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Another black eye for bikes in Colorado - Updated

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 8th, 2010 at 9:55 am

A petition on Change.org has over
2,700 signatures.

It's been a rough year for Colorado. First there was the ban on bicycling in Black Hawk, then a candidate for Governor, Dan Maes, likened Colorado's bike-sharing program to a "U.N. plot" (thankfully, comments like that earned Maes a paltry 10% of the vote). And now comes this...

According to the Vail Daily, "A financial manager for wealthy clients will not face felony charges for a hit-and-run because it could jeopardize his job."

"Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger's profession, and that entered into it... Justice in this case includes restitution and the ability to pay it."
— DA Mark Hurlbert speaking to the Vail Daily newspaper

The financial manager is Martin Joel Erzinger, 52. In his position at Morgan Stanley he oversees over $1 billion in assets for his clients. He'd be forced by law to disclose a felony, which would of course not be good for business. But what about the business of justice?

Erzinger hit 34 year old Steven Milo as he rode his bike along a highway shoulder. Milo suffered very serious injuries to his brain and spinal cord and was left for dead in a ditch while Erzinger drove away and only stopped several miles down the road to call roadside assistance for his banged up Mercedes.

DA Mark Hurlbert, who pleaded the case down to two misdemeanor traffic charges says one of the reasons for doing so is to make sure Erzinger retains his ability to pay restitution in the case. Here's Hurlbert in the Vail Daily:

"Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger's profession, and that entered into it... Justice in this case includes restitution and the ability to pay it."

Hit-and-run cases are often not as cut-and-dry as they seem, and as we experienced here in Portland just a few months ago, add in a wealthy suspect and things get even more complicated.

Legal chess moves aside, the community has responded strongly to this case. Over 2,700 5,400 people have already signed a petition on Change.org urging DA Hurlbert to not drop the felony charges against Erzinger. Another grassroots effort is directed at a boycott of the Vail stage of the upcoming Quizno's Pro Challenge.

Even with an appreciation of the legal complexities, what Erzinger is accused of absolutely warrants a felony charge and it's shocking that his profession and net worth has even entered into the equation. As it is, the story has already gone viral, so the cat is out of the bag. Now, instead of dealing with the felony charge privately with his clients, Erzinger will become a national villain. I wonder how all this attention is impacting his business?

UPDATE: Speaking of attention... Look what just showed up as the Top Story on Huffington Post:

Wow. So much for not jeopardizing Erzinger's business.

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Comments
  • Mike Quigley November 8, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Johnny Cochran said it best: "The color of American justice is GREEN!"

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  • Mike Fish November 8, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Unfortunately, I bet this impacts his business 0%.

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  • Elliot November 8, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Don't know when you last checked the petition signature numbers, but I read it as 3200... and growing fast. Up by 20 in the one minute of time it took me to sign and refresh.

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  • dutch November 8, 2010 at 10:17 am

    I'm still upset about what happened in our own town with Hanna. It's amazing to see how people will bend over themselves to re-interpret the law just because they were in a car, and/or were rich.

    If you wanna kill someone. Do it in a car. Its been said many times and its the damn truth.

    What is happening to this guy across the internet is what needed to happen to Kirk Hanna. Besides this website and maybe a couple other small ones, few portlanders know how evil Hanna is. I bet this season SkiBowl will do just fine. Where is the community outrage? I feel like our mainstream media dropped the ball. Hanna and skibowl could have been a front page story on the mercury or the WW or the Oregonian. They would never do that though, too much money could be lost in advertising. Its F'ed up.

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  • Sean G November 8, 2010 at 10:18 am

    That is outrageous. Just more evidence of the ridiculous double standard we have for white collar criminals, not to mention the idea that bicyclists/pedestrians are somehow irrelevant when hit by a car.

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  • VeloBusDriver November 8, 2010 at 10:26 am

    He does seem to know how to file Felony charges, though. If you impersonate another Mountain Bike racer in Colorado, watch out, Mark Hurlbert will get you:

    http://j.mp/93xc5N

    But running over another human being (a rich transplant surgeon, BTW) gets you a misdemeanor? Great, just great.

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  • Stephen Fortunato November 8, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Petition signed. Please send a message to the District Attorney that no one is above the law.

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  • K'Tesh November 8, 2010 at 11:08 am

    The pedition was at 3911 when I signed on, now at 3985 upon refresh

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  • wsbob November 8, 2010 at 11:25 am

    What about Martin Joel Erzinger's ability to pay, which DA Mark Hurlbert claims to be concerned about? Didn't hit-and-run driver, Erzinger, have insurance that would pay for the injured persons injuries?

