JOHN BOYLE COLUMNIST • NOVEMBER 23, 2009
I find the legal system baffling at times.
The latest example? Charles Alexander Diez, the 42-year-old former Asheville firefighter who shot at a bicyclist on Tunnel Road after arguing with him about the safety of cycling on a busy street, got four months in prison for the crime.
That’s 120 days for nearly taking someone’s life.
I’m not the only person around town mystified by the light sentence.
“So, you can go shoot at someone riding a bike and get four months in jail? Is that the example they’re giving to the community?,” said Nancy Jones, a resident of the Beaverdam area and an avid cyclist. “I feel like we should wear flak jackets now. It gives them the OK. When you’re talking about a guy (attempting to) shoot somebody in the head, that’s over the top. And to see him getting four months, it’s outrageous.”
The incident occurred on July 26 as Alan Ray Simons was riding his bike with his 4-year-old son in a seat on the back. His wife was on another bike.
The firefighter pulled over to warn them that riding a bike on a busy street can be unsafe. They argued.
Diez said Simons grabbed his shirt, which Simons denies. Diez fired his gun, and the bullet struck Simons’ helmet.
To be fair, Superior Court Judge James Downs sentenced Diez to 15-27 months and suspended all but the 120 days. If Diez screws up, he could get the full sentence.
Diez must abide by a curfew and pay Simons $1,200 to cover medical expenses. He also lost his job as a firefighter.
Diez could’ve gotten 20-39 months, but with a “mitigating factors” including good character, a solid military service record and a positive employment history — and no previous criminal record — he qualified for the lesser sentence.
Contrast all this with the sentence an LSD peddler got Friday from Judge Alan Thornburg: a minimum of 175 months in prison, or more than 14 years. That guy, Benjamin Thomas Schaeffer, had more than 6,000 hits of the hallucinogenic drug in his possession outside an Asheville concert in 2006.
Sure, he deserves a stiff sentence, and he got one: roughly 42 times what Diez will serve.
I know, I know — it’s apples and oranges. But still, I’m mystified.
In his defense, Diez said in court he simply fired “a warning shot,” that he was the one who “felt truly, truly threatened.”
Now, I know biking shorts can be scary, but really, who’s in charge here — the guy with the gun or the unarmed guy riding a bike with his family? Simons said Diez was pointing the gun at his chest when he approached Diez’s vehicle.
If you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of anger directed at local cyclists.
Nancy Jones says she’s had beer bottles thrown at her and had drivers brandish firearms or “buzz her” — intentionally veering at her. She said some sort of animosity is almost standard when she and her husband, Brian, go riding. To say Asheville is not a cyclist-friendly town is putting it mildly.
The Joneses just don’t buy Diez’s version of events, and they’re outraged by the sentence. So are other cyclists they know.
“I was always taught that if you aim a gun at somebody, you’re trying to kill them,” Nancy Jones said. “If it’s a warning shot, you fire it up in the air.”
“If a cyclist shot a fireman, judge or prosecuting attorney in his head, in front of his family, what sentence do you think he/she would receive,” Brian Jones asked.
I forgot to mention that Diez has to complete an anger management course, too.
Let’s hope it takes.
This is the opinion of John Boyle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his blog at www.citizen-times.com/boyleitdown