Man avoids jail time in high-profile hit-and-run
EAGLE — New York doctor Steven Milo got an apology in an Eagle County courtroom Thursday, but he had wanted much more.
Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Fred Gannett gave Denver financial manager Martin Erzinger the option of doing 45 days of charitable work in lieu of jail time in connection with a July 3 incident in which he ran into the bike-riding Milo in Eagle County and then drove from the scene.
The sentence came after Gannett accepted a deal in which Erzinger pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors in exchange for prosecutors dropping a felony charge. The plea offer has brought heavy criticism down on District Attorney Mark Hurlbert and Erzinger from the seriously injured Milo and from others including cycling enthusiasts in Colorado and beyond. Erzinger told Gannett he has been subject to death threats and has had to hire security for his family.
Outrage over the case has centered on comments by Hurlbert that the felony charge could jeopardize Erzinger’s employment, and thus his ability to pay restitution.
“I think the ship is totally off course at this point,” Milo told Gannett Thursday. “… And I think you’re the only one that can right this ship and I’m pretty confident that you will.”
However, Gannett refused to reject the plea bargain, saying it was within the “realm of reasonableness.”
Gannett then went on to reject the request of both Milo and prosecutors that Erzinger be sentenced to the combined maximum 15 months in jail allowable for the crimes of careless driving causing seriously bodily injury and leaving the scene of an accident. Instead, for the first charge Gannett gave him a year’s probation during which he can’t drive. For the second, he suspended a 90-day jail sentence if Erzinger serves a 60-day work release sentence or the 45 days of charitable work. He said the charitable work must involve leaving Denver and his job and family.
Erzinger also must pay court costs and a total of $1,300 in fines and charitable donations.
Defense witness Dr. Ronald Kramer told Gannett that Erzinger recently was diagnosed with sleep apnea, which could explain how he could have hit Milo without being aware of it and driven away. Another defense expert also suggested in court documents that the chemicals that cause “new car smell” could have contributed to the accident.
Erzinger, who described himself as being an avid cyclist, told the court he didn’t know he hit Milo, and became conscious when his car was in a ditch, at which point he brought it to a stop.
“I stopped, I looked around, I didn’t see anything,” he said.
He told Milo and his family, his voice breaking, “I apologize to everybody involved and I feel a great sense of remorse. May God bless you all.”
But Milo called the sleep apnea and smelly car arguments “fairy tales.” He said the right thing for Erzinger to have done was to stop and help him after hitting him.
“At that point when you decide you’re not going to stop is when the game changes,” Milo said.
Milo described numerous serious injuries he suffered, including initially life-threatening bleeding in the brain, excruciating headaches, a broken nose and dislocated ribs. He was flat in bed for two weeks, needs surgery on an arm and struggles to get dressed each day due to constant knee pain, he said.
“It’s fair to say we’re disappointed,” Milo’s attorney, Harold Haddon, said about the outcome of Thursday’s proceedings.
The case put Erzinger at odds with an acquaintance, Tom Marsico, Milo’s father-in-law, who is also a major Denver capital manager and spoke Thursday in support of Milo. Erzinger reportedly manages more than $1 billion for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.
Prosecutors indicated in court that they believed Erzinger knowingly left an accident scene. They said the plea bargain was based on Erzinger’s lack of a criminal record and the fact that drugs and alcohol weren’t involved in the incident.
Hurlbert said in an interview that protecting Erzinger’s employment no longer was a consideration once he learned Erzinger had insurance adequate to pay restitution.
He said justice was served in reaching a deal under which Erzinger lost his license, ended up with a permanent record and had the potential to go to jail.
“We would have liked to see some time in jail,” Hurlbert said.