    Erzinger might have to take a lesser paying job...maybe for awhile in the prison laundry...but it doesn't seem like a lesser conviction would be necessary to make sure he'd be able to adequately compensate the victim.

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  • toddistic November 8, 2010 at 11:26 am

    we are surprised the wealthy are above the law?

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  • Lee Duncan November 8, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Even if charges have been reduced, nothing stopping the victim for suing for a bazillion dollars, which I hope happens.

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  • peejay November 8, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Lee:

    Because money isn't justice. If the driver were not wealthy, the victim could not sue for a bazillion dollars, so that means the nature of justice has changed because of money.

    The only thing the rich have in common with us is mortality, a finite number of years in which to live. Two years, five years, or however many years in jail is the same to Donald Trump as it is to you and me (considerations of posh minimum-security "country-club" prisons aside). They should be subject to the same punishments as we are.

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  • rider November 8, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Having a felony conviction will negatively impact the careers of the majority of the population. By this logic we should stop attempting to convict anyone of anything.

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  • are November 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    unless he has zero savings and no liability insurance (which would be very unusual for a person in his situation and ought to make his investment clients worry), he already has "ability to pay." what the DA is actually concerned about is his ability to continue to maintain this lifestyle after this all blows over. seems to me if the NASD (which is actually now called FINRA) cares about convicted felons holding investment advisor licenses, maybe they would also care about people who cut deals to avoid felony convictions. contact info for the FINRA ombudsman is at http://www.finra.org/AboutFINRA/Ombudsman/

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  • nosilla November 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Amazing how the profession of private wealth manager is worth more than his victim--a liver transplant surgeon.

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  • Hmmm November 8, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Maybe the cyclist cut a deal. Ask the DA for no felony in exchange for a huge civil settlement and secrecy.

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  • chelsea November 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Disgusting. Something tells me that this guy could get a job, despite having a felony on his record, a lot easier than a working class felon.

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  • Matt Haughey November 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    I was also outraged about this case. The subject came up on my site and some lawyers chimed in that although this seems like an insane decision that is unfair, it happens every day in a court of law, because prosecuting this as a misdemeanor would be a slam dunk win and the guy was ready to plead guilty to it, but if they pursued a felony charge he would fight the case and given the hit and run laws in Colorado, the case wasn't slam dunk (the driver already has a litany of excuses and would certainly run with them in court).

    It sucks all around, but apparently this is how the legal system works everyday, people talk charges down just to get the cases over with as quickly and painlessly as possible (at the cost of justice, which blows).

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  • Hart Noecker November 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    When injustice becomes the law, the law must be broken. Be careful where you park, Martin.

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  • GlowBoy November 8, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Pretty sure I wouldn't have my job after a felony H&R conviction. That would be true for most people I know.

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  • mello yello November 8, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    Fill the jury with cyclists. Barring that, the felony would never stick. What jury member who drives would ever convict someone for something they themselves would probably do. Remember, there's 100 unsolved reported (and likely more unreported) property damaging hit and runs in Portland every weekend. The Subaru WRX driver still hasn't been found. The DA in this case has to pick his battles since the defendant has unlimited resources to fight the felony charge. Whereas the DA has many more cases on the docket where he could spend limited funds to win more serious convictions.

    Would the tables be turned if it were a cyclist who hit and killed a pedestrian? Wouldn't that make you think twice about riding your bike near pedestrians and have a chilling effect on cycling everywhere? Turning an accident into a felony would stop people from doing anything or engaging from meaningful commerce.

    So how do we stop hit and runs? Cameras. Ask any criminal what will stop them in their tracks and they'll tell you it's cameras.

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  • nosilla November 8, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    And now we have the cnbc take on it:

    "The clear implication is that Erzinger is getting off easy because of his wealth. I think this is probably 100% backwards.

    I suspect that if Erzinger hadn't been a wealthy guy driving a brand new Mercedes Benz he would never have been arrested for the hit and run."
    http://www.cnbc.com/id/40071519

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  • VeloBusDriver November 8, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    "Maybe the cyclist cut a deal" - Nope, Dr. Milo had this to say about the deal:

    “Mr. Erzinger struck me, fled and left me for dead on the highway. Neither his financial prominence nor my financial situation should be factors in your prosecution of this case.”

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  • Joe November 8, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    pure SAD.

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  • q`Tzal November 8, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    I agree that this felony should not be dropped but I think that with the right lawyer on the cyclist's side in this case money COULD BE justice.

