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Man driving in fatal hit and run was texting; gets five years

Posted by on January 22nd, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Screenshot from KGW.com.

The Columbian was at the sentencing hearing for Antonio Cellestine at the Clark County Courthouse in Vancouver today. According to their report, Cellestine was sentenced to 5 years in prison for driving his car into 50-year old Gordon Patterson back in September. A commenter who was at the hearing today, said Cellestine’s attorney plea bargained with the judge to not have the offense become his client’s first strike.

The Columbian also reports that court documents reveal Cellestine was texting at the time of the collision. According to KGW, Cellestine, who was 18 when the crash occurred, was driving with a suspended license at the time of the crash and his record includes two instances of driving with a suspended license, as well as driving without insurance.

In court today, Cellestine was quoted in The Columbian as saying:

“I feel no one knows how I really feel deep down inside and how I feel about things… This was not intentional; this was an accident…He (Patterson) will always have a special place in my heart.”

This tragic chain of events comes as the U.S. Department of Transportation has ratcheted up their focus on distracted driving and one week after The Oprah Winfrey Show featured victims of distracted driving on her show. It will take a lot more than snazzy slogans and some PR to deal with the issues this case so readily illustrates.

On that note, here’s a comment left below by a former transportation planner for the City of Vancouver that I felt was worth more attention:

“Sadly … this is a case influenced by what must be the very low regard that our law enforcement authorities and political leadership place on motor vehicle operators being certified and insured. There is a too common problem – motor vehicle operation on public streets is not a right but a responsibility…

… A plea to our state legislators this session…please make it less easy to buy insurance in order to get license tags and then cancel the account…

Another related legislative issue would be to strengthen the state law about cell phone/texting use [aka distracted driving].

As a bicyclist who has not owned a car for 22 years – this case and many too similar makes me wonder if I need to start driving again for more protection.”

More coverage:
- Ex-student sentenced to 60 months in teacher’s death
- Hit-and-run driver who killed Vancouver teacher pleads guilty

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Comments
  • Jackattak January 22, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    I feel as though the only thing I could say right now would be the wrong thing, i.e. detrimental to our movement.

    The best I can possibly muster right now is that 5 years is nowhere near enough of a sentence based on this convict’s history and inattentive driving.

    Let’s just hope this sends a clear message to the State that there’s a huge problem out there.

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  • Anne Hawley January 22, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Well stated, @Jackattak.

    The movement against distracted driving is going to be at least as important for transportation safety as the movement against drunk driving was a generation ago. Nothing can make it better for Gordon Patterson’s family and students, but if this tragedy can help that movement gain momentum, other lives will be saved.

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  • jocko January 22, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Agreed Jackattak, How about a life time suspension from driving after he serves his sentence, with the caveat that if he is ever found behind the wheel he gets life.

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  • buglas January 22, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    “Cellestine’s attorney plea bargained with the judge to not have the offense become his client’s first strike.”

    This sounds like what under Oregon law would be Measure 11. Apparently the plea bargain was to plead to a crime that didn’t start a “three strikes” count and thus save the state the cost of a trial. I hope Mr. Patterson’s family was consulted on that decision.

    As for Mr. Cellestine’s comment, I will point out the obvious that this was the result of choices, not an accident.

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  • Todd Boulanger January 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Sadly … this is a case influenced by what must be the very low regard that our law enforcement authorities and political leadership place on motor vehicle operators being certified and insured. There is a too common problem – motor vehicle operation on publkic streets is not a right but a reponsibility.

    What do the high incidence of motorists who are repeat unlicensed offenders and this high (>20% to ~35%?) incidence of not having insurance say about the priority of traffic safety in our region’s community?

    A plea to our state legislators this session…please make it less easy to buy insurance in order to get license tags and then cancel the account. Perhaps there should be manditory reporting of lapsed/ canceled insurance by insurance companies to law enforcement – or at least a check to see that a new policy in in effect. [Or is there a better solution?]

