The 91-year-old driver in a crash that left one El Tour de Tucson rider with a life-altering brain injury and left several others injured last November was sentenced to three years' probation Monday.
In Pima County Superior Court, defense attorney Michael Bloom told Judge Richard Nichols that although William Wilson never should have left the scene after the mass bicycle crash, Wilson should be sentenced for what he actually did, not for causing the crash. He never was charged with that.
During El Tour, an annual event that attracts thousands of bicyclists, 60 riders were heading west on Ina Road when Wilson, who was driving east, turned north onto Westward Look Drive and collided with 10 bike riders.
Five cyclists were hurt; their injuries ranged from a life-threatening brain injury to stiffness and road rash.
Witnesses told authorities that Wilson got out of his car to check the damage before getting back in and driving away. Bloom informed authorities of Wilson's identity two days after the crash.
Wilson was charged with leaving the scene of an accident causing serious physical injury, but he pleaded guilty last month to the less serious crime of attempted leaving the scene of an accident causing serious physical injury.
Nichols had the option of sending Wilson to prison for close to two years.
Before the judge pronounced the sentence, Don English, one of the bicyclists who was struck, and Stephen Leshner, who represents Gary Stuebe, another victim, told Nichols that they were greatly displeased with the plea agreement.
Struggling to maintain his composure, English described watching Wilson drive away as he lay bleeding on the roadway with a punctured lung and seven broken bones.
Wilson not only drove away, but he never called for an ambulance, English said.
Leshner told Nichols his client received such a severe brain injury that he was deemed incompetent by Maricopa County Superior Court, has incurred medical expenses of $1.5 million so far, and is expected to undergo another one to two years of treatments.
"He will never be what he was," Leshner said.
Leshner expressed disgust that Wilson not only left the scene and failed to call authorities, but tried to clean the evidence from his car.
Wilson's potential sentence is "very disproportionate" with the harm he caused, Leshner said.
"The sentence in this case sends a bad message to the community," Leshner said. The message is that if you're an elderly driver, you may as well hold onto your car keys, because there will be no consequences for your actions, he said.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Bruce Chalk asked Nichols to send Wilson to prison.
"If he walks out that door, he's leaving the scene of the accident just like he did that day," Chalk said, pointing to the main doors of the courtroom.
Bloom told Nichols that on the morning of the crash, a Pima County Sheriff's Department deputy manually adjusted the lights on Ina Road so that traffic going both ways had a green light. Twenty minutes before the crash, a witness said, the deputy removed a cone intended to prevent eastbound traffic from turning north onto Westward Look Drive.
Bloom said that when Wilson turned north onto Westward Look, he could not see the bicyclists because his vision was obstructed by high vegetation in the median and by two lanes of cars that were backed up as a result of a crash farther up westbound Ina Road.
At the time of the collision, the deputy was speaking with drivers who were stuck in the backup, Bloom said.
Wilson stopped when the deputy yelled at him to get out of the intersection, but he became frightened and left after angry bicyclists gathered around his car and yelled at him, Bloom said. One even acknowledges slamming his forearm on Wilson's passenger-side window, Bloom said.
The statute requires motorists involved in crashes to stay at the scene, notify authorities of the crash and provide their insurance information, Bloom said.
Bloom said he wasn't trying to downplay the horrific nature of the injuries, but because a deputy already was at the scene to call an ambulance, Wilson's failure to do so didn't exacerbate the situation.
The defense attorney also said Wilson can't be forced to pay restitution because he didn't cause the crash.
Bloom told the judge that Wilson, a grandfather of 11 and an active church member, helped assemble the first atomic bomb as a Navy engineer and worked for Ford Motor Co. for 25 years.
No useful purpose could be served by sending a 91-year-old man in ill health to prison, Bloom said.
Wilson said he wanted everyone to know how sorry he was that "all of this happened" and that he prays for the victims' recovery.
Nichols said he believed probation was appropriate because of Wilson's age, his lack of criminal history and the fact a deputy was there and could call for assistance immediately.
Although Wilson has surrendered his driver's license and now resides in an assisted-living home in Georgia, Nichols stressed that Wilson is not allowed to drive. If Wilson successfully completes probation, the charge will be designated a misdemeanor, Nichols said.