Asleep-at-the-Wheel Deputy Gets House Arrest for Killing Cylists

Seemingly light sentence outrages victims' families, friends

Santa Clara Superior Court Judge David Cena Thursday afternoon sentenced a sheriff's deputy to four months under house arrest and 20 weeks of community service for hitting and killing two bicyclists with his patrol car after he fell asleep at the wheel while on duty in Cupertino last year.

James Council, 28, pleaded guilty in May to two misdemeanor counts of vehicular manslaughter in Santa Clara County Superior Court, according to district attorney spokeswoman Amy Cornell. He reached a settlement with the district attorney's office in a pre-trial conference. Relatives and friends of the victims have accused Council of having received preferential treatment because he was a deputy.

On March 9, 2008, Council's patrol car crossed a double yellow line on Stevens Canyon Road around 11 a.m. The vehicle struck and killed two bicyclists, Kristy Gough, 30, and Matt Peterson, 29. Another cyclist was injured.

Dressed in a dark suit, Council stood facing the judge and claimed responsibility for the accident in court Thursday.

In between sniffles and tearful gasps, he said, "Not a day goes by that I don't think about the morning of March 9. I know that there's nothing I can say or do to replace their loss. I'd like them all to know truly from the bottom of my heart, I'm sorry."

"I take full responsibility for this tragic accident and there's nothing I could ever do or say to replace the loss." Council told the judge, the Mercury News reports.

After about an hour and a half of listening to remarks, Cena told  the court, "The American legal system is not a perfect system. The  (families') loss is so great that no legal sentence could ever diminish its magnitude."

Tears, sniffling and shaky voices created an emotional and somber atmosphere in the courtroom as the victims' family members and friends stood  before the judge and appealed to him a final time on behalf of their loved ones.

Friends of Gough and Peterson are outraged by the seemingly light sentence.

"This was the essence of a sweetheart deal," Gough's best friend, Jon Orban said.

Gough's mother, Karen Clarkson, vows to work hard to overturn the sentence.

"Part of the restitution should be having to give up some little part of his life." Clarkson said. "I just was asking that the judge give him what he would give my daughter if she committed this crime."

Council was sentenced Thursday at the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice to three years probation and is required to pay restitution to the  victims' families in addition to wearing an electronic ankle-monitoring bracelet for four months.

Bay City News

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