A Collision of Lifestyles

A story from Oregon that illustrates the blurring of the safety margin that occurs from alcohol intoxication.

King County (Oregon) Superior Court Judge Julie Spector sentenced Steven Edward Riedel to 20 months in prison for causing the death of Gail Alef, 54, when the vehicle he was driving struck her while she was riding a bicycle along Willows Road on Sept. 18, 2005.

Judge Julie Spector described the death as a “collision of fates,” in which Alef, a Bellevue dentist, mother and fitness enthusiast, came to be riding southbound with her bicycle club along Willows Road about 9:50 a.m on a Sunday morning.

Riedel was driving intoxicated northbound when he swerved across the road, hit Alef, and came to a stop on top of her body, according to testimony. He then fled, at some point taking off his pants, before police caught him several blocks away. At the time of the collision, Riedel admitted in his guilty plea to consuming alcohol, anti-depressants and smoking marijuana the evening before.

Riedel, now 59, was an office manager with no criminal history who became depressed in the winter of 2004, was diagnosed with mental illness, and began using marijuana and medication, according to court testimony.

“It is incomprehensible that Alef’s life … should be worth only 15 to 20 months in the eyes of our state,” said Judge Spector, noting that the Legislature sets that maximum range for vehicular homicide.

Riedel, who pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and a misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment, could be released in as little as two weeks, his attorney said.

With credit for time served, including electronic home monitoring and other factors, Riedel already has served the equivalent of 443 days in jail, said Riedel’s attorney, Andrew Schwartz.

He will get credit for good behavior in jail, Schwartz said.

The judge also imposed fines and costs, and ordered Riedel to make restitution, which could involve extensive medical bills for the three weeks Alef was hospitalized before her death. Riedel also faces from 18 to 36 months of probation.

Alef’s family chose not to speak at the sentencing, but Spector noted that she had received many letters about Alef, consistently asking that her killer be shown no mercy.

The real tragedy is that deaths such as Alef’s have become commonplace, said her former husband, Allan Alef.

“This is happening all over the place and there’s no outrage about it,” he said.

Excerpt from Seattle Times
Judge laments state’s sentencing limits December 9, 2006

See also Bicycle Bis
Another criminally light sentence in cyclist death December 9, 2006