Ethiopian driver in fatal bus crash in Denver gets probation
By Jeffrey Leib, The Denver Post | January 7, 2011

A friend comforts Tidenekialesh Hawariyat (left) out of a Denver courtroom (John Prieto, The Denver Post)
A Denver County Court judge on Thursday spared an RTD contract bus driver jail time for an accident that killed two and injured 11.

At a sentencing hearing for Tidenekiyalesh Hawariyat, the 30-year-old Veolia Transportation driver, relatives of Carla Miranda and her fiance, Dustin Peletier, who were killed in the April 3 accident, made impassioned and tearful pleas to Judge Claudia Jordan to impose jail time.

Miranda and Peletier, both 29, died after Hawariyat, who was driving the 83L bus route on Lincoln Street and ran a red light at East Eighth Avenue, struck their car and another vehicle.

In November, Hawariyat pleaded guilty to two counts of careless driving resulting in death and one count of careless driving resulting in injury.

The plea agreement suspended jail time if Hawariyat successfully completes three years of probation. She also may not drive for three years and must perform 250 hours of community service. She was fined $450.

Before Jordan approved the agreement, Miranda's sister, Elena Miranda, told the court that such a "lenient sentence trivializes our loss."

She and her mother, Lorraine Delao-Miranda, asked Jordan to impose the maximum of one year in jail for each of the three misdemeanor charges.

Nicol Rupolo, Peletier's mother, told the court her family met the Mirandas in April to plan a f uneral when "we should have been planning a wedding."

Hawariyat, an immigrant from Ethiopia, sat at the defendant's table flanked by a translator and her attorney, Darren Cantor.

Deputy District Attorney Lindsay VanGilder acknowledged to the court that careless- driving-resulting-in-death accidents are among the most difficult that prosecutors face.

But a review of video evidence taken from the bus shows Hawariyat was "looking straight ahead with both hands on the wheel" when she ran through the red light at Lincoln and East Eighth Avenue, VanGilder said, adding there was no evidence that Hawariyat had "any intent to hurt anyone or do any harm."

After saying she would accept the plea agreement, Jordan read excerpts from some of the 15 letters submitted to the court by the friends and family of those killed and injured in the accident.

A letter from Gillian Hepola, 14, said, "Carla and Dustin were my mom's best friends, but really, they were my role models. They taught me all I know about family, love and friends."

Jordan said, "These are very difficult cases; very emotional cases."

Cantor noted that Hawariyat was not texting, reading, e-mailing or talking on the phone. Nor was she impaired by drugs or alcohol when she ran the red light, he said.

"As tragic as this is and as awful as these families feel," this was not a case that deserved the imposition of jail time, he said. "This was an accident."

While there was no evidence that Hawariyat was speeding at the time of the accident or even before the wreck, RTD had planned to add minutes to the 83L schedule because the agency had heard that it was difficult for drivers to meet.

Such schedule changes are common and went into effect on the 83L and some other routes in May, a month after the accident.

The police report on the accident showed it occurred at 4:58 p.m., three minutes before Hawariyat's bus was due at Civic Center station on Broadway at Colfax Avenue.

The schedule that took effect in May had a Civic Center arrival time of 5:09 - An African-American news and views website.
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