Plea bargain in US hit-and-run case sparks anger

Online petition gains momentum

A decision to reduce the charges faced by a businessman accused of leaving a cyclist for dead in a hit-and-run incident last summer has prompted public anger and an online petition.

Martin Joel Erzinger, a Morgan Stanley Smith Barney financial manager, originally faced felony charges following the incident in Edwards, near Vail, Colorado. However, prosecutors decided to change this to two misdemeanor traffic charges, arguing that the earlier charges would threaten his career.

"Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr Erzinger's profession, and that entered into it," Colorado District Attorney Mark Hurlbert told the Vail Daily News. "When you're talking about restitution [money paid to the victims of crime], you don't want to take away his ability to pay," he added.

Hurlbert pointed out that if Erzinger is found guilty, felony charges would be erased from his record in a few years but misdemeanor charges would stay with him for the rest of his life. That's likely to be scant relief for New York City physician Dr Steven Milo, the injured cyclist.

Milo and his attorney Harold Haddon were given one day’s notice of the prosecutor’s final decision, which wasn't enough time to react. "Mr Erzinger struck me, fled and left me for dead on the highway," Milo wrote in a letter to the district attorney. "Neither his financial prominence nor my financial situation should be factors in your prosecution of this case."

The prosecutor’s decision has led to considerable opposition from the public. The case has gained national media attention and an online petition at www.change.org asking Hurlbert not to drop the felony charges against Erzinger has been signed by more than 10,000 people. It's also sparked a Facebook page (set up by BikeRadar's technical editor James Huang) entitled 'We're people on bikes, not lifeless obstacles in your way' to address the wider issue of motorists taking responsibility for their actions on the road.

Police say Erzinger was driving his black 2010 Mercedes-Benz sedan eastbound on Highway 6, east of Miller Ranch Road, on July 3 when he struck Milo from behind. The financial manager is said to have fled the scene and failed to notify law enforcement or medical services. It has been reported that he did, however, phone the Mercedes auto assistance service to report damage to his vehicle.

Another motorist found Milo and called emergency services. According to court documents, the cyclist suffered a spinal cord injury, herniated disc, bleeding from his brain and injuries to his knee and shoulder blade, along with multiple abrasions to his body. Erzinger was later arrested and told police he didn't know he'd hit Milo, according to court records. His defense attorney suggested he may have suffered from sleep apnea.

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