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06:25 PM CDT on Friday, July 25, 2008
By MARI ALVAREZ
The driver responsible for killing an Austin cyclist will spend 60 days in jail, but members of the victim’s family say that’s just not enough to make Austin a bike-friendly city.
The driver, Richard Lee, 44, says his punishment is fair. In a plea agreement, Lee accepted a guilty charge of manslaughter for the death of Vilhelm Hesness.
Leaving court Friday morning, Lee offered an apology to Hesness’ family.
“I told them I was sorry for this. It was a tragedy — if I could trade places with him, I would,” said Lee.
Lee will serve 60 days in the Travis County Jail followed by eight years probation. He will lose his driver’s license for one year and serve 200 hours of community service.
The sisters of Hesness say an apology is useless.
“Saying you’re sorry in a situation like ours where the loss is so profound doesn’t mean very much,” said Gerd Frudakis, Hesness’ sister.
It was a year ago — July 11, 2007 — when Lee, driving an SUV, rear ended Hesness as he lawfully rode his bike in South Austin. The accident happened in broad daylight, causing many to question whether Lee should have been behind the wheel.
Toxicology results show he was under the influence of five prescription drugs when he hit Hesness — Xanax, Zoloft, Lamisil, Soma and Equinal.
As part of the plea agreement, Lee had to show his doctors allowed for such a combination.
“Each doctor knew what the other was prescribing,” said Lee.
Lee has until August 21 to begin serving his 60-day jail sentence.
Hesness’ sisters say they are not satisfied with Friday’s decision, but will accept it.
“I wish that something even more severe could have happened, but if he had gone to trial and he had been set free literally, it would have killed me,” said Frudakis.