A woman who fatally injured a cyclist in her Toyota sedan and then fled the scene has been sentenced to one year in the Larimer County Jail, reports 7 News Denver.
Marie O’Connor, 28, struck and killed Ernesto Wiedenbrug, 46, on the Interstate 25 frontage road near Colorado Highway 392 on Jan. 25. She left the scene of the accident and turned herself into the Colorado State Patrol four days later.
O’Connor on May 12 pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. On July 2 she avoided a prison sentence but received a 1-year straight jail sentence with the possibility of work release, as well as four years of probation, according to the Coloradoan. O’Connor will also face licensing action and must pay nearly $25,000 in restitution to the victim’s family.
Sentence Sends Wrong Message to Motorists?
Judge Stephen Schapanski, the Eighth Judicial District Judge who sentenced O’Connor, said at the time of his judgment, “It’s a situation where you cannot have a more severe outcome. … A message does need to be sent to the community.”
Apparently, however, the message wasn’t forceful enough for some members of the Fort Collins cycling community. Around 40 local cyclists were present in the courtroom for the sentencing. News 7 reporter Russell Haythorn paraphrased the outrage felt by some cyclists.
“They say this sentence sends the wrong message … that you can hit a bicyclist, kill them and then flee the scene and only serve a year in jail for doing so,” Haythorn said.
Cycling advocate Dan Porter, who was in the courtroom, told the Coloradoan, “My main concern was that the sentencing send a message to the community that hitting a cyclist and leaving them for dead is not OK.” Porter described the sentence as “a little bit light.”
O’Connor said in a prepared statement that she made a “terrible mistake.” Her attorney emphasized that she suffers from chronic subjective dizziness, a medical condition that can lead to dizzy spells and is triggered by stress. O’Connor said she was going through a stressful period at the time of the crash.
She will pay $5,000 to Bike Fort Collins to support safe cycling and has agreed to appear in a public service announcement, according to the Coloradoan.
Fort Collins Bicyclist Fatality Rate Hit All-Time High in 2012
The January hit-and-run came at a time when Fort Collins cyclists were already spooked after a deadly 2013, a year in which there were four fatal bicycle crashes in the city.
Fort Collins saw just four fatal crashes between 2000 and June 2009, but the crash rate steadily climbed over that period from 9.5 per 10,000 people to 10.9 per 10,000 people, according to the Coloradoan.
A record-high crash rate of 12.1 per 10,000 people was reached in 2012, although that number dipped slightly to 11.8 in 2013.
The Coloradoan contends that riding a bike in Fort Collins isn’t as risky as news coverage has rendered it in the public’s eye. While there are more cyclists on the road, the Fort Collins population is growing, and the crashes are concentrated around the bike-filled Colorado State University campus.
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