This article originally appeared in the South Florida Bike Coalition blog and was written by Markus Wagner.
In February of 2012, Aaron Cohen was fatally struck by Michele Traverso while riding with close friend and fellow cyclist Enda Walsh on the Rickenbacker Causeway. Today, he was sentenced to 364 days in prison and two years of house arrest.
Our first thoughts go out to his family and friends. We understand that today’s hearing was an emotional moment for them. This is most likely even more so after what can only described as a lenient sentence. It is but one more example how those who are already traumatized feel that the community (in the form of the court system) is unable to provide at least some remedy to the death of a loved one.
It is safe to say that this sentence is nothing short of a farce – on many levels. This is not to blame the judge. His hands are tied by sentencing guidelines that provide incentives for exactly the behavior that Traverso exhibited. Remember that Traverso drove without a license and was on probation for cocaine charges. Accusations that he was driving under the influence could not be proven, though he was seen in a bar in Coconut Grove and seen staggering when he arrived in his home in Key Biscayne. He subsequently pled guilty to the following charges: leaving the scene of an accident involving death, leaving the scene of an accident involving great bodily harm, and driving with a suspended license.
One can ask why it is necessary to have a hearing that lasts almost six hours when the outcome appears to almost be predetermined without being able to take account of the individual act in its full horror, as was the case here.
What is to blame is a system that incentivizes individuals who commit such a horrific act to flee the scene of an accident and hide out long enough so that blood alcohol levels are no longer in play. Whether this was the case or not (and there are many indications that this was indeed the case), the message that is being sent into the community is one that the state shouldn’t send. It is a gaping hole in a system that is rigged against cyclists and pedestrians from the get go. Combine this with a car-centric infrastructure and drivers who continuously disregard cyclists and pedestrians (and police who do little to enforce existing laws) and you have a perfect storm for situations like the one we are facing to continue.
The question is what to do about this? Some suggest to challenge the state attorney’s office, others blame the police. None are without fault in the bigger picture. But it appears at this point at least that the real challenge and the correct target is a legislative change in Tallahassee. We will be working on this and will certainly need any help we can get. I am sure that the SFBC will not be the only one in this – other groups in this area (such as our friends at Green Mobility Network and others) and elsewhere in the state will hopefully join us.
If you would like to get involved, please let us or the group of your choice know. We don’t have any concrete plans yet, but the cycling community will need as many voices as possible to push local elected officials to do something about this public safety crisis.
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