Today, Superior Court Judge Mark Urioste sentenced Ulises Valdez to eight years and four months in prison. (The maximum possible sentence for his crimes is 12 years; the minimum, probation.)
Valdez was the drunk driver who killed Mark Osborne and dismembered Eric McDonnell in May 2021.
Below is an excerpt of the statement that we submitted to the court in advance of sentencing.
Dear Judge Urioste:
I’d like to share with you the impact that this horrific crash has had on me, other members of the cycling community, and the larger community.
I’ve lost a close family member to a drunk driver. I’ve twice been hit by a vehicle while cycling. I have many friends who have been hit, including one who spent months in the hospital with severe injuries including a broken neck. I’ve sat for hours with other cyclists, friends and family in hospital rooms and courtrooms. I’ve had innumerable close calls with drivers who were inattentive, distracted, impaired, and/or aggressive.
This is not unusual; I’m not sure I know a cyclist who couldn’t share a similar litany. Each new incident brings all those past traumas back to mind, causing physical and emotional distress.
When one cyclist goes down, we ALL feel it. There’s a voice in our heads that whispers, “That could have been me.”
Some of our friends beg us to stop riding. Our spouses worry if we’re more than a few minutes late getting home. Some folks stop riding altogether; parents forbid their kids from riding to school. And other folks who may have been thinking about getting a bike, don’t. Multiple surveys indicate that about half of the population would be interested in riding a bicycle – for transportation, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for the sheer pleasure and joy of using one’s own power to travel unencumbered by a big steel machine – but DON’T because they fear for their safety.
The crash, Mark’s death, and Eric’s dismemberment have affected so many.
The severity of Mr. Valdez’s sentence will also impact a circle wider than the victims’ family and friends; it will affect not only cyclists but drivers.
After a lifetime of cycling, five years of working in the alcohol and drug prevention field, and five years of working in active transportation, it is my observation that both drunk driving and vehicular violence against cyclists are under-reported, under-investigated, under-prosecuted, and under-sentenced.
We live in a world where too many people behind the wheel are hostile to people on bikes, viewing us as impediments to their “right” to drive as fast as they want; where too many cyclists are blamed for their own injuries; where too many convicted of impaired driving go right back out and do it again and again; and where too many cyclists are victims of hit and run, left to die alone on the asphalt. The cultural perception (or story if you will) seems to be that neither drunk driving nor striking a cyclist is that serious of a crime.
[SCBC] is working to create a different story: I want a world where more people safely and freely use their own bodies for transportation; a society that doesn’t tolerate drunk, aggressive, distracted driving.
I’m not sure what an appropriate sentence for Mr. Valdez would be; but I am sure that too light a sentence feeds the existing story. Feeding that story will validate cyclists’ mistrust of the legal and judicial system and send a message to the wider community that their right to drive, however irresponsibly, is greater than our right to life.
Judge Urioste, which story will you feed?