LOS ANGELES — A former emergency room doctor who deliberately braked so that two bicyclists rammed into his car in a road rage assault was sentenced Friday to five years in state prison.
Christopher Thompson, 60, wept and apologized to the two injured riders before he was sentenced in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
"The physical and mental scars are my fault," he said.
He has recurring nightmares about one cyclist smashing through his car window, Thompson said.
Prosecutors had sought an eight-year term while Thompson's attorney argued for probation.
Thompson, who worked at Beverly Hospital in Montebello, has been jailed since he was convicted in November of assault with a deadly weapon, battery with serious bodily injury, reckless driving and mayhem.
Thompson deliberately hit his brakes, causing the bicyclists to hit the back of his Infiniti sedan on July 4, 2008, prosecutors said. One rider smashed through the back window, breaking his nose and front teeth. The other crashed to the pavement, separating his shoulder.
Ron Peterson, who crashed through the window, told the judge that he was permanently scarred.
"My nose was nearly torn from my face. ... I've had plastic surgery," he said. "The scars on my face remind me of the pain and trauma I went through because Dr. Thompson didn't like cyclists riding on his road."
At trial, Thompson said that he and other Brentwood residents were angry because some bicyclists were ignoring stop signs or riding abreast, impeding cars on narrow Mandeville Canyon Road.
"If my incident shows anything, it's that confrontation leads to an escalation of hostilities," Thompson said in court.
Thompson said several cyclists who were riding side by side had sworn at him and made a rude gesture after he told them to ride single file. The physician said he didn't intend to hurt anyone and only stopped to photograph the riders.
The bicyclists, however, said Thompson had aggressively honked and driven past them, then pulled in front and suddenly braked. A police officer testified that Thompson said he hit the brakes to "teach them a lesson."
Prosecutors said Thompson had braked suddenly in front of other bicyclists four months earlier but nobody was hurt.
The case prompted a deluge of letters and e-mails to the court. About 160 people wrote to support Thompson while more than 270 messages, including some from bicyclists and doctors as far away as China, urged a tough sentence.
"Here in the U.K., the cycling community has a saying that, 'If you want to harm or kill someone, a motor vehicle is the weapon of choice,'" wrote Tony Raven, of Cambridge, England.
The letters were submitted to the court by the prosecutor.
"It is time that motorists learn that they must share the road with people on bicycles and that the courts will view assaults on cyclists by motorists as seriously as other assaults with deadly weapons," Deputy District Attorney Mary Hanlon Stone wrote in court papers.
Judge Scott T. Millington said he did not take into account the hundreds of letters and e-mails from bicyclists when considering the sentence. However, the judge said he believed Thompson had not shown remorse during the case.
The judge also said the bicyclists were particularly vulnerable and urged the creation of more bike lanes.