    Another related legislative issue would be to strengthen the state law about cell phone / texting use [aka distracted driving].

    As a bicyclist who has not owned a car for 22 years – this case and many too similar makes me wonder if I need to start driving again for more protection. :-(

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  • Jackattak January 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    @ Todd Boulanger # 5 -

    I like the idea of the insurance companies reporting to law enforcement agencies. They all ready report to financial institutions when lessees’ insurance lags, it seems like it would be easy to implement that.

    Then when city vehicle enforcers go on their sweeps (e.g. “Parking Wars”) and they find an uninsured vehicle on the road or parked in public, they simply tow it.

    At least it would be a start.

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  • chelsea January 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Negligence is not the same thing as an accident. I am disgusted and saddened by this tragedy.

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  • Joe Metal Cowboy Kurmaskie January 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    1) not an accident.
    2) The deal should have come with lifetime suspension of driving privledges – note the word privledges.
    3) Five years – means he’ll be out in 2? Doesn’t feel like the punishment fits the crime.
    4) A safe place on the road beats a special place in this man’s heart.

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  • t27 January 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    “was driving with a suspended license at the time of the crash and his record includes two instances of driving with a suspended license, as well as driving without insurance”.

    He owned the car he was driving. Now how can someone with a driving record like this legally own a car? Too many serious injuries are being caused by people who are driving while suspended or revoked. He should have had to forfeit the car when he convicted of driving while suspended.

    Pattersons Law – mandatory forfeit of vehicle when convicted of driving without a license?

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  • Phil B January 22, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Wow, given all the circumstances, this is way too lenient. I just don’t understand how little value is given to a life.

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  • R LaComb January 22, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Given the leniency of the sentence, why bother to:
    – secure a licence to drive a car.
    – insure your car.
    – stop texting while behind the wheel.

    Just go ahead and put your unlawfully unlicensed driving “skills” behind the wheel of your unlawfully uninsured vehicle (while texting, of course) and drive out and kill a cyclist.

    At most, it’ll cost you five years. Disgusting.

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  • Paul Souders January 22, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    I like & agree with Jackattack’s sentiment but this is more important than “our movement,” unless “our movement” is “law-abiding human beings who use public roads.”

    Everyone who ventures off their own property — by foot, bike, motorcycle, or car — ought to consider how easy it is for someone like Mr. Cellestine to keep getting back behind the wheel. In 2-5 years he’ll be back there again.

    It’s far too easy to get, keep, and regain a driver’s license, and we are far too lenient on those who thumb their noses at the law and common human decency.

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  • Shetha January 22, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    +1 to Joe Metal Cowboy. You took the thoughts right out of my brain.

    *sigh*

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  • Jackattak January 22, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    @ Paul Souders # 12 -

    Indeed, sir. Indeed. Well put.

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  • cycler January 22, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    This is so sad, sounds like the guy had a history of not being a responsible driver, and will suffer only a slap on the wrist.

    Unfortunately, if he hadn’t hit and run, there would have probably been no charges at all.

    Discouraging.

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  • chasingbackon January 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    This entire story, from a distracted user with a history of thumbing his nose at the rules, to being bailed out by his girlfriend’s creative fund raising and finally, 5 years sentence is absurd. He deserves to NEVER drive a motor vehicle again, for the rest of his life as a true lesson. Otherwise, business as usual for people in motor vehicles.

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  • RBMurray January 22, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Our legal system has failed to recognize and protect the vulnerable cycling community.

    As an avid cyclist I advocate for state and federal legislative changes that prevent repeat offenders of the state and federal laws regarding motorized vehicle registration, ownership, and operation from registering, owning, and operating all forms of motorized transportation.

    I advocate that all persons convicted of vehicular homicide should be prohibited from owning, registering, and operating all forms of motorized transportation for the remainder of their life, no exceptions.

