State prison for driver in August DUI crash
Ryan Summerlin January 31, 2013
The driver of a car that struck and critically injured a bicyclist in August was sentenced to more than three years in state prison Wednesday afternoon.
El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury sentenced Christine Whalen, 54, to three years and eight months in prison for driving under the influence of alcohol and causing injury, leaving the scene of an accident and eluding police.
“This is probably as bad a DUI accident as I’ve ever seen,” Kingsbury said prior to announcing the sentence. The severity of the crash led Kingsbury to reject a probation report recommending a full year in El Dorado County Jail as a sentence. Kingsbury described the crash as a “horrific incident committed by a good person” that will forever affect the lives of numerous people.
Whalen was the driver of a Subaru station wagon that struck 38-year-old South Lake Tahoe resident Adam Rose as he was riding a bicycle north along Emerald Bay Road the evening of Aug. 21.
Rose recalled riding his bike back from 7-Eleven when he was hit from behind. He said he was carried on top of the Subaru’s hood for about 100 feet before being thrown from the vehicle. He was sent skidding across the asphalt when Whalen turned right onto 12th Street.
Whalen continued to drive, eventually crashing into Bi-State Petroleum at 2070 James Ave. and attempting to run from police before being taken into custody.
Whalen had a 0.23 percent blood alcohol content, nearly three times the legal limit, at the time of the wreck, said Assistant El Dorado County District Attorney Hans Uthe. David Rogers, Whalen’s attorney, said she remembers little from the crash.
Rose said it’s something he’ll never forget.
The crash broke the 38-year-old’s right leg in three places and his left arm in two. He spent 10 days at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno and had three surgeries. Despite months of physical therapy, he still has difficulty walking and doubts he will ever be able to return to the life he had previously.
The contractor used crutches to attend Wednesday’s hearing, the first time he has seen Whalen. He spends much of his time in a wheelchair.
“It’s been frustrating. It’s been really hard to do stuff by myself,” Rose said. “I won’t be able to do anything like I did,” Rose added, saying one of the biggest things he is looking forward to is being able to take his dog for a walk, something he used to do two or three times a day.
He has mixed feelings about Whalen, saying he is angry with what she did, but also saying he has forgiven her and hopes she somehow learns from the horrific incident.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Whalen said she takes responsibility for her actions and said she will carry the burden of the crash for the rest of her life.
“I make no excuses for my actions on Aug. 21, 2012,” Whalen told the court, adding she is “extremely remorseful” for the pain she has caused Rose. She apologized to Rose, his family and friends, as well as her family and friends for the distress she has put them through.
“I feel great shame and embarrassment for my actions,” Whalen said.
Several people spoke on Whalen’s behalf at Wednesday’s sentencing. Most said they were shocked to learn about her involvement in the crash and said what happened that day is completely out of character for the former South Tahoe Public Utility District employee, who does not have a criminal record.
South Lake Tahoe attorney David Burns asked for leniency for Whalen, saying she was the best legal secretary he’s had in the two decades.
“She’s always been a productive member of society,” Burns said. “She did something wrong and she knows that,” Burns added.
Prior to sentencing, El Dorado County Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe acknowledged Whalen’s remorse for the crash, but urged Kingsbury to sentence her to state prison time to warn people about the consequences of drunken driving.
“This is an unusual case, but it was no accident,” Uthe said, displaying the badly mangled beach cruiser-style bike Rose was riding when he was struck. “It was a series of choices.”
Whalen received 326 days credit towards her prison sentence for the time she has already served in jail and good behavior. She will not be taken to state prison until after a restitution hearing scheduled for March 4.
As for Rose, he faces a long recovery, uncertain future and another surgery to repair damage to his hand. Despite the obstacles, he said he is staying positive.
“For me, I look forward to taking my dog for a walk and getting back to work,” Rose said.