Michele Traverso Sentenced To Less Than a Year For Killing Cyclist; Carlos Bertonatti Still Awaiting Trial
It's been a terrible week for Miami's bicycle activists. First, a judge sentenced Michele Traverso -- who killed cyclist Aaron Cohen last year on the Rickenbacker Causeway in a brutal hit-and-run -- to less than a year in jail, even though he'd been driving on a suspended license. Then, this morning comes word the county plans to eliminate the causeway's bike lane altogether on Bear Cut Bridge during a construction project.
Oh, and as for Carlos Bertonatti, Key Biscayne's other accused cyclist-killing hit-and-run driver: He still hasn't gone to trial for the January 2010 death of Christophe LeCanne.
Traverso's sentence infuriated Cohen's family as well as cycling advocates around Miami. Traverso was eligible for up to 35 years in jail for fleeing the Rickenbacker just after 6 a.m. last February 15, after he'd plowed into Cohen and his cycling partner, Edna Walsh, before speeding home.
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He didn't turn himself in until 18 hours later -- after he and his dad covered his mangled car with a tarp; despite records showing he'd been partying in Coconut Grove until the wee hours before the accident, his toxicology reports came back negative and manslaughter charges weren't filed.
Still, prosecutors asked Judge William Thomas for a six year term; Thomas, instead, sentenced Traverso to only an additional 364 days in jail. His widow, Patti, was outraged.
"We're serving a life sentence with what happened," Patti Cohen tells NBC6.
Thomas may have been swayed by testimony that Traverso suffers from an autoimmune disorder that would be difficult to treat in prison; he will serve another two years on house arrest after leaving jail. Still, Cohen's dad, who is an attorney, was also baffled.
"I think this is a situation that at least in my opinion requires a harsher sentence," he told NBC6.
The next morning after the sentencing, Miami-Dade officials announced that cyclists trying to cross Bear Cut Bridge -- the last link between Key Biscayne and Virginia Key -- would have to do without any lane whatsoever during a construction project there.
The county had already closed half the traffic lanes on the bridge as structural work is done; now, with the upcoming Sony Open tennis tournament, they worried congestion would overwhelm the bridge.
The solution? Turning the protected bike lane into another traffic lane. Bikes and pedestrians will have to chance it in traffic for now.
"We have to find a solution that works for the majority of people," County Mayor Carlos Gimenez explains to the Miami Herald.
Bear Cut Bridge is exactly where Key Biscayne's other infamous hit-and-run accident occurred, way back in January 2010. That's when police say aspiring singer-songwriter Carlos Bertonatti plowed into LeCanne and led cops on a chase through the island with his bike wedged under the bumper.
Despite LeCanne's death coming more than a year before Cohen's, Bertonatti still has yet to go to trial. He's still on house arrest after the latest continuance was issued two weeks ago. His trial is now scheduled to begin February 19.