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Archive for Friday, April 2, 2010

Lawrence man pleads guilty in October fatal hit-and-run that killed bicyclist

Joel Hernandez admitted to driving drunk and hitting a 20-year-old Kansas University student in October. He will be sentenced on May 20.

April 2, 2010

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A 22-year-old Lawrence man pleaded guilty Friday morning to two charges related to an October hit-and-run accident that resulted in the death of a Lawrence woman who was riding a bicycle.

The man, Joel C. Hernandez, admitted that in the early-morning hours on Oct. 16 he was intoxicated when he drove a car and struck 20-year-old Rachel Leek south of 10th and Tennessee streets.

“I believe that it had a bearing on my reaction time and that it had a bearing on the reaction of me leaving the scene,” Hernandez said while describing the night’s events to District Judge Michael Malone.

Malone accepted Hernandez’s guilty pleas to a felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident involving a death and to a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated.

He had originally faced charges of leaving the scene of an accident that involved a death and failure to report an accident, both felonies; vehicular homicide, a misdemeanor; and improper passing, a traffic infraction.

Attorneys for both sides told Malone they believed Hernandez had no criminal history prior to the current case and that he would likely face a probation sentence for the felony charge under state guidelines.

James McCabria, an assistant Douglas County district attorney, said prosecutors plan to ask Malone to have Hernandez serve 60 days in jail. He would also have to perform 200 hours of community service in addition to any fines in the case.

Attorneys on both sides said during the plea negotiations that Hernandez was willing to take responsibility for his drinking that night. Hernandez did not stop the vehicle or return to the accident scene, so law enforcement officers were not able to test his blood-alcohol content that night.

During sometimes tearful testimony Friday, Hernandez described the events of the night to Malone, saying he drank six to 10 double-shot drinks at Abe and Jake’s Landing in Lawrence before driving two female friends home. He was driving the car of one of the friends. He said the accident occurred as he tried to look back to change lanes on Tennessee Street.

“In that time as I turned back is when the lady hit the windshield,” Hernandez said.

He told Malone he drove for a block before turning left onto 11th Street and stopping briefly at Kentucky Street.

“I didn’t see a bike. I didn’t see a person. I just knew that something had hit the windshield, and that’s when I stopped,” Hernandez said.

But he never returned to the scene. He said he planned to go to police the next day but encountered detectives before he made it to the station. He eventually turned himself in to authorities when prosecutors filed charges in the case.

Hernandez, a Lawrence High School graduate, was a Haskell Indian Nations University student at the time and briefly pulled out of classes during the case. He said he is now a Haskell student again.

Leek was an employee at WheatFields Bakery in downtown Lawrence.

Malone scheduled a sentencing in the case for 3:30 p.m. May 20, and he told Hernandez he would likely be taken into custody after that hearing. He is currently out on bond.

Comments

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 8 months ago

At least he was man enough to not plead innocent! I'm sure he feels terribly about it, and will for the rest of his life.

"There but for the grace of God go I", origion unknown. But in recent years, I'm one hell of a lot more careful about driving when incapacitated.

Vinny1 4 years, 8 months ago

60 days in jail and a little community service.

Wow. Well done on the punishment.

doc1 4 years, 8 months ago

Ditto on the being a man and admitting it.

Monica Miller 4 years, 8 months ago

I am just appauled at the fact he admits to being drunk, (10 double-shots = 20 shots!!!), hitting a chic and leaving her to die and he was okay with worrying about it the next day. He stopped briefly it says. . .to me that shows he knew he had a decision to make. Stopped. Thought about it. And made the decision to leave her in the road dying. And all this gets him is probation and 60 days. . .WOW!! This is just a shame. I mean, I know everyone makes mistakes. But shouldn't the consequences of those mistakes reflect the seriousness of the mistake we made. I really just don't even know what to say. . .

1southernjayhawk 4 years, 8 months ago

This is so wrong on so many levels. Kill an innocent person while driving drunk, leave the scene, and basically, pay no penalty!!! Our laws regarding drunk driving and killing a person while drunk driving need to be strengthened.