    Five years of jail is not a reasonable consequence for someone guilty of taking the life of another person, by any means whether that be vehicular or otherwise.

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  • Matt January 22, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Court doucuments (according to The Columbian) do not indicate that Cellestine was texting at the time of the accident, they indicate that he claims that was the case. If this was a hit-and-run, how do we know what really happened? Distracted driving is currently in the spotlight specifically because so many people are guilty of it. Therefore, it’s an incriminating admission, but a mitigating claim as well. The claim is: Just texting like all the other teens do, your honor. I don’t buy it.

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  • Matt Picio January 22, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    A car is a tool, and when properly handled, perfectly safe.

    A gun is also a tool, and when properly handled, perfectly safe.

    If a man is sitting in his living room entertaining guests, and has a handgun sitting on the table (forgive the unlikelihood of this situation), and he casually reaches down to grab the remote, and not looking, accidentally fires the gun, killing one of the guests.

    In both situations, someone was distracted when they should have been paying attention. What do you think a jury would decide in the second case? What do you think the prosecutor would ask for? What do you think the judge would rule?

    These verdicts and sentences come down, when they come down at all, because we as a society have collectively accepted that certain tools can be misused without condemnation – because everyone has one, and everyone can see themselves “accidentally” making the same mistake. This should be unacceptable.

    This is a tragedy on many levels, but perhaps one of the greater ones is that this case will act as an example, not of a warning, but of tacit permission without consequences.

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  • Insurance Man January 22, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Auto insurance is required for all registered vehicles in every state except two (WI and TN I believe) While these two states are painfully irresponsible in their motor vehicle laws, Washington (and Oregon) are not far behind. Too often you get a hand slap only after you have been in an accident. There are many states who monitor ins. cov vs registered vehicles and fine you every day you have tags but no insurance. It is woefully more expensive to drive without ins. in these states than to buy coverage.

    In addition WA drivers can reject uninsured motorist coverage and PIP to save money. It’s these liberal (conservative) laws that make situations like Mr. Patterson’s all the more difficult to swallow.

    No amount of money makes up for a human life but there needs to be a system in place for better motorist responsibility.

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  • Pete January 22, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Metal Cowboy – well written (as usual).

    Gordon Patterson – prayers for you and your family. Our thoughts are with you.

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  • Khal Spencer January 22, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    I agree with my old friend Todd Boulanger’s opinion. When a guy like Todd starts to think about driving, the canary in the coal mine has died.

    Will also add I agree that in general, judges and juries make light of the carnage on our roadways and set the bar not just too low, but lay that bar right down on the ground when it comes to motorist competence and responsibility.

    There is something horribly unjust about allowing someone to kill with their automobile, drive illegally repeatedly, and STILL get off with a wrist slap.

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  • Zaphod January 22, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    I agree with Matt Picio #19. I’d also add that in his scenario, you could replace the gun with just about anything *except* a car.

    The ubiquity of the auto and the perceived requirement of such to be a part of society is [I think] why the system is as it is… and it needs fixing.

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  • PoPo January 22, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Todd, just wondering who you are refering to when you mention “law enforcement authorities?”

    I’m just thinking that most police would be happy to enforce rules that are more severe in these areas, but they don’t make the rules.

    But you may also have meant something else, or may have a different experience.

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  • Mike January 23, 2010 at 2:19 am

    Way more people drive cars than should legally be allowed to drive cars. People who aren’t legally allowed to drive cars still do because the punishments are too lenient.

    I don’t know why courts are so scared of instituting lifelong bans or why they don’t have stricter driving tests, but I think part of the reason is because public transportation networks through our cities and states are so weak, that many people (including judges, juries, and police officers) feel that having a car is necessary for everyday life. I mean, if I loved in small town Oregon what would I do without a car? That’s a legitimate question and governments and cities need to make it easier to not own a car, and then maybe they’ll finally start getting deadly drivers off the road.

