For those of you haven't been following the hit and run case in which local cyclist and bike racer Louis Deliz was hit and left for dead on the road by a young drunk driver, hospitalized for 49 days with severe injuries, the verdict came out yesterday. Alex Thompson of Bikeside has the first write up, and sadly, like the vast majority of cases that victimize cyclists, even if the driver is at fault, fails to render aid and then flees the scene, the justice system goes limp. The Mandeville case got a lot of attention, but it's quite exceptional when a driver gets a real punishment for road crimes against cyclists. Anyone who reads Bob Mionske or the Tucson Bike Lawyer blog will have read countless cases of double standard treatment of cyclists by the law at every level of the legal system, all around the Country. In this case, for Louis Deliz, like most cyclists who become victims, the punishment for shattering a persons bones, nearly taking their life, and cowardly running away, is a slap on the wrist.
The prosecution offered Mahdavi a plea of 1 year in jail and 5 years probation. Instead, Mahdavi’s defense submitted a memorandum of disposition, effectively falling on the mercy of the court, and allowing the judge to sentence Mahdavi without trial. Fox offered the far lesser sentence, with a variety of self contradictory justification. Sometimes calling the collision an “accident” – implying that there was no intent without explanation – Fox explained how he considered a 1 year, 6 month, then a 4 month, and finally a 90 day sentence in County jail. Finally, he explained, he settled on no jail time at all (or 1 day for each count, but 1 day also credited for each count.) [Bikeside]
So there you have it, Celine Mahdavi, an SUV driver who nearly took a life, gets off easy. If you're young and drunk, and have parents that can afford a good lawyer, you can drive around ruining other people's lives and only have to worry about doing 90 days of community service. This an outrage, and there is rumblings of bringing Critical Mass or a staged protest to Beverly Hills to express that outrage. If I hear anymore on that, I'll pass along the info.
As Alex pointed out in the comments, most hit and run drivers get away, and when they are caught, they don't always go to prosecution, and when they finally are prosecuted, punishment is often generously forgiving. So when do we get justice, only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the time. Where is the disincentive to hit and run drivers in this system? It's also disturbingly common to discover after the fact that in fatal collisions, the driver responsible has a laundry list record of past vehicle crimes that were forgiven, and they kept getting behind the wheel again, and ultimately ended up killing eventually. At some point we have to start revoking people's privilege to drive if we want any hope of bringing down our annual 40,000 American road deaths.
I'll finish with one of my favorite quotes of Tom Vanderbilt, “It’s far too easy to get a license and it’s far too difficult to lose one.”
For more back story on the case, here are all the Bikeside links that have been following the case: