncan on purpose was "bullshit."

When Nüz contacted Andrews, he said he had never intended for his testimony to exonerate Gutierrez: "I was behind his pickup and saw him honking. Then he backed up his truck and punched it. He had no intent to hit the cyclist, but he did hit him, because he was in a rage and acting like a totally irresponsible asshole."

Andrews said he got involved at the scene afterward, when the crowd surrounded Gutierrez, "because I didn't want to see that kind of reaction in Santa Cruz."

Another eyewitness, who does not wish to be identified, said, "The incident looked like a violent act." This woman was crossing Pacific Avenue, on the green walk light on the driver's corner of the truck when the truck hit the bike two feet away.

"I saw the driver turn his wheel and change direction, so his truck was steering at the bicycle. His face was contorted in anger and he was gesturing. If the cyclist hadn't been extremely agile, he would have been run over. Driving that way and at that speed, the driver was not only endangering the cyclist but anyone crossing."

Mary Odegaard and her little boy were also crossing the intersection that time. Says Odegaard, "The sound of screeching caught my attention. I turned and saw a cyclist falling and a car continuing to drive over the bicycle, and then accelerate away from the accident without an ounce of concern for what had happened."

Odegaard claims that the driver only stopped "when people threw themselves onto the truck from the passenger side. Then he got out, hands above his head, the crowd angry at him."

Although more than nine witnesses saw what happened, Officer Dominic Guerrasio claimed in the report he filed Jan. 21 that "there was no time for me to obtain more statements from witnesses. Most were impatient and did not want to wait their turn."

Guerrasio, who was not present at the time of the accident, states that, "although witnesses in the crowd accused D2 [Gutierrez] of attempting to flee the scene, he did not."

Duncan, who commutes by bike to his job as senior technical support specialist for UCSC's Communication and Technology Services, says, "At the time of the incident, I was shaken up and hoping the dozens of witnesses shouting that my life was just threatened would alleviate the need for my thorough explanation."

Says Duncan, "All the police did was question me and make me feel nervous. Maybe they would have treated me differently, if I hadn't been unshaven and wearing a woolen beanie cap. A few months ago, they gave me a $300 fine when they saw me riding my bike on the sidewalk. One ticket was for riding my bike on the side walk; the other was for not listening to them, when they said to stop."

Seems like Duncan still isn't listening to the police. The last Nüz heard he was filing another statement with the SPCD and planning to press charges.

"The SCPD have said that no charges have been pressed but there is the chance action will be taken. I just want the guy to loose his license and my bicycle be replaced. Instead, I pay a buck twenty for a police report that claims the ramming was my fault," says Duncan, who has posted Officer Guerrasio's summary on the web at www.home.pacbell.net/ shawn_d/media/police-rept.pdf.

Gutierrez has not returned Nüz's calls.

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From the January 24-31, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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