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Bicycling Community Blasts Light Sentences

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Regardless of what sentence a judge hands down during a Friday morning hearing, Sheryl Kearby won’t be pleased.

That’s because the maximum possible punishment for Carol Svinarich – the woman who struck and killed Kearby’s husband with her SUV as he rode his bicycle on Osuna in January – is 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.

“She obviously needs to sit in jail and think about what she did,” Kearby said. “I don’t think it’s sufficient to begin with.”

Svinarich was convicted of careless driving after witnesses said she ran a red light near Osuna and Academy Parkway NE on Jan. 10, killing bicyclist Scott “Dwane” Lane, 55, as he rode home from work. The father of four later died at a hospital.

This is the third time this month families of victims have been disappointed with the way bicycle fatality cases have unfolded in court.

An Albuquerque bicycle safety advocacy organization is urging District Court Judge Reed Sheppard to sentence Svinarich to the full 90 days, pointing out that Svinarich was again arrested in August – eight months after the accident – for driving under the influence.

“His (Lane’s) life was ended by an act that some would call an accident, but which we maintain was the result of choices by Ms. Svinarich,” the group’s president, Jennifer Buntz, wrote to Sheppard on Tuesday. “She alone was in control of that vehicle, paying more or less attention to her job of driving at her own discretion.

“Because of this, along with her other more recent driving infractions, we urge the maximum penalty.”

Svinarich has pleaded not guilty to the DWI charge, and a trial is scheduled in November.

Buntz said in an interview that the group will ask the state Legislature for tougher punishments during the upcoming legislative session, including license suspensions for drivers whose inattention caused fatal injuries to bicyclists, pedestrians and others.

“I don’t have adequate words to express the way that these inadequate penalties re-traumatize families and survivors,” Buntz said.

While Buntz said fatal accidents such as these don’t warrant a felony charge, the distinction between careless driving, a misdemeanor, and reckless driving, a felony, is “confusing, vague and difficult for juries to sort out,” as she said was evidenced this month in the case of Miranda Pacheco.

Pacheco was sentenced to 90 days in jail for careless driving Oct. 9 after she struck and killed bicyclist David Anderson two years ago. He was riding on a bicycle path separated from Paseo del Norte by a fence. She was first charged with homicide by vehicle while driving recklessly and faced six years in prison, but jurors were unable to reach a verdict in 2011.

“I think that clarifying ‘careless’ and ‘reckless’ … would be a huge step,” Buntz said.

On Tuesday, a driver pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in tribal court for the 2010 death of a 19-year-old who was bicycling across the country for charity. The driver admitted not paying attention; the harshest sentence he could face is six moths.

Kearby said she and her family are still trying to rebuild nine months after her husband was killed. Kearby’s granddaughter was born in September, and her youngest son faced a rough semester at New Mexico State University, heading to Las Cruces a day after Lane’s funeral.

“It’s like there’s just a missing link there,” Kearby said. “I’m just trying to keep everything together, get used to the idea of him being gone.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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