Koloa man sentenced to jail for striking cyclist

LIHUE — A Koloa man convicted of first-degree negligent injury for running his car into a retired firefighter on a bicycle was sentenced to six months in jail and four years felony probation on Wednesday in 5th Circuit Court.

Robert Gaor Dela Cruz, 34, apologized to the victim who was in court with his family.

The victim, Danny Smith, 69, is a former battalion commander with the Kauai Fire Department who retired after 34 years.

State Deputy Public Defender John Calma said Dela Cruz was driving his pickup through a highway construction area in Kekaha when the accident occurred on Feb. 14, 2013. The center lanes were blocked and traffic was routed to the outside lane and shoulder area.

After hearing and feeling bumping noises, Dela Cruz stopped to discover that he had struck Smith, who was riding his bicycle. A blood test following the accident showed no traces of drugs or alcohol in Dela Cruz’s system.

Calma said this was an accident but with tragic consequences. He also turned to the victim and his family and expressed his sorrow for what Smith and his family have endured.

County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said speed, alcohol and drugs were not factors in the crash. He said Dela Cruz was a casual methamphetamine user according to Dela Cruz’s own statements, but drug possession charges were dropped because the amount of methamphetamine found in baggies in the defendant’s backpack that was in the truck after the accident was insufficient for testing.

Kollar said Dela Cruz was remorseful and asked the court for a sentence of probation with 90 days jail and a standing order to pay full restitution to Smith.

Smith’s daughter, Uilani Alberado, was in court to speak on behalf of her father. She described him as a marathon runner who competed in triathlons and who emphasized good health throughout his life and rode his bike to keep fit.

Smith is unable to speak clearly from a split vocal cord that was caused by the accident. He has also undergone a knee replacement and requires lengthy rehabilitation and constant attention.

Since the accident, the family has become closer in their effort to care for their father, who had lived an independent life until the accident, Alberado said. In addition, they care for Smith’s parents who are in their 90s.

“Our lives have changed,” Alberado said.

It is Smith’s resiliency to fight back from his disability that has inspired the family, she added. He has regained the ability to walk but still with difficulty. He is working on regaining his speech.

Judge Kathleen Watanabe ordered Dela Cruz to pay $7,241.50 in restitution. It is not an insurmountable figure, she added, and that he should work hard repay the Smith family as a way of expressing his remorse.

The judge went as far as to say Dela Cruz should have been working and saving money in anticipation of paying the restitution that was agreed to prior to sentencing.

This was an accident and the consequences to the victim are horribly severe, Watanabe said. The court would have liked to have done more but is bound by the laws of the state.

“One of the difficulties for the court is to try and make the victim whole in these cases,” she said.

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