Dec 15, 2010

From bad, to worse, to WTF

When I woke up this morning, I was trying to come up with something funny to write today. You know, a bit of sarcasm, some mocking of the cycling culture - just to make sure we're not all taking ourselves too seriously. Then, a few news items broke, and that whole plan just went out the window. So this won't be funny at all, and in the moments where it might be, it's going to be the sad kind of funny.

If you're a cyclist, and you haven't been living under the proverbial rock for the last few weeks, you've probably heard of the outrageous situation that occurred in Colorado. In July, a Colorado cyclist Dr. Steven Milo was struck from behind by a Denver-area wealth fund manager, Martin Erzinger. It is always a sad day when a cyclist gets hit by a car, but what happened next, and next, and next, simply makes my blood boil. 

Right after striking Milo, Erzinger didn't stop, but proceeded to drive to a nearest empty parking lot of Pizza Hut and called his Mercedes dealer to request a repair to his car. No call to the police, no call to the paramedics, no desire to check on a man he just left lying for dead on the side of the road. Erzinger was promptly arrested in that very same Pizza Hut parking lot and originally charged with a felony and two misdemeanors, and from that point on, it all went screwy. 

It just so happens, that Erzinger has a very good job, he manages about $1 billion dollars of some very wealthy people as a fund manager. If he were to be convicted of a felony, he would have to disclose it to his investors, which would have a detrimental effect on his ability to do his job. Well, apparently that's all the prosecutors needed to hear. Namely, District Attorney Mark Hurlber decided that it would be a shame if this hit and run violator were to lose his job, so he dropped the felony charge and only left the misdemeanor charges on the table. He then forwarded this controversial plea bargain to the judge. Obviously, this was objected to by Milo and his attorney. Now, the above is kind of old news, but the developments of the last few days are simply spectacular, in the horrendous kind of way.

Erzinger is now arguing that it wasn't his fault that he struck Milo, it was the fault of the smell of his new Mercedes. Yes, you read it right, he's actually arguing that his sleep apnea, combined with the smell of his new car, made him momentarily pass out and strike Milo. So the first problem with this is that sleep apnea has no effect on people when they are awake (at least from what I read, medical professionals among you, feel free to correct me), only when they are sleeping. So unless this guy is trying to also tell us that he fell asleep at the wheel and then had a case of sleep apnea, well that's kind of admitting to negligence. This reminds me of the BS GURD defense that some DUI attorneys try to pull when getting their clients out of trouble after those same clients miserably fail the breathalyzer. In short, their argument is that due to GURD, the defendant burped up some alcohol (of which he had very little, long before getting behind the wheel, of course) just before blowing into the tube. Seems like Erzinger and his attorney are full of the same BS here.

But that's not all. It gets better. On Thursday, Dec. 16th, a hearing will be held where the prosecutor will be asking the judge to approve the plea bargain. As I mentioned above, Milo and his attorney have objected to the plea bargain. So what did District Attorney Hurlber do? Well, he filed a motion objecting to Milo's objection, arguing that Milo has no standing to file his objection. Standing is a funny little legal concept which in essence means that you cannot seek redress from a court if you don't have a stake in the controversy. Which side is this prosecutor on and why is he objecting to the victim trying to seek a stiffer punishment? What the hell am I missing here?

Now, if you think we've ventured into the realm of ridiculous, you're right, but we've also stumbled into the realm of the hypocritical. On the website for the Eagle County, Colorado DA, in plain sight, there is the victims' rights notice. Now, there are several chapters of this, which I admittedly didn't read, but I don't have to. All I have to do is quote the last paragraph of the introduction:

"Any person who is a victim of a criminal act or such person's designee, legal guardian, or surviving immediate family members if such person is deceased, shall have the right to be heard when relevant, informed and present at all critical stages of the criminal justice process."

I'll ask again, in light of the above, what am I missing? Is District Attorney Hurlbler trying to say that Dr. Milo's objection shouldn't be considered because he is irrelevant? Really? A man with a family, left for dead on the side of the road by the criminal who is now being half-assedly prosecuted is deemed irrelevant by the head District Attorney, who clearly leaves his brain at home in jar when he leaves for work each morning?!? What the hell kind of justice system are they running down there in Eagle County?

So just to recap: A rich guy in his brand new car hits a cyclist and leaves him for dead. He gets arrested but doesn't get prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law because, well, he's rich. Then, he tries to get off by claiming that his new car smell is to blame for the accident. Meanwhile, the district attorney, who's supposed to serve the people (not criminals) is perfectly willing to let the rich guy walk with a slap on the wrist and is actively opposing the victim, making him twice the victim - once of the criminal act and once of the system. As I said, nothing funny about this one.

In case you're inclined to write some letters and make some calls, here's the info I've been able to dig up: you can try to reach Erzinger here. District Attorney Hurlber can be reached here (even if you don't plan on contacting him, click on the link and check out Hurlber's welcome message). And this is Erzinger's attorney. If you'd like to tell them all what you think of them, you have my blessing. But go easy on the attorney, he's just doing his job and it's not his fault his client is a lying careless bastard.

UPDATE [12/16/2010 16:22 PST]: At a hearing earlier today, the judge approved the controversial plea bargain struck between Hurlber and Erzinger. This sets a very unfortunate precedent. 

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