Brother of Killed Cyclist Comments on Guilty Plea

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) -- The brother of a Massachusetts woman killed two years ago while riding her bicycle in DeKalb County said this week's guilty plea offered some additional closure but also reopened old wounds.

Brandon Genco said he is glad Craig Lee Chandler plead guilty to criminally negligent homicide for running over his sister, 22-year-old Christina Clarke Genco, June 6, 2011.

"He was found guilty with what seems what fits the crime," Brandon Genco said.

"I've driven a boat, I've driven a car, and rode a bike and I'm the same person before, after, and during.  A person's right to safety should be the same no matter what your title is at the time. You have a higher responsibility when the vehicle is two tons versus 20 pounds."

Genco was one of about three dozen young adults riding from South Carolina to Southern California on a Bike and Build mission trip, helping build homes along the way.

As she pedaled uphill on Highway 35 north from Fort Payne to Rainsville, Craig Chandler failed to yield to the cyclist--who had the right to be where she was--and collided with her.

"Unfortunately it's a one sided issue if it's a bike versus a car," Brandon Genco said.

Investigators said Chandler was not speeding, texting, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, so a grand jury indicted him for criminally negligent homicide.  It is a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of one year in jail.

Special prosecutor Steve Marshall, the Marshall County district attorney, said Genco's parents approved a plea agreement where Chandler would avoid jail time, but he is permanently banned from operating a motor vehicle.

"That's a huge restriction on anybody," Marshall said.

"We know how as a society that we like to be on the go, and if you take that driving privilege away from somebody, that's a significant punishment and restriction on their liberty.  We feel like that was an appropriate request in this case, and appreciate that the judge imposed it and believe that was something that enhanced the nature of this penalty."

Chandler will be on probation for two years and if he is caught driving, he will go to jail for 12 months.  Marshall said Chandler's options are a bicycle, or riding with someone else.

Brandon Genco is glad Chandler is being held accountable, but said it's difficult to discuss.

"Sentencing is a complicated issue that I don't think anyone in the family really knows a good answer to, nor do I.  It may be an ethical question, a moral and religious question for how do you do the difference in this crime.  What is fair?  I think we were just happy with the verdict and that this person can't do this again," Genco said.

After the deadly accident, the family started the Christina Clarke Genco Foundation.

The CCG Foundation held a memorial ride to spread awareness and generate outreach and funding.  The foundation provides free safety materials such as reflectors for college students in Boston to wear on backpacks, as well as pamphlets to distribute at universities for students who don't know what to expect when driving or cycling in the city.

The Foundation also provided funding for Bikes Not Bombs, a Boston-area non-profit organization that promotes youth cycling and bike-building as a vehicle for social change.

The family also funded three need-based scholarships in a private lacrosse league where Christina used to work, to give opportunities to players who couldn't afford expensive fees.

Brandon Genco said the court proceedings took them away from the positive aspects.

"It brings back the reality of the situation so it does reopen things but it is more closure because now it's just like this is what is going to happen, this is how it's been decided in a court of law, so I guess it does bring closure in that sense," he said.

District Attorney Marshall said he hopes this serves as an alert to drivers to remind them that cyclists have rights on the road.  A cyclist himself, Marshall said drivers often come up closer than is safe or appropriate, and he's even had bottles thrown at him while riding.

"It is a significant case in that you don't see many prosecutions of individuals who kill cyclists on the road.  That message alone I think is important, that the idea of a criminally negligent homicide although a misdemeanor is still a significant offense," Marshall said.

"What we do is at least hope it causes people to be a little more careful when they come up on and pass a cyclist on a public highway," he said.

Brandon Genco encouraged north Alabama cyclists and supporters to get involved with Alabama Wheelmen, who held a memorial ride in May 2012, and plan for another this year.

Last year's Bike and Build SC2SC team returned to Alabama, and jerseys worn by riders had ribbons on them with Christina's initials.  They also chalked tributes to her on the road.

The 2013 SC2SC route will take riders to Scottsboro on June 5 and Decatur June 6 and 7.