America let you down.
Or more precisely, San Bernardino County let you down, along with a court system that inexplicably denied you the justice you deserved.
You came to this country to live out your dream of becoming a professional cyclist. We sent you back in a coffin, the victim of two then-high school students who couldn’t manage to keep their feet off the gas pedal.
And then let the driver who killed you off with the barest slap on the wrist, as if your all-to-brief life had no meaning or value.
Less time than he might have gotten for killing a dog, in fact.
A lot less.
It was over two years ago, in April, 2010, that you were riding on Greenspot Road in Highland, just north of San Bernardino, training for your new role as a rider for the Bahati Foundation Pro Cycling Team, founded by Compton’s own former national crit champion Raahsaan Bahati.
It was your big break.
A chance to prove yourself as a rising rider on a new pro team with a then-promising future.
You had no way of knowing, as you rode along that country road, that your dream would end at age 27, in the field on your right.
Maybe you reacted to those cars zooming towards you. driving far too fast. You probably saw one try to pass the other at around 80 mph, and watched in horror as the other driver cut hard to the left to keep him from passing. That sent the first car, driven by Patrick Roraff, back to the right, where he hit the shoulder and lost control, skidding across the road directly into you.
You probably hit your brakes and tried to swerve.
But it was too late.
At that speed, nothing you did or might have done would have made any difference.
I wonder if you muttered an obscenity as you saw the situation unfold. Or did you whisper one last prayer, or the name of a loved one just before the out-of-control car barreled into you, slamming you into the bushes on your right?
Were you aware of what was happening? Did you know you were dying there alone on the side of the road, thousands of miles from the people you loved?
Or did you slip mercifully into oblivion, a loss of consciousness masking the pain from your broken body?
The young men who took your life were arrested, and eventually, charged with your murder.
But that’s where the wheels of justice seemed to slowly slip off the tracks.
The long wait for charges to be filed combined with endless legal delays to push any promise of justice back time and again.
Meanwhile, Roraff and co-defendant Brett Michael Morin, who was driving the other car, were able to graduate from Redlands East Valley High School. And even with a pending homicide charge, Roraff remained the star of his high school soccer team, and went on to play soccer at the University of Redlands. Perhaps foreshadowing the leniency to come, the judge even gave permission for him to travel to Texas with his team.
God forbid that killing another person should be enough to negatively impact someone’s athletic career.
Even though yours ended that day at Roraff’s hands.
To be fair, he did say he was sorry.
It looked, ever so briefly, like you were going to get the justice you deserved when Patrick Roraff finally changed his plea to guilty. Given the seriousness of the charges — felony vehicular homicide with gross negligence and a serious felon enhancement — he should have faced serious prison time.
But he doesn’t.
Instead, the judge imposed a sentence that is far closer to a pat on the back than a slap on the wrist.
Roraff was sentenced on Monday to just 90 days in jail, with three years probation, along with community service.
Ninety lousy days. And probably a lot less than that, given this state’s over-crowded jails.
That’s less that three months for what was initially described as an illegal street race — a felony in the state of California, by the way, for which neither driver was charged — resulting in a man’s death.
And let’s be clear. This was not an accident.
Your death was the entirely foreseeable consequence of a conscious decision to use two potentially deadly motor vehicles as oversized Hot Wheels toys.
You were just collateral damage.
The court used this case to send a message — that killing another human being while recklessly endangering the public is no big deal.
So go ahead and do whatever the hell you want on the roads, because there won’t be any serious consequences.
Especially if you have athletic skills, evidently.
They might as well have thrown Roraff a party for decreasing the excess cyclist population in the county.
Not just because you were denied the justice you so richly deserved. But because cyclists are vulnerable on the streets, subject to the whims and careless actions of those with whom we share them.
It’s the protection we receive from the police and courts — or don’t — that dictates whether those streets will be survivable. And on that count, this court failed us miserably, putting every cyclist at greater risk.
Maybe Roraff is deserving of a second chance. But by failing to give him the sort of sentence his crime called for, the legal system missed an opportunity to show things like this can’t, and won’t, be tolerated.
And making it that much more likely that it will happen again.
There’s no word on when Roraff will begin his sentence.
It’s possible that his jail time may be delayed so he can compete again this season. If not, he’ll do his time, and be free to play again; maybe even transferring to a larger school now that this is no longer hanging over his head.
Why he received this gift from the court, I have no idea. I could speculate, but it would be nothing but a guess.
And not a pretty one, at that.
The sudden guilty plea suggests that this may have been a plea bargain. If so, I would question whether any District Attorney who signed off on a deal like this is fit to remain in office.
If not, I hope local voters will keep this case in mind when the judge comes up for reelection.
And why Roraff’s co-defendant continues to fight his charges when he could get a sweet deal like this is beyond me.
Maybe he’s not a star athlete.
To say I’m disgusted is to put it mildly.
I’m sorry, Jorge Alvarado.
We failed you.
You deserved better. You deserved justice.
But like far too many people who needlessly die while riding a bike, you’re not going to get it.
And absolutely nothing about this case will keep it from happening again.
Update: Cyclist/attorney Dj Wheels fills in some of the blanks in this case.
According to information on the website for the San Bernardino County Superior Court, the sentence was imposed by judge William Jefferson Powell, who was appointed to the court by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.
Roraff was sentenced to 90 days in county jail, and taken into custody immediately after the hearing. Which means he should be back on the streets by early November at the latest, followed by three years of supervised probation; the judge also ordered his license revoked for a period to be determined by the DMV.
And Roraff was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service, half of which must involve discussion of the dangers of reckless driving.
The terms of his probation also prohibit the possession of deadly weapons; in his case, maybe that should include motor vehicles.