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  • TonyT January 23, 2010 at 8:35 am

    As has been said, not an accident, not an accident, not an accident.

    If this guy were operating any other heavy machinery or power tools while texting, he’d choke on the word “accident” coming out of his mouth. Everyone would recognize that it was at best gross negligence.

    Just because you didn’t mean it doesn’t make it an accident.

    He’d get more jail time for a couple of pot plants.

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  • Stig6 January 23, 2010 at 11:56 am

    His lawyer understands he’ll probably need all those strikes for later.

    Other hit from behind pending cases you may want to follow:

    Borland’s court hearing delayed-
    A judge agreed Tuesday to postpone setting a trial date for the Sand Springs woman arrested on charges of striking three bicyclists, killing two, according to court records.

    http://www.sandspringsleader.com/articles/2010/01/20/news/doc4b572ef158156368875713.txt

    Alleged Hit & Run Musician Out on Bail
    Carlos Bertonatti free, expresses sorrow for “awful tragedy”-
    The up and coming Miami musician who was arrested for an allegedly drunken hit and run accident that left a cyclist dead on the Rickenbacker Causeway was released on bail.

    http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local-beat/Alleged-Hit–Run-Musician-Out-on-Bail-82245892.html

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  • are January 23, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    and a non-fatal hit and run in st. louis:
    http://mobikefed.org/2010/01/hearing-feb-5th-for-driver-who.php

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  • Josh January 23, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Some leniency might be in order if the motorist had a clean driving record and had owned up to his terrible lack of judgment and disregard for fellow humans.

    But he didn’t own up to it.

    If the news reports are accurate, he had pattern of disobeying the rules of the road. He didn’t pay attention and killed an innocent person. Then, he drove off.

    If only 5 years is the sentence for self-distracting, hit-and-run drivers whose past driving record is full of red flags and who kill someone while breaking the law, it’s pretty discouraging for those of us who do the right thing and ride our bikes to work.

    Did the judge have leeway to set a stiffer sentence?

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  • Jerry January 23, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    A proposal: Require cell phone companies to NOT provide texting service to a cell phone that is moving. It’s an easy software fix.

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  • Joe Adamski January 23, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Until about 1995, you could not get a European car with cupholders in the US. The car manufacturers, as well as the European customer bases’ attitude was : you’re not driving to drink coffee, your driving to get somewhere safely, with dispatch. They gave in to US customer pressure,because cupholders actually tipped sales toward cars that had them. In this country, apparently safety is trumped by small concerns: texting, eating,drinking,applying makeup,etc.
    30 years ago, Mothers against drunk drivers were considered by many to be fringe nut-cases. Hopefully, those calling attention to distracted driving will fare better, quicker.

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  • beth h January 23, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    How hard is this?

    You kill someone with a car, it should be harder for you to own and operate a car in the future. Not Rocket Science.

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  • Anonymous January 24, 2010 at 2:48 am

    Yeah, if you kill someone at a car, at a minimum you should never be allowed to drive again and the penalty for driving again one you’ve been banned for life should be severe.

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  • KWW January 24, 2010 at 2:50 am

    “This was not intentional; this was an accident”

    What a joke, driving with a suspended license and he has the gall to say that. Did someone force him at gunpoint to drive? NO. It was NOT an accident.

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  • Stig6 January 24, 2010 at 10:37 am

    North Portland hit and run last night. Cyclist hospitalized, but thankfully non-life threatening injures. Suspect caught, but already released. No bail.

    http://www.katu.com/news/local/82542507.html?
    http://www.mcso.us/PAID/BookingDetail.aspx?ID=9JR1GPFmr6tyBPUCNlaUHw==

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  • Refunk January 24, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I attended the hearing.

    Josh @ #29: Sentencing guidelines for the two charges remaining after plea bargaining were, IIRC, a max of 42 months for vehicular manslaughter and a maximum of 20 years for the hit & run felony. Cellestine was given 42 months for the first and 60 months for the second, served concurrently, with credit for time served already and probably out early for accepting Jesus or some other scam (that this guy is all about deceit and scams was testified to abundantly at the hearing).