    I'm not talking about simple fines.
    I'm not talking about simply paying ALL of the cyclist's medical costs related to this for life.
    I'm not talking about paying 100% of the disability insurance that the government will end up paying out to someone who has become injured enough to not be able to provide their own livelihood.

    Any judgment against this driver, and other hyper-rich offenders, needs to include all these practical elements of fair restitution.
    It also MUST include punitive damages of such an amount as to serve as punishment itself.
    These sort of offenders need to be made destitute by their acts.
    They should be made to sell their homes, all their assets and be made to live off just the bare minimum (just above poverty wage level) from their normal job regardless of how much they make.

    Then we should encourage these people to go about their life and be seen by the general public as an example of justice. That you too are just human and not above the law.
    There is no point in putting the rich in minimum security prisons where they can lounge in safety; better that they suffer the indignities that the poor suffer on a daily basis.

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  • Bob_M November 8, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    In response to a CNN article Preston McBillionaire wrote the following:

    This writer fellow is absolutely right. It is incredibly difficult being a private wealth manager in America. We are constantly targeted by the police whenever we run over prominent physicians in our luxury vehicles. DWB, or Driving While Billionaire, I call it. Poor folks are never unfairly targeted for prosecution, which is why our prison system is exclusively full of billionaires like me. Oh here are some sirens right now, what could this police officer want? I suppose I should pull over and stop typing this. I'm sure the officer will be nice though, he is colored just like my servants and they all very friendly to me. Maybe they know each other! Good bye

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  • Opus the Poet November 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    This makes me so angry I am almost speechless. there needs to be an investigation of the DA's political contributors for the last 10 years or so to see if this Erzinger has ever given him money, If Erzinger has made any political contributions to Hurlbert then Hurlbert should recuse himself from this case and let someone else take it from another county or from the state attorney's office.

    On another point, houses are immobile and usually flammable. Even a gated community is vulnerable from the air.

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  • q`Tzal November 8, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Opus #27

    You're thinking so 20th century.
    Sure you could buy an RC plane with on board live video so you could fly it remotely and accurately. You could also make it a flying molotov cocktail. That's so passe.
    And criminal.

    Using a chemical and/or environmental scientist create, or better yet, find a credible SuperFund level of toxic scare in his community.

    Better than bombing the rich or killing them you take away what they truly value: money.
    Some will never believe it but that is no matter. The property value will drop precipitously. The some will flee; the property value will drop more. The spiral of community tax income loss, from the exodus and drop in property values, will cause reductions in services that make these gated communities desired. Within time it will become a gated ghetto.

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  • wsbob November 8, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    "...but if they pursued a felony charge he would fight the case ..." Matt Haughey #18

    That, and issues related to it, is probably closer to the reason the DA isn't enthusiastic about pursuing a felony charge. It'll probably cost a small fortune in time and money to run this through the court. Once locked up, he'd probably be smart enough to stay out of trouble, meaning he'd get early release.

    Excuses he's already made as reported in the news, for driving his Benz into the cyclist "... Erzinger told police he was unaware he had hit Milo, court documents say. ..." .

    Or this one: "... Court records say prosecutors expressed skepticism to Milo at a suggestion by Erzinger's defense attorneys that Erzinger might have unknowingly suffered from sleep apnea, and that might have caused him to fall asleep at the wheel and hit Milo. ..."

    So he was "...unaware he had hit Milo...". I guess that can happen when a person falls asleep at the wheel of a moving car. He seems to have woken up quickly enough to regain control of the car, and continue driving across town to the Pizza Hut parking lot, where he proceeded to call "...Mercedes auto assistance ..." to have his car towed from that point on.

    But then the cops show up as "...he was putting a broken side mirror and a bumper in his trunk, court record say. ...". If he's having to put his broken side mirror and a bumper in his trunk, it seems he must have known he'd hit...something. Too bad what he hit hadn't been simply a guardrail, a rock, or someone's mailbox post, instead of a living person.

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  • david...no the other one! November 8, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Knowledge is power. How many of his clients at Cheatem, Robem and Screwem, would be "humiliated" to be known as associates of Mr.Erzinger. Hit them where they live. Some lowley associate must have a heart and be willing to name name's to go public with the information of who does business with this wonderful example of humanity.

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  • martin November 8, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    This is exactly the same defense I used when I robbed a video store back in 1990 when I was working at a Dairy Queen. "How can I possibly pay the $2500 restitution if I'm in jail for 90-240 days?" I asked the judge. For some reason, it didn't work back then.

