Driver receives year in jail, $350 fine for hitting and killing man on bicycle

Defense argued remorse should lessen sentence

January 15, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A 41-year-old Elkridge man was sentenced to a year in jail yesterday in the death of a bicyclist he struck with his car on U.S. 1 in late 1998.

Jeffrey L. Morris was convicted in the bicyclist's death after a lengthy trial in November before Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney.

Morris was driving down U.S. 1 on Dec. 2 after a night of heavy drinking at a local bar when he struck and killed the bicyclist, Nick Prieto, 41, of Elkridge.

Sweeney sentenced Morris to a year on the charge of homicide by a motor vehicle while intoxicated, and three years of probation upon his release. He also fined him $350 for several traffic offenses.

Prieto's wife, Kathrine, 38, was furious with Sweeney's sentence.

"He's saying my husband's life is worth a year in jail and $350," she said. "I would have liked to see him get five years."

Morris faced up to five years in prison and prosecutors recommended 18 months in jail. But Morris' attorney, Jan O'Connor, argued that Morris should be sentenced to probation because he has a clean criminal and driving record and a good work ethic and felt remorse over the death.

"He feels so guilty that Mr. Prieto is not here to enjoy his life," O'Connor said. "He is going to suffer every day until he dies because he took a life. He wishes he were the one laying on the road."

Morris, crying, read a brief statement to Sweeney.

"If it were in my power, I would trade places," he said.

Prosecutors argued that Morris' actions outweighed any remorse he felt.

"I don't know Mr. Morris," said Assistant State's Attorney Danielle Duclaux. "I can only tell you what his actions were that night."

Sweeney said that Morris deserved a prison term, despite his clean criminal record and grief. "A life was taken in a totally needless and random and horrible way," Sweeney said.

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