Paula Kissinger 4 years, 8 months ago

1southernjayhawk you are right. The judges can only sentence these offenders based on the sentencing guidelines set forth by the statutes. Again...remember this when election time comes around again and try to vote for individuals who are willing to try to make these needed changes.

parrothead8 4 years, 8 months ago

I don't know all the facts here, but 60 days in jail, 200 hours of community service, and probation time just seems so unfair compared to the punishment Rachel Leek got.

Steve Tramba 4 years, 8 months ago

Wow - until I read the last part, I assumed the light sentence was based on Hernandez being from JoCo w/ someone lining $$$ into his pockets for a defense fund. Good to see our legal system is a joke... especially if the 60 days is the max (who cares about service hours?)!!

Morganna 4 years, 8 months ago

WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Wrong any way you look at it. Maybe 60 days in jail and 200 hours community service - OMG - Hopefully Ms Leeks family will start the process of suing the pants off the car owner and Hernandez himself - they both should be made to pay. Sad - just sad! What do we Kansans need to do to start the process of changing the laws?

LoveThsLife 4 years, 8 months ago

Kansas needs to have tougher DUI laws. This is ridiculous- a misdemeanor? For driving drunk? 60 days in jail for killing someone??? Give me a break.

LoveThsLife 4 years, 8 months ago

What about his driving privileges???? They don't say anything about that...

Jack Hope III 4 years, 8 months ago

The challenge now is for Mr. Hernandez to do his best to make up for his crime. Since he is not a violent offender, I see no point in sending him to prison for years and years -- it will not bring Ms. Leek back to her friends and family. Hopefully, Hernandez might use this experience to help someone else in the future.

However, I do think the laws need to be changed so that a drunk driving offense is not worse than a hit-and-run. Perhaps if Mr. Hernandez had tried to help the woman he hit, maybe she could have been saved. Call your state representatives and state senators. It's not just a matter of electing them, you have to participate in democracy full-time.

Jack Hope III 4 years, 8 months ago

Hernandez was never charged with a DUI because he was never arrested for being drunk. In fact, it is in the best interest of a drunk driver to leave the scene of an accident. As I understand it, a hit and run accident has lesser penalties than driving under the influence. If you want to actually make a difference, call on your legislators to raise the penalties for hit and run accidents.

damnitimpissed 4 years, 8 months ago

Not only that, but note EXACTLY what he said. "I believe that it had a bearing on my reaction time and that it had a bearing on the reaction of me leaving the scene".

It's not just that he was "man enough" to admit to this; voluntary intoxication can be a defense or it can affect sentencing; I know that much. I am just not certain how it applies to the particular statutes he was charged with; anyone with more legal education wanna weigh in?

That sentence above sounds like it was coached to him by his attorney; for whatever reason.

blackfox 4 years, 8 months ago

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blackfox 4 years, 8 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

HogJiver 4 years, 8 months ago

WOW TOO,,,,,,,,,you get more time for shoplifting.

What the hell is wrong with this court???????????

parrothead8 4 years, 8 months ago

@blackfox

Your comments show an appalling lack of human decency. Apparently, you feel there are reasons that are okay for someone to be riding their bikes on the roads at certain times of the day, and reasons that are not. Does Rachel Leek deserve to die for choosing what you consider to be a poor reason for riding her bicycle on a public roadway?

I'd like to hear your reasons for when it is okay to drive drunk. Also, any reasons you can give for leaving the scene of an accident would be welcome.

Brad Maestas 4 years, 8 months ago

6 to 10 double cocktails? That's a pretty big disparity (nearly double). That doesn't change anything at this point but at least the knucklehead pleaded guilty although that's obviously a big reason why he's facing much milder charges now. I agree, damnitimpissed. I thought that statement sounded suspiciously technical too. I also agree hit-and-run penalties need to be harsher - nationwide! Poor souls of all ages are getting hit all the time here in NYC and nearly all of them are hit-and-runs.

SouthWestKs 4 years, 8 months ago

At least they got a felony conviction on him.. That should slow him down some..

wordsofwisdom 4 years, 8 months ago

Its sad that a person can be served 20 shots at a public establishment and be allowed to leave without employees contacting the police or calling for a cab!!!!! Odds are his friends were drunk too. And they all got up.... left AB and Jakes without employees taking notice....after being served 20 shots! Drinking and Driving could be prevented on sooooo many levels! What a waste!