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  • beth h November 8, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Someone once said, "The rich are different because they're rich."

    If that's true, we ought to hold them to a different standard.

    If you're rich -- truly rich, millionaire rich, then you should bear a greater weight of responsibility for your wealth, and be held to a higher legal standard when you screw up.

    If the courts can't (or, more properly, won't) hold this guy accountable, then by all means let his name and his livelihood be smeared in the court of public opinion. He earned it by being stupidly, riduclously, needlessly rich and compounded it by trying to hide his guilt after he hit someone with his car. He deserves little mercy or pity in my book and I hope he gets the punishment his actions truly warrant.

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  • VeloBusDriver November 8, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    "If that's true, we ought to hold them to a different standard."

    In Europe, they do just that. A rich driver of a Ferrari received a $290,000 speeding ticket in Switzerland. Finland handed out a $140,000 ticket back in 2004. Link to the MSNBC story: http://j.mp/bNu8cK

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  • random_rider November 8, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    wsbob (#29) probably has the best explanation. If the prosecuter took a felony case to court it would burn through their annual trial budget because of all of the expert witnesses and delaying tactics the high priced defense lawyers would concoct.

    The DA most likely figured it wasn't worth the hassle of dealing with a long drawn out case and having to balance the remaining workload with fewer resources.

    Obviously those shouldn't be factors when working to achieve "justice", but they are the reality, which is why justice is not the primary function of our justice system.

    To me the most jaw dropping bit of prevarication from the D.A. is when he implies that a misdemeanor would be more of a punishment since it stays on his permanent record while a felony could be expunged after a couple of years. He could at least have put a little effort into trying to concoct a halfway believable excuse for not doing his job.

    I still remember my father-in-law's reaction to the O.J. case: from day one he was saying there was no way they would get a conviction, not because of the racial element, but because of the wealth of the criminal.

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  • wsbob November 8, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    To my last paragraph in comment #29, I should have added, that I wonder what will be driver Erzinger's explanation for not having gone back to see what he'd hit with his car. What did he say when asked, 'When did you first realize you'd struck something with your vehicle?'.

    For the people involved in investigating it, and for people he shares the road with in future, one of the most important things to be learned from this collision, is exactly why and how Erzinger came to lose control of his vehicle and collide with the cyclist. With the course that the court proceedings eventually take with this case, I wonder to what extent that will be learned.

    In balance, well meaning people do occasionally succumb to fatigue and lose control of their vehicles. It needs to be determined whether that happened here, or if it was something less defensible.

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  • Donna November 9, 2010 at 12:54 am

    It comes as no surprise to me that when a bankster mows down a bicyclist and then flees the scene, they're not going to be charged with a felony. After all, we can't even get felony prosecution for massive financial frauds in this country.

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  • random rider November 9, 2010 at 9:31 am

    I can't help but wonder if the investigators checked his phone records to see if he was making a call/text at the time of the accident.

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  • Pat Malach November 9, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Turning an accident into a felony would stop people from doing anything or engaging from meaningful commerce.

    While he may not have intended to hit the cyclist, choosing to flee the scene was no accident. And since when did enabling meaningful commerce become the goal of the justice system.

    Also, remember that we are talking about Vail, Colorado, a community that exists to service wealthy people, not put them in jail.

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  • KWW November 9, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    It makes me wonder what goes on in the mind of a DA. Don't they ever cross the street as a pedestrian or bicycle rider? Or do they just float across the sky?

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  • jim November 10, 2010 at 9:07 am

    It sounds like we have another Ted Kennedy.

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  • Kt November 10, 2010 at 9:26 am

    This is infuriating.

    By Erzinger's lawyer's logic, if I get caught in a crime, since I'm a payroll processor and make it so hundreds of people have money to spend, I shouldn't get punished beyond a slap on the wrist-- no matter what the crime, apparently.

    This is also disgusting-- that the wealthy get all the perks and the middle and lower classes get all the punishments (higher taxes, felony convictions for the same crimes, etc).

    I get that the DA had to go after the conviction that would stick, but it doesn't seem like much of a punishment or hardship to Erzinger.

    Besides, it all back-fired, didn't it: Erzinger wanted to keep this all hush-hush so it wouldn't impact his ability to do business, but now it's all over the internet, the airwaves. And things on the internet NEVER go away.

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  • k. November 10, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Get used to this. With income inequity poised to become the next big unaddressed social issue in this country, we're only going to see more and more privileges given to the wealthy. And yet we continue to elect Republicans......

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