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Man pleads guilty in hit-and-run that killed Santa Cruz cyclist

The San Jose Mercury News: Man pleads guilty in hit-and-run that killed Santa Cruz cyclist Zachary Parke

By Jessica M. Pasko

Posted: 02/09/2012 05:44:52 PM PST
Updated: 02/09/2012 05:44:53 PM PST

A Santa Cruz man pleaded guilty Thursday in a hit-and-run crash that killed a 25-year-old bicyclist in June.

Elliot Dess was charged with misdemeanor vehicular assault and felony hit and run causing death for the accident that killed Zachary Parke last year.

Parke was struck just after midnight on June 8, 2011 as he was riding his bicycle along Empire Grade Road near the UC Santa Cruz campus. His body was found the next morning by another cyclist.

Dess, who was 21 at the time of the crash, was arrested nine days after Parke's body was found. California Highway Patrol officers were able to track down the maroon Nissan reportedly seen that night, which was registered to a family member of Dess, and a warrant was secured for his arrest.

After pleading guilty Thursday to the two charges, Dess turned to Parke's friends and family members who filled the courtroom and reiterated the plea. The plea carries a sentence of two years in state prison. Dess could have faced five years behind bars, prosecutor Jason Gill said.

Outside the courtroom Thursday, Parke's mother April spoke to reporters about Dess' plea.

"We have gone through so much more pain in this court process," said Parke, flanked by friends and family members. "We are grateful that he has taken responsibility for this unfathomable and inhumane act of hitting Zachary and leaving him on the side of the road to die." Still, the plea was bittersweet for Parke.

"I don't think anything is just unless it can bring Zachary back," she said.

Dess will be back in court March 19 for the official sentencing, at which point he will likely address the court. Parke's friends and family also will have the opportunity to speak before sentencing.