Local column: I.F. should be outraged at miscarriage of justice

Two separate fatal crashes and two outrageously different outcomes for the drivers who were to blame should have Idaho Falls outraged, writes James Patten.

“I’ll concede that it’s not so out of character for a lot of drivers to speed on our roads. But when people’s lives are destroyed or hurt there needs to be real consequences.”

John C. Dewey, Bonneville County chief deputy prosecutor said this after the March 2017 sentencing of Nicholas Perea for misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

Perea, from California, 20 years old at the time of the crash, was thoughtlessly speeding on 17th Street early one Saturday morning, September 2016. He and his two passengers were “testing” a first generation Mazda Miata when they collided with a 2013 Buick that failed to stop before entering the intersection of Curtis Avenue and 17th.

Accident reconstruction investigators estimated the Miata was traveling between 46 mph and 54 mph in the 35 mph zone.

One of Perea’s passengers was ejected from the vehicle, suffering serious injury. All occupants of the Buick were hospitalized with two succumbing to their trauma.

Although there was arguably shared culpability, and all reports state Perea was “very cooperative,” “concerned for the well-being” of the injured and noticeably contrite at sentencing, “real consequences” were nevertheless meted out by presiding Magistrate Judge Steven Gardner.

The reported first time offender received 730 days jail time, 610 of which were suspended contingent on Perea not violating the terms of his four years supervised probation.

Perea’s sentence saw his driving privileges suspended for two years, plus 100 hours community service and almost $1,500 in fines and fees and restitution. His later motion for modification of license suspension was denied.

After the hearing, a son of one of the decedents commented on the just punishment saying, “…I think the message was sent to the community that no one can ignore how serious this is.”

Contrast the above with an equally tragic collision that occurred two months prior.

Serial traffic offender Patricia Ann Beyer, of Idaho Falls, ran down two cyclists on U.S. Highway 26, between Ririe and Idaho Falls, killing one and paralyzing the second.

The bicyclists and their group of 25 were completing a ride from Jackson, Wyo.

The two young women, from Virginia and Michigan respectively, on the Idaho leg of a cross-country charity trip to the Oregon coast, were riding at the end of the group. All the cyclists, riding on the wide shoulder of the four-lane roadway, were wearing helmets and reflective gear.

Accident investigators were unable to determine Beyer’s speed as there were no skid marks and evidence was moved before their arrival.

The force of the impact propelled the two victims 152 feet and 202 feet from the crash scene.

Imagine, these two smashed bodies flew between almost one-half and three-quarters the length of a football field before landing.

Beyer initially told deputies the “sun was really bright.”

That excuse was unfounded. Investigators determined the sun could not have been a factor as it “was not in the line of vision.”

Beyer later said she “may have reached for her purse or a cigarette.” Beyer’s phone had been in her purse.

After pleading guilty to one count of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and a reduced count of failure to maintain liability insurance, Beyer’s sentence was a year in jail (305 days suspended), $1,221 in fines/fees ($500 suspended), two years of probation, three years with a suspended license (recently reduced to six months), five years restricted license and restitution.

The circumstances leading to Beyer’s reduced license suspension are troubling.

The motion for sentence reduction was filed one month after Beyer began counseling for PTSD allegedly brought on by the crash.

However, over a year since the crash had passed before Beyer sought treatment for her “trauma symptoms.” The motion hearing was expedited.

In a process that usually takes from a week to a month, Beyer’s hearing was held two days after the filing.

Victim statements were not presented, as there was not enough time for them to be prepared. In fact, the victim’s families were not notified of the hearing until after the fact.

In a Post Register report on the sentence reduction, Danny Clark, Bonneville County Prosecutor, stated, “Certainly the timing of the hearing affected our ability to communicate with the victims properly.”

While the families and friends of the dead and paralyzed women were unable to present statements, supporters of Beyer were.

Megan Wall, clinical director for Addiction and Recovery Services, wrote she does not believe Beyer “is in any way a threat to society” and that Beyer would benefit from being able to drive to and from work.

Let us not forget, Beyer was driving home from work when she ran down the cyclists. Beyer used “thinking about work” as an excuse for her distraction when talking to deputies. As for not being a “threat to society,” I beg to differ.

An examination of Beyer’s extensive court records reveal, in the 15 years she held an adult driver’s license prior to this incident, she has been guilty of inattentive/careless driving, speeding, leaving the scene of an accident, driving without privileges (three times), driving without a seat belt (three times), failure to maintain or provide proof of insurance (six times) and other sundry infractions.

Three misdemeanor proof of insurance citations have been dismissed by prosecutorial motion and another pleaded down.

Considering Idaho Falls’ lax traffic enforcement, Beyer’s list of convictions is quite the dubious accomplishment.

Where are the “real consequences”? Where is the outrage? Home-girl Beyer, a habitual offender, should be locked away for a long time, and never allowed to operate a motor vehicle again. Instead, she was given another walk.

Our local judiciary must cease the revolving door justice. History shows she will likely offend again. Getting her off our roads may save your life.

Patten, a lifelong learner holds multiple degrees and is a member of the Eastern Idaho Jazz Society, the City Club of Idaho Falls, AARP and the ACLU of Idaho.