Cheng Jin Lai may just be the unluckiest man in all San Francisco. This continues to be the case even after his violent death.
In the early morning of Oct. 18, the 78-year-old father of seven was peddling through SOMA with two large sacks of recyclables strapped, awkwardly, to the rear of his bicycle. A 27-Bryant bus rumbled past him and, moments later, Lai was dead, his head crushed beneath the bus's right rear wheel.
SF Weekly subsequently revealed that Bus No. 8410 was not equipped with a polyurethane bumper-like device called an "S-1 Gard," the sole purpose of which is to prevent people being crushed beneath a bus's right rear wheel. These came installed on the Orion coaches of the sort that killed Lai; having one on a bus has been Muni policy since 2007.
Our articles forced a systemwide inspection of every last Muni bus and triggered a new policy forbidding a vehicle missing an S-1 Gard from going into service.
Of 801 buses, Muni claims just 14 were missing the device — meaning, even among those star-crossed enough to be run over by a bus, Lai was spectacularly unfortunate. That hasn't changed: An extensive police accident report, released earlier this month, blames him for his own gruesome death.
"It appears p1 [Lai] makes a sudden, unprovoked left turn into the right side of v2 [the bus]," reads the report. "V2 drives over p1 and comes to a complete stop. ... P1 made a left turn into v2 that caused the collision and his subsequent injuries."
A bus-mounted camera caught the incident; footage has not yet been turned over to SF Weekly or Mark Fong, the attorney representing Lai's survivors.
While the police claim that Lai, incongruously, decided to make a sharp turn into a bus that was right next to him, an eyewitness told them a different story. "He said neither the bus nor the bicyclist made an abrupt sudden movement prior to the collision," states the report. Rather than making a turn, the witness described Lai — an elderly man burdened with large, unwieldy sacks of cans — as "teeter-tottering on the bike."
But that likely wouldn't have been a death sentence if the bus was equipped with an S-1 Gard; Fong points out that the product's website features footage of a crash-helmeted stuntman leaping headfirst beneath the wheels of a bus and being safely ejected.
The police report, which fingers Lai for his own misfortune, does not mention the S-1 Gard.
Lai "really won the bad luck lottery," concludes Fong. Whether his family wins the litigation or settlement lottery, however, is to be determined. Joe Eskenazi