Justice for Mark Miller
It’s not perfect, but it’s something
On December 15, 2021, Amber Green killed Mark Miller with her car while he was riding his bike and left the scene without checking on him. (A previous post about Mark is here.) This week she was sentenced to five years in state prison. She pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident involving a death and criminally negligent homicide. Leaving the scene is a felony; criminally negligent homicide is a misdemeanor. She was also sentenced to one year for the misdemeanor but will serve it concurrently with the five year sentence.
She pleaded guilty to both charges but did not accept the prosecutor’s offer of a two-year prison term, choosing instead to leave the sentencing up to Circuit Judge Michael Streety.
The prosecutor described the sequence of events police pieced together from interviewing Ms. Green and her boyfriend. When she got to his house after hitting Mark, she told him she thought she had hit a deer, yet they tried to conceal the damage to her car. And as her boyfriend drove her to her house, they passed the scene of the crash and the flashing blue lights but still didn’t stop. She initially lied to police about the route she took home, so as not to admit she was on the road where he was killed.
After accepting her guilty pleas, Judge Streety heard from Mark’s widow, Midge, and his nephew about the impact of Mark’s death.
No adjectives, like heart-wrenching or gripping, are sufficient to describe what she told the judge. We need a word stronger than courageous to describe what Midge did. Through tears, and with the woman who killed her husband a few feet away, she described going to the scene of the crash, seeing the blue lights, then the coroner’s vehicle, and then a photo of Mark on a police officer’s camera. In cycling, we describe a particularly hard effort, like closing a gap at the top of a climb or a long sprint at the end of a race as “turning yourself inside out.” That’s what Midge did in the courtroom — and more — in the service of getting some semblance of justice for Mark.
After hearing about the impact of Mark’s death, as well as comments from people who knew the defendant and hoped to reduce her sentence, the judge stepped into his chambers.
When he returned a few minutes later he held up the stack of some 30 written victim impact statements submitted by Mark’s friends and family. He said that never in his seven years on the bench or 25 years in the justice system had he ever gotten a clearer view of a person than he had from reading every word of every one of those statements. In fact, he referred to Mark by his first name, explaining that he didn’t mean any disrespect, but after reading so much about him he felt like he actually knew him.
She faced a maximum term of 10 years and he gave her five, which was still more than the state had offered her. Considering the charges, rather than the crime, five years is still a long time. But really, no number would have been enough. Ten, fifty, a hundred. It doesn’t matter. No sentence lessens the impact of what she did to so many people.
Justice — in this world — is always imperfect.
Here’s the letter I sent to the court:
Re: State of Alabama vs. Amber Green
Dear Deputy District Attorney Henrich:
My name is Rick Swagler and I was a friend of Mark Miller, who was struck and killed by Amber Green while he was riding his bike. I met Mark through cycling, and I believe our paths never would have crossed but for cycling. I’m so glad they did, but it makes his unnecessary death much more painful.
Mark and I were almost exactly the same age; we both had families and loving wives, and we both retired within a year of each other to enjoy family life and cycling. The defendant’s actions took from us a truly gentle, friendly soul. Mark was the kind of person I hoped to see on a ride and spend time with. I recall seeing him on a ride and altering my planned route just to spend more time with him. I had my video camera running while we rode together one December day and I looked back at it recently. On the video he talks to a dog that has come to the side of the road toward us. Mark is not loud or threatening; he sounds exactly like what he was: a loving veterinarian who brought out the best in people and animals. He gently told the dog to stay, using a voice I’m sure he used many times in an exam room to make an animal feel more comfortable.
I ride less often alone on the road now because of Mark’s death even though I have the time. When I do, I always see inattentive drivers and drivers holding and looking at their cell phones even though that’s now against the law. I’ve been passed by cars and trucks too closely too many times, and it’s impossible to know whether it was because of inattention, impairment, or aggression. In the end it really doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that we get justice for Mark, and that the judge sentence the defendant to an appropriate prison term that reflects the fact that she took his life. Perhaps it will also deter another driver from looking at their phone, driving while impaired, or otherwise being aggressive or inattentive. Anything less devalues Mark’s life as well as the lives of other pedestrians and cyclists who use our roads.