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182 Days for Cyclist’s Death

A ghost-bike memorial for John Anczarski Jr., who was fatally struck on Old Route 66 just west of Laguna in 2010 while cycling cross-country for breast cancer research. The University of Colorado student was 19 years old. (Roberto E. Rosales / Journal)
A ghost-bike memorial for John Anczarski Jr., who was fatally struck on Old Route 66 just west of Laguna in 2010 while cycling cross-country for breast cancer research. The University of Colorado student was 19 years old. (Roberto E. Rosales / Journal)
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PUEBLO OF LAGUNA — A tribal judge sentenced Gilbert Waconda to 182 days in jail and chastised the Laguna man Monday for his failure to apologize to the family of a 19-year-old cyclist whom Waconda struck and killed on a rural road in 2010.

Pueblo of Laguna Judge Peggy Bird told Waconda that he still needs to answer for the pain he caused the family of cyclist John Anczarski Jr. of Ringtown, Pa., and the turmoil the incident caused at Laguna.

“This not only impacted Mr. Waconda and Mr. Anczarski and his family, but everyone here at the Pueblo of Laguna,” Bird said after sentencing Waconda to the jail term and 600 hours of community service — the maximum sentence allowed under his plea agreement.

Waconda, 58, pleaded guilty in October to negligent homicide for veering out of his lane and fatally striking Anczarski in June 2010 on N.M. 124, a stretch of Old Route 66 west of Laguna.

Anczarski, who had recently completed his sophomore year at the University of Colorado in Boulder, was one of four cyclists riding cross-country to raise money for breast cancer research.

In a rambling statement during his sentencing hearing, Waconda said he was “sorry this happened” and called Anczarski’s death an accident.

“These people are making it out like I was there to kill their son,” Waconda said, referring to Anczarski’s father, John Anczarski Sr., who made a statement during the hearing and read a letter written by his wife, Joyce Anczarski.

“I wasn’t there to kill their son,” Waconda said.

Waconda said that he has experienced hardships as a result of the collision.

He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and his relationship with his girlfriend “has totally disintegrated” as a result of pressure stemming from the accident, he said.

Waconda also drew similarities between his own life and Anczarski’s. Waconda said he has devoted himself to the service of the Pueblo of Laguna and served as a village majordomo for several years. Waconda was driving to the village of Seama to alert residents to a water-line break at the time he struck the cyclist, he said.

“I worked hard for everything I got,” he told the court. “I was never handed anything on a silver platter.”

Bird said she was surprised that Waconda compared himself with Anczarski.

“Your life is completely different from Mr. Anczarski’s life,” she said. “He was making a huge contribution during his lifetime.”

She also said that Waconda’s statement fell short of an apology to the Anczarski family that she had wanted to hear.

“I did expect to hear a little bit more of a statement from Mr. Waconda to the family members,” Bird said. “I didn’t hear that.”

Bird also told Waconda to consider lessons from the tragedy as he completed his community service. She ordered that his community service must include 100 hours raising awareness for breast cancer.

“How can we move toward that healing place for Mr. Anczarski and his family and for Pueblo of Laguna?” she said. “What we can do from this point is see what we can do with each day.”

Anczarski’s death and follow-up investigation prompted discussion and concern at Laguna. In 2010, a group of 10 Laguna college students, frustrated with the lack of response by Laguna officials, raised money to travel to Pennsylvania and give pueblo water jugs to Anczarski’s family, but the students fell short of the amount they needed to make the trip.

Other Laguna members have said they were troubled by the lack of details that emerged about the fatal collision, which was witnessed by dozens of children and parents at a nearby summer meal site.

Waconda was ordered to report Wednesday to the Laguna jail.

The senior Anczarski said after the hearing that he remains dissatisfied with the way New Mexico officials investigated and prosecuted his son’s death, particularly with the decision by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales not to move forward with federal charges against Waconda.

In September 2011 — 15 months after Anczarski’s death — Gonzales announced that his office lacked evidence to pursue felony charges against Waconda.

In a letter to Anczarski’s parents, Gonzales wrote that the fact that Waconda was driving on the shoulder of the highway did not prove “that Mr. Waconda’s conduct rose to the level of recklessness,” an element required for a federal manslaughter conviction.

The senior Anczarski also raised questions about the initial response by Laguna police, who failed to obtain a blood sample from Waconda, according to a report written by a Bureau of Indian Affairs investigator.

A presentence report prepared by Laguna officials shows that Waconda had been convicted of several alcohol-related crimes, including a 2008 charge of driving under the influence, in Laguna Tribal Court.

Waconda told the judge Monday that he stopped drinking in 2009.

The day of the crash, Waconda was transported to a hospital for an anxiety attack, and two vials of his blood were drawn, the BIA investigator wrote.

The samples were tested in January 2011 by an out-of-state lab that reported no evidence of alcohol or drug use. Gonzales cited the test in his decision not to prosecute Waconda in federal court.

Anczarski also said Monday that he was dissatisfied with Waconda’s statement that he was sorry for the accident.

“I think (Waconda) just feels sorry for what happened to him and not for what happened to Johnny,” Anczarski said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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