From The Arizona Daily Star
Jailhouse calls lead to longer sentence
Judge says drunken driver laughed over cyclist's death
By Kim Smith
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 01.23.2008
advertisementA recorded jail conversation in which a woman made light of the bicyclist she had killed led to her getting a longer sentence in Pima County Superior Court on Tuesday.
Two months ago, Melissa Arrington, 27, was convicted of negligent homicide and two counts of aggravated driving under the influence in connection with the December 2006, death of Paul L'Ecuyer.
She could have received as few as four years in prison, but Judge Michael Cruikshank sentenced her to 10.5 years, one year shy of the maximum.
Cruikshank said he found a telephone conversation between Arrington and an unknown male friend a week after L'Ecuyer was killed "breath-taking in its inhumanity."
In a call from the Pima County jail, the man told Arrington an acquaintance of theirs believed she should get "a medal and a (expletive) parade because she had taken out "a (expletive) tree hugger, a bicyclist, a Frenchman and a gay guy all in one shot."
Arrington laughed. When the man said he knew it was a terrible thing to say, she responded "No, it's not."
Instead of laughing, Cruikshank said, Arrington should have been rendered silent by such shocking and disgusting sentiments.
According to Deputy Pima County Attorney Jonathan Mosher, L'Ecuyer, 45, was riding his Schwinn in the 5-foot-wide bike lane about 8:40 p.m. on Dec. 1, 2006, when Arrington swerved off the road, struck him and then continued for 800 feet before stopping.
A blood test taken 2 1/2 hours after the collision showed Arrington, who was driving on a suspended license for a prior DUI, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.156 percent, nearly double the DUI level. A witness to the crash testified Arrington swerved off the road twice before the collision.
In addition, Mosher said just six months before the crash Arrington attended a Mothers Against Drunk Driving event where victims of alcohol-related crashes described the impact it has had on their lives.
During Tuesday's hearing, Mosher played two jail phone conversations — the one that offended Cruikshank and a second one in which Arrington mentions the witness to the crash.
When Arrington is told she was charged with manslaughter based, in part, on the woman's statement to police about the swerving Arrington responds, "If she had so much of an issue, maybe she should have called (911) sooner, huh?"
Mosher said that indicates Arrington blames the witness for the crash.
He said Arrington's testimony showed she has yet to take responsibility for her actions. Arrington testified that she had only three drinks, Mosher said, when her blood-alcohol level clearly shows she had more, and she claimed she hit L'Ecuyer while reaching for hand sanitizer but the evidence shows that's not true.
Mosher urged the judge for the maximum sentence, noting the prior DUI conviction and the emotional impact L'Ecuyer's death has had on his family.
L'Ecuyer was an exceptional person "who lived his beliefs," Mosher said.
Mosher told the judge that minutes before he died L'Ecuyer ate a meal to celebrate a new job and made his final journal entry.
L'Ecuyer jotted down "new month, new job, new life," Mosher said, his voice choking with emotion.
L'Ecuyer's mother, Barbara Nordlund and siblings, Jeanine, Larry and Anne, described him as a man with "enormous ideals" who gave out Thanksgiving Day baskets to the needy, rode in charity events and passed out fliers every Martin Luther King Jr. Day urging people to write down their dreams and goals.
Assistant Pima County Public Defender Michael Rosenbluth told the judge his client has never been "cold, callous or flippant" about L'Ecuyer's death and has always felt remorseful for her actions.
Rosenbluth said the jail calls aren't her true sentiments.
Arrington said words can't begin to express how she feels about what she's done.
Once she's out of prison, Arrington said she hopes to share her story with Mothers Against Drunk Driving or her own advocacy group.