Harvey Pitt: The Assault of Truth Is the Victim of Madness

No matter how much we want to believe that people are not quite what they seem, there are still some things you just can’t quite take at face value. Case in point: A woman who got into a two-car pile-up at the Tour de France in France that resulted in nine riders being injured and two patients being transported to hospital is being seen as simply a slasher.

The incident involved the 21-year-old Italian rider Elia Viviani. He left his brakes in neutral, which triggered a series of accidents which left one rear wheel flat and another out of sync with the chain. A handful of cyclists spun out of control and were thrown into the air at high speeds.

In keeping with the tradition of such operations, Valesiani did his best to extricate himself from the wreckage and then apologize profusely to his fellow competitors, as well as the crowd that remained horrified after seeing the accident.

“The pain is so bad, really so bad,” the dazed young man cried. “I just don’t know what happened. I know I crashed, but I don’t know what happened.”

“This young man is of course traumatized, and I’d like to commend him,” Cyclist.com quoted Tour director Christian Prudhomme as saying. “I also admire his generosity in giving an apology which is even more admirable given his moment of fear and pain. We hope this will keep him on the road.”

It didn’t help Viviani’s popularity that the young man was chased down and beaten up by a group of supporters after the rest of the riders finished the race. And sadly, his reputation has not gotten any better since then. As one reporter put it, he is now viewed as a “scumbag” who ran over and killed another cyclist’s infant child, calling the recent injuries the result of the “shocking behavior” of “a slasher in racing competition.”

Indeed, comments on the incident were plentiful in the aftermath. BBC sports reporter Jeremy Clarkson, a cycling enthusiast and one of the nation’s top commentators, had a choice comment, if anything: “Shame the ambulances and police were too late.” Another commentator posted, “Girls, boys, adults, adults, kids, adults: team pursuit – I need you all.” They are just now getting around to setting up a hashtag #VivianiFate.

All this may seem too out of touch for some, but I’d say the whining sports crowd is actually quite positively supportive of Viviani. It’s only the rest of us that are cringing at Viviani’s unflattering plight.

One reason can be found in the quality of the accident itself. And as I’ve been able to find out, Viviani was looking in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was actually driving an Audi, which he had borrowed from a friend, at the time of the accident. According to the Tour de France officials, he had approached an intersection in an “unsafe” manner and was subsequently hit by another vehicle at a significant distance behind.

Beyond that, Viviani’s case is a textbook case of why you should not brake on a curve. And I should know, because of how I was nearly killed on one of those curves in the past. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that the young man must have seen something that none of us can see when we’re on the road. It’s just that we’re so susceptible to temptation, the endless web of thoughts that go through our heads that should not be allowed to influence our actions.

Valesiani can also get a huge dose of reality with the threat of jail time. France, like Italy, has a draconian and unscientific legal system that can give an overwhelming power to prosecutors who throw the book at people like this. They can get away with it if they believe the evidence supports their case.

But Viviani has actually admitted his guilt, while there are plenty of people willing to step forward and denounce the entire event. It is almost as if France’s judicial system, the stock in trade of judges and prosecutors there, is thoroughly marinated in a sort of ancient injustice mindset.

Which leads us to the surprisingly common notion that, “At least he didn’t hurt anyone else.”

That notion is almost universally mocked here in the United States. But, unfortunately, it does exist there, too. And yet we all live in the same realm.

Former SEC Chair Harvey Pitt is the Chairman and CEO of the law firm Bracewell LLP and author of Beyond Volatility: Solutions for a Dynamic

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