Vinny1 4 years, 8 months ago

While I already posted, and agree with, the sentance being to short and a joke lets not forget the girl was drunk too.

I don't care who you are, riding a bike down the middle of the road at 2 in the morning is a dumb idea. She definitely didn't deserve to die, and the punishment was way too light, but that is just a terrible idea.

blackfox 4 years, 8 months ago

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ralphralph 4 years, 8 months ago

The message: Running away pays. The necessary response: Mandatory imprisonment for leaving the scene. The price of running away has to be significantly greater than the price of stopping at the scene. Roeder should have gotten drunk and run over Tiller ... he'd be out by Memorial Day.

Terry Jacobsen 4 years, 8 months ago

Vinnny1.... you need to check your facts. The victim was not drunk and no one ever suggested that she was.

What I want to know is if Mr. Hernandez is going to undergo alchohol rehab. He obviously needs to clean his act up.

Mike Ford 4 years, 8 months ago

9 years ago a sixteen year old boy was liquored up at his brothers frat and went back to OVP on K--10 drunk as all getup. He crossed the lanes going east from Kill Creek and hit a woman head on going westbound on K-10 killing her in the process. He was sentenced to Labette Shock treatment camp. I remember seeing the skid marks a couple of days after the wreck as I went to KC. The sentencing guidelines need to be retooled.

Eride 4 years, 8 months ago

"damnitimpissed (anonymous) says… Not only that, but note exactly what he said. "I believe that it had a bearing on my reaction time and that it had a bearing on the reaction of me leaving the scene".

It's not just that he was "man enough" to admit to this; voluntary intoxication can be a defense or it can affect sentencing; I know that much. I am just not certain how it applies to the particular statutes he was charged with; anyone with more legal education wanna weigh in?"

Voluntary intoxication is not a defense to a crime. Involuntary intoxication can be under certain circumstances but this would clearly fit under voluntary. K.S.A. § 21-3208.

Now, it is possible that the voluntary intoxication could have an impact on the mens rea portion of the crime but in this case (The Hit and Run statute is an absolute liability statute, Vehicular Manslaughter just requires negligence, etc) that is not applicable. Example if it did apply however: You would still be guilty of the crime, just not have the requisite mens rea for the higher charge so a lower charge would be applied instead.

You were not correct in inferring that this kids comments were intended for that purpose.

iseedumbpeople 4 years, 8 months ago

"Bike riders need to get some common sense, and realize they arent safe on two lane roads, period! Until they realize that they are in danger every time they ride on some of these roads, there will be more die"

@blackfox - Cyclist are here to stay, quit complaining and learn to live with us.

Eride 4 years, 8 months ago

gvnobas (anonymous) says… Eride: well what were they intended for then?


He was pleading guilty to the charges, the words are a part of his plea. He was describing what he did and why.

bliddel 4 years, 8 months ago

It does seem that the drunk driving laws have only been effective in enhancing revenue, at the expense of the reputation of law enforcement as armed tax-collectors. The crime of manslaughter, especially when aggravated by drunk driving, and felony leaving the scene, should bring much harsher penalties than blowing .085% BAC on a $99 breathalyzer that could easily register .10 % BAC on a stone sober individual who had just been exposed to any of various petroleum distillates.

This case became one of legalized murder.

MADD is to blame for this pathetic legal environment. It's time to focus on the real drunks who actually kill/injure people, or otherwise demonstrably fail to obey other traffic regulations, and leave the government fund-raising to other venues.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 8 months ago

There is a fair amount of bike and pedestrian traffic on Kentucky and Tennessee often.

I say the city of Lawrence should take some steps to at least try to make this area safer. With traffic moving at 35 mph-40 mph it's time to mark and sign crosswalks perhaps with flashing beacons. None of this can guarantee safety but should raise awareness significantly.

Definitely more lighting as these these roads are dark at night.

Any major improvement will require a strong citizens movement especially from the KU population.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 8 months ago

OR go for the gold!

Create pathways on two of the most dangerous streets for both pedestrians and cyclists aka Tennessee and Kentucky. The right of way is available aka existing sidewalks and there is a ton of bike and pedestrian traffic in these areas at all hours.

