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Cyclists' deaths land motorist in front of jury

The San Atonio Express-News: Cyclists' deaths land motorist in front of jury

By Craig Kapitan

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It wasn't alcohol, drugs or texting — but instead curiosity about a new fire station — that caused Gilbert John Sullaway Jr. to drift onto the shoulder of Texas 16 three years ago, his attorney said Wednesday as his unusual trial began in the deaths of two bicyclists.

Sullaway, 43, could face up to 10 years in prison if jurors in 144th state District Court find him guilty of criminally negligent homicide with a deadly weapon for the October 2009 wreck that killed Gregory Bruehler, 42, and wife Alexandra, 36.

The wreck, which occurred west of Loop 1604 on an 11-foot-wide improved shoulder that is popular among bicyclists, caused an uproar in San Antonio's cycling community when Sullaway wasn't initially arrested.

Prosecutors have alleged Sullaway committed the felony by driving at a speed that was not reasonable, failing to maintain his lane and failing to keep a lookout.

“The defendant in his own words says he was distracted,” Assistant District Attorney Lorina Rummel said, suggesting the couple — sharing a tandem, upright bike — would have been plainly visible to anyone driving safely.

But the accident didn't rise to the level of a crime and still doesn't, defense attorney Mark Stevens told jurors during an opening statement, pointing out that his client was indicted a year later — after the Sheriff's Office had declined to file charges and the district attorney's office decided to conduct its own investigation.

“Is every tragedy a crime? The answer is no,” Stevens said. “Gilbert is not guilty because he did not have a guilty state of mind. ... This is a 65-mph highway. He's not looking for bicyclists.”

The only thing Sullaway did to cause the wreck, Stevens said, was to look to his right for about two seconds at a firehouse that had opened that day.

“Gilbert did not do anything that day that people do not do all the time,” he said. “Gilbert Sullaway is a good man. He's not a criminal.”

Both a witness and an expert crash reconstructionist have estimated Sullaway's speed to have been about 79 mph, Rummel said. Sullaway's attorneys are expected to call their own expert witness to dispute the speed estimations later in the trial.

“He just kind of blew right past me. That kind of startled me and my wife,” motorist Raymond Holley testified Wednesday, explaining that after initially fearing Sullaway might hit his own truck he kept a close eye on him until the collision with the Bruehlers moments later.

“I wondered what in the world was going on,” he said. “Anybody driving that fast puts me on alert.”

Holley, 72, and others said Wednesday there was clear visibility that day and no obstructions where the collision occurred.

Prosecutors also introduced into evidence the couple's mangled bicycle and a recording of Sullaway's 911 recording.

“I've got two bikers down right in front of District 7 Fire and Rescue,” Sullaway could be heard saying, his voice shaky. “I lost control of my truck and ran into them. I lost control.”