A truck driver who was under the influence of methamphetamine when he slammed into a group of bicyclists, killing five, on a Nevada highway in December was sentenced on Wednesday to 40 years in prison, a prosecutor said.
The driver, Jordan Alexander Barson, 45, will be eligible for parole after 16 years in prison, according to Steven B. Wolfson, the district attorney in Clark County, Nev.
Mr. Barson’s lawyer, Damian Sheets, said his client could be paroled in 10 to 12 years if he follows appropriate programming in prison.
Prosecutors said that Mr. Barson had crashed into a group of cyclists on U.S. 95 near Searchlight, Nev., about 60 miles south of Las Vegas, on the morning of Dec. 10.
The cyclists had been taking part in an annual 130-mile ride from Henderson, Nev. to Nipton, Calif., and back. Five died on the highway and several others were injured, prosecutors said.
The cyclists who were killed were identified by the authorities as Erin Michelle Ray, 39; Michael Murray, 57; Aksoy Ahmet, 48; Thomas Chamberlin Trauger, 57; and Gerrard Nieva, 41.
“This was a terrible, terrible case,” Mr. Wolfson said in an interview. “It took a toll on everybody.”
Relatives of the victims spoke in court about the grief and pain they had experienced since losing their loved ones.
Mr. Trauger’s widow, Donna, told Judge Bita Yeager of the Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County that she still kept her husband’s ashes in an urn on a dresser next to her bed and his toothbrush and razor on the bathroom sink, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“I can’t bear to remove any of it,” she said, the newspaper reported. “I’m not ready to remove any trace of him. It’s all I have left.”
Before he was sentenced, Mr. Barson apologized to the victims’ families.
“Knowing I caused the death of five beautiful people and severely hurt two others is unbearable most of the time,” he said, according to Fox 5 in Las Vegas. “I’ve caused so much pain in all of your lives, and I want you to know I’m so truly sorry for what I’ve done. I know you will carry this pain forever, and it breaks my heart I caused this. If I could give my life to bring your loved ones back, I would. I am so ashamed of myself.”
The portion of the highway where the cyclists were hit on Dec. 10 has a speed limit of 75 m.p.h. But the highway is generally considered safe for biking because of its wide shoulder, local cyclists said.
Mr. Barson was initially charged with five counts of driving under the influence resulting in death as well as other charges that could have resulted in his being sentenced to more than 100 years in prison, Mr. Sheets said.
But under a deal with prosecutors, he agreed to plead guilty in April to two counts of driving under the influence resulting in death, Mr. Sheets said.
Asked about the deal, Mr. Wolfson said that if the case had gone to trial, there was a possibility that a judge could have blocked as evidence the blood draw that determined that Mr. Barson had methamphetamine in his system.
Mr. Wolfson blamed the potential problem with the blood draw on “less than perfect investigative work” by the Nevada Highway Patrol.
“Rather than taking the chance at losing the felony D.U.I. charges, we felt it was in the best interest to strike this deal and, under the circumstances, it was appropriate,” Mr. Wolfson said. “At the end of the day, we feel justice was served because he will serve a significant amount of time in prison.”
Mr. Sheets said that his client had refused to give blood to investigators four times before they drew the sample that found that there was methamphetamine in his system. Mr. Sheets called the blood draw a violation of Mr. Barson’s rights.
Mr. Sheets said that when his client is released from prison, he hopes to visit churches and rehabilitation clinics to speak about the dangers of drug addiction. He said Mr. Barson was “incredibly sorry for what he did” and “wanted the families to have some closure.”
“He hopes that one day, they can forgive him,” Mr. Sheets said in an interview. “He hopes that one day, he can forgive himself.”
Author: Michael Levenson
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