  1. Widen sidewalks on the eastside of each street to accommodate both cyclists and pedestrians.
  2. Light them up
  3. Provide cross walk signs and markings at each intersection from 7th to 19th to increase awareness of drivers
  4. Decrease speed by 5 mph from 7th to 19th
  5. In the process the city is making it safer for women = rape prevention.
  6. Ray LaHood: “This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”

    Name these pathways after Rachel.

    The investment is small compared to the safety that could be provided. KU students are worth the investment considering the number of jobs they generate and tax dollar revenue they generate. Students bring life and culture to Lawrence,Kansas.

When the Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood stood on a table at the National Bike Summit to thank the crowd and show his support for bicycling and walking, he was just getting started.

Today, he announced his new Policy Statement on Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodation Regulations and Recommendations. It is simply the strongest statement of support for prioritizing bicycling and walking ever to come from a sitting secretary of transportation.

On his blog, he writes:

Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.

We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

To set this approach in motion, we have formulated key recommendations for state DOTs and communities:

    * Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.
    * Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities.
    * Go beyond minimum design standards.
    * Collect data on walking and biking trips.
    * Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling.
    * Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
    * Improve nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects.

Now, this is a start, but it’s an important start. These initial steps forward will help us move forward even further.

blackfox 4 years, 8 months ago

"Bike riders need to get some common sense, and realize they arent safe on two lane roads, period! Until they realize that they are in danger every time they ride on some of these roads, there will be more die"

@blackfox - Cyclist are here to stay, quit complaining and learn to live with us Lets see if the LJW lets this post STAY! Does the LJW not believe in FREE SPEACH? I didnt use a curse word, or imply one. I didnt slander anyones names or reputation. So why are my post's deleted?? All I'm, saying is the laws need to be re-worked for cyclist's! The laws are OUT DATED! Period! Also, again, why do cyclist's allowed to do there "recreation" on a street or road when ALL OTHER forms of recreation, basketball, soccer, golf, drag racing, drifting, ALL HAVE TO BE DONE IN A PRIVATE AREA? Can someone answer this for me? Why have the laws neglected to keep RECREATION ONLY cyclist's off the roads? Thats all Im asking.

blackfox 4 years, 8 months ago

Oh, isnt there a nice BIKE TRAIL out by the k-10 by pass?

Amy Heeter 4 years, 8 months ago

How sad he is getting away with this. 60 days is nothing. My sympathy to Rachel's family.

lawrencenerd 4 years, 8 months ago

"Also, again, why do cyclist's allowed to do there "recreation" on a street or road when all other forms of recreation, basketball, soccer, golf, drag racing, drifting, all have to be done in a private area? Can someone answer this for me? Why have the laws neglected to keep recreation only cyclist's off the roads? Thats all Im asking."

@blackfox My bicycle is not for recreation. It is for transportation. Most cyclists you see on the road use bicycles to get to work, school, go get groceries, etc..

Vinny1 4 years, 8 months ago

I agree with Lawrencenerd that most cyclists are using it for transportation, which i applaud.

Cyclists want to be respected by drivers. Cyclists want the same rights to the road that drivers have.

But cyclists don't want to follow any of the rules that drivers have to. Most don't stop at stop signs. Most don't signal turns. Most pull up in between lanes of cars at stop lights. Most are dumb. You can't do these things and get respected by drivers. You can't think biking at 230 in the morning is anything close to a good idea. Especially down a busy, tight street like Tennessee.

sad_lawrencian 4 years, 8 months ago

This is a joke. 60 days in jail?? 200 hours of community service?? And I love how that information is buried in the middle of the article. Again, this is a joke. "[Hernandez] would ... face ... probation ... for the felony charge under state guidelines." Are you kidding me? This guy went out, got drunk, got behind the wheel and KILLED SOMEONE. And he gets 60 days and probation? State guidelines? After which point he could be driving again? This is a travesty. The lawmakers in Topeka need to address this issue and increase the severity of drunk/intoxicated/inattentive driver laws! (Perhaps lifetime revocation of his driving privileges in the state of Kansas?) So this never happens again. So there is never a victim like Rachel Leek again.

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