    So, once again, killing someone while operating a motor vehicle is clearly not too grievous to society. The large extended family of the victim is religious and wanted closure, some even offering forgiveness to the perp, and the lawyers colluded to look like they were tough but also to put this scumbag back on the street in a relatively short time, despite all the commendable work of the VPD.

    Oh, yeah. Cellestine was told by the judge that by pleading guilty he would become a felon, and never be able to own a firearm again. Right, just like he was driving while suspended, I’m sure that admonition will have a great significance for a guy who already had a long juvenile record before his first homicide.

    Of course, why would he need a pistol or whatever to kill again? The judge also told him he would be ineligible to regain his motor vehicle license for the horribly punitive period of one year upon release from prison. After that…

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  • are January 24, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    re comment 29, yes, the judge is not required to accept the prosecutor’s recommendation.

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  • KWW January 25, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Re:36 No gun, but this 3000lb. weapon, you can have it back within one year of getting out of the slammer….

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  • RyNO Dan January 25, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    There are too many layers to the story.
    If he hadn’t run away, would he still go to jail ? If he hadn’t been texting, would he still go to jail ? If he had a license and insurance, would he still be going to jail ?

    So if all he did was hit and kill a cyclist, would he be going to jail ?

    I get the feeling that he would not be. And that is the problem.
    If you commit a traffic infraction that leads to the death of a vulnerable road user, you should go to jail, period (IMO). Mitigating circumstances ? Fine. You go to jail for less time.

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  • [...] in fatal hit and run who was texting sentenced to five years; first conviction under new distracted driving ordinance in Washington state. See also Biking [...]

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  • David Feldman January 26, 2010 at 9:49 am

    I hope this gets the attention of our Washington legislature which is holding hearings on a Vulnerable Road Users Bill this week–Senator Pridemore, did you get our (family) emails and are you listening?

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  • John Stoner January 26, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Hello from Chicago… saw this on the Critical Mass list. Yeah, 5 years isn’t enough, but it’s more than he’d get here.

    It sucks. My heart goes out to both families, and to the Portland bike community. It’s my feeling that licensing drivers should b much more stringent, more like getting a pilot’s license for a plane.

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  • fourseasoncyclist January 27, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    From Cellestine (the guilty driver), “I feel no one knows how I really feel deep down inside and how I feel about things… This was not intentional; this was an accident…He (Patterson) will always have a special place in my heart.”

    What empty, insulting words.
    1. Poor him, he’s a victim too “… no one knows how I really feel deep down inside …” please send us all a heart-felt text message and explain it so we can shed a tear for your predicament. Just at this moment we don’t understand.
    2. “This was not intentional; this was an accident …”, sorry Antonio, not an accident. Antonio Cellestine “… was driving with a suspended license at the time of the crash and his record includes two instances of driving with a suspended license, as well as driving without insurance …”. No mention of why his license was suspended in the first place. But he was obviously unrepentant, learned nothing from his repeated run-ins with the law and multiple experiences in court, made repeated choices to continue putting the lives of the public at risk, and clearly believed his right to drive, in whatever reckless and uncaring manner he chose, superceded everyone else’s right to life.
    3.”He (Patterson) will always have a special place in my heart.” This is the worst, most cynical and insulting remark. May God be with Gordon Patterson’s family whenever this disgusting spin springs unwanted to mind. Clearly a lame attempt for Cellestine to garner some sympathy for himself, and he still cares not a whit whether he hurts Patterson’s family and friends or he’d have kept his mouth shut.

    This character takes absolutely no personal responsibility for either his actions or the dreadful result. Society would be justified in putting him away until reasonable people can be confident whatever’s missing or rotten inside him has been replaced with some decent tissue of humanity.

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