Road-rage defendant cops plea
Perched in a wheelchair, a Nevada City man charged with vehicular manslaughter for a 2001 crash allegedly spurred by road rage pleaded no contest Thursday in Nevada County Superior Court.
Initially facing a felony, Bruce Kirkpatrick, 62, pleaded no contest to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in a series of responses to Judge M. Kathleen Butz.
The judge set sentencing for Jan. 13 and indicated the terms of the deal called for three years’ probation, no more than 120 days in jail and no driving privileges during the length of probation. He has the option of applying for alternative sentencing, such as home-monitored detention.
The outcome provided little solace to family and friends of the victim, 22-year-old Jesse Roberts, who died almost instantly in the March 7, 2001, crash on Highway 20 near the county fairgrounds.
“It was watered down,” Roberts’ father, Jim Roberts, said