Hit and run driver walks, but should cyclists boycott Vail?

By Bruce Hildenbrand | Thursday, December 23, 2010 5.00pm

The recent sentencing in the hit and run case in Eagle County, Colorado left a lot of cyclists shaking their heads.  The county district attorney, Mark Hurlbert, plea bargained a hit and run from a felony to a misdemeanor because in his words, “felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession."

I remind you, Mr. Erzinger is a wealthy fund manager for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney financial.

Given his statement, it might seem likely that DA Hurlbert is hesitant to make a felony charge unless the crime warrants it. Unfortunately, one only need look at a recent case involving two Vail mountain bikers to find this to be patently untrue.

Katie Brazelton, aged 40, was injured and unable to compete in the famed Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race so she gave her entry — which is hard to get and non-refundable or transferable — to Wendy Lyall, age 36. Lyall ended up placing second in the 40-49-age category and received a prize she clearly did not deserve. When the deception was uncovered and brought to DA Hurlbert's attention, Lyall was charged with criminal impersonation, a felony. It was surely a lapse in judgment by the two women, but a felony? Wow.

Hurlbert told Colorado’s Denver Post, "after talking with people in the race, this is something very serious."

It is inconceivable that DA Hurlbert could ask for a felony charge for this mountain bike incident, and then reduce a hit and run collision to a misdemeanor, when a driver hits a cyclist at such speeds that the rider sustains injuries including damage to his spinal cord, bleeding from his brain and damage to his scapula and knee. 

I’d like to know whom Brazelton and Lyall caused physical harm.

Ironically, Brazelton lost her job as a private school teacher in Vail while — as per Hurlbert's stated intent — Mr. Erzinger remains employed.

In response to the sentencing, cyclists from around the US have asked for a boycott of Vail, including stage 3 of the Quiznos Pro Challenge, which will be held this next August.  There is even a Facebook page dedicated to moving the Vail stage of the race.

One of the most outspoken advocates of the Vail boycott is Versus TV commentator Bob Roll. "Something stinks in Vail,” he told BikeRadar.  “The 'law and order' DA throws the book at one and all except a hyper rich stock broker who was seen to run over a cyclist and leave him for dead?

“The smell from Vail is best avoided by not visiting," said Roll.

Rich tenBraak, executive director of the Vail Chamber and Business Association, has been posting to several cycling-related bulletin boards reminding readers that the accident occurred 20 miles west of his town and that "Vail is committed to providing the best cycling Colorado has to offer."

Despite the distance between Vail and the accident site, the town is still under Hurlbert's jurisdiction. 

Since tenBraak has asked us to believe that Vail is a safe place to bicycle, I asked him that if a cyclist in Vail is hit by a car in a similar type of accident what are the reassurances that the driver won't also have their charge plea bargained from a felony to a misdemeanor.

"As far as reassurances, the cycling community should know that Vail is committed to providing the best cycling Colorado has to offer,” he told BikeRadar. “Vail has spent hundreds of thousands of ongoing investments to expand the shoulders of our roadways to improve cycling safety and expansion of our recreation paths throughout the county.”

It should be noted that there was a very wide shoulder where the hit and run accident occurred.  Mr. Erzinger's car went across the shoulder, onto the grass, and stuck the cyclist, Dr. Steven Milo, from the left side.  It is clear in this particular accident that having wide shoulders would not have made a difference in the outcome.

What I would like to have had, as a reassuring reply is that tenBraak understands the unrest and took it upon himself to discuss the matter with DA Hurlbert and explain that the decision does not sit well with the Vail Chamber and Business Association.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and there is no reassurance that a similar accident won't have similar results.

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"It would be inappropriate for us to offer an opinion on the District Attorney’s handling of this particular matter or for any future matters," replied tenBraak.

Right now it is peak ski season in the Vail Valley, and the impact of this case will not be know until the summer arrives. 

Cyclists are hoping their message will be heard, but if not, they might likely be pedaling on roads outside of Eagle County. A popular cyclo-tourist ride, the Triple Bypass, finishes in Vail not far from the  restaurant where Erzinger called Mercedes roadside assistance due to the damage sustained in collision between his car and his victim.

Registration usually fills up quickly, but I wonder what will happen this coming year? I know I’d think twice.

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