About the Llaneza sentencing
Some observations from a witness at the Llaneza sentencing. Llaneza was given 20 years state prison, with a minimum 18 years to be served without possibility of parole, for killing two and critically injuring a third cyclist during a high speed drunken driving spree on June 25, 2003.
Judge Frankel's courtroom is small, probably with a capacity of not more than two or three dozen people, and was filled almost entirely with immediate family and friends of the victims, as well as family members of the defendant.
Judge Frankel read all the terms of the sentence and asked Llaneza if he understood and agreed to surrender his right to a jury trial on all charges. Llaneza answered "yes." Curiously, when asked initially by the judge if he had stopped at the scene, he answered "yes." (Llaneza was apprehended a block away by police.) When asked again if he had stopped immediately, he answered "no." When asked if he had attempted to obtain help for the victims, he answered "no." When asked if he had been drinking and illegally driving that night, he answered "yes." (Llaneza's speed on SE Belmont and 40th when he struck the victims was estimated at 70mph by investigators.) As each of the eight charges was read, he answered "guilty." The charges included two counts of manslaughter, DUI, and causing grievous bodily harm, with a reckless disregard for human life.
Even though the sentencing was largely a pure formality, as both defense and prosecution had already agreed to the terms of the sentence in advance (20 years, with a minimum of 18 years served without parole), it offered a chance for family and friends of the victims to speak and in some measure try and come to terms with the tragedy.
Orion Satushek's mother spoke first. She reminisced about Orion's life as a musical artist and enthusias, a specialist in electronics and electroacoustics, his recently started business ventures, and his many acts of generosity and kindness while he lived at the family's farm north of Bellingham, Washington. She talked about how drastically her life had now changed without him. "Where there was joy, now there is grief. Where there was music, now there is silence," she said.
Angela Leazenby's father then spoke about his loss, reading a Father's Day letter he had received from Angela the very day after she died. He said he had not yet been able to bring himself to forgive Lindsey Llaneza, the man, though he prayed for his soul. Angela's aunt spoke about the wrenching loss of her niece, the horrible experience of trying to dress her terribly mangled remains so the family could still have an open casket at her funeral. She, too, could not readily forgive the perpetrator.
Caroline Buchalter, a critically injured survivor of the June 25, 2003 incident, spoke about her suffering and slow recovery, about her grief for her lost friends, and reminisced about them and their activities together leading up to the tragedy. She said she held no bitterness towards the defendant; she only regretted the "bad decisions" he had made, and hoped that it might bring others to reflect more on their own decisions in life, and how they affect others. She also spoke about her gratitude for her own survival, and for the friendships she had been able to make with friends and relatives of the other victims, albeit under the most tragic circumstances.
A young man, (name?), friends with all the victims, the uninjured fourth cyclist and companion of the victims during the June 25, 2003, incident, also spoke. He talked about his friendship with Orion, and how much this had come to mean to him in the relatively short time he had had to get to know him. He said he felt a deep kinship with Orion and that Orion was the kind of person he would have wanted to know for the rest of his life. He also referred to Angela as an "angel," who treated him like a close friend from the moment she met him. He spoke of the grief and horror at seeing his new friends die violently in the streets of Portland on a warm summer night last year.
Afterwards, Judge Frankel made a striking observation which I had also made to family members of the victims earlier. She pointed out that it was a mistake strictly speaking to refer to the killings of young Orion and Angela and severe injuries to Caroline as "accidents." Lindsey Llaneza had made a choice, which had the reasonably foreseeable outcome of producing such horrible results. She also pointed out that the problem we face is not just "drunk driving," but indeed all reckless and irresponsible driving, whether the driver is intoxicated with alcohol or distracted on their cellphone. She said she herself is a dedicated pedestrian, even though she takes her life in her hands every day due to people like Llaneza, but that people in a city like Portland make a choice to drive a car in a city which is quite manageable without one. She pointed out that people who choose to ride bikes like Angela, Orion, Caroline, and their friends were part of the solution to the problem of automotive mayhem.
I learned today that Mr. Llaneza had already been previously convicted of a DUI years earlier, and had been apprehended in just the past two months in another DUI incident for which he was pending trial on the day when he struck and killed the people on June 25. This raises the question, should Mr. Llaneza have been allowed to remain free to commit a third and fatal DUI on June 25, 2003? Could something not have been done to prevent this tragedy, given Llaneza's already egregious record?
Angela Leazenby's father wrote an essay which he distributed, calling for introducing stricter regulation of alcohol, including the idea of individual "liquor licenses" for those who choose to drink, certifying that they have not committed a DUI offense. I, for one, wonder if the solution is not, rather, to make access to cars and driving altogether much stricter, as is done in most other countries. Afterall, as judge Frankel pointed out, there are many other behaviors that can result in fatal or serious injuries due to reckless driving. The very overreliance on automobiles is almost a guarantee that such tragedies will continue to occur at the present appalling rate in this country. In a city like Portland, surely, we can promote far superior alternatives for personal access and mobility.
contribute to this article
contribute to this article
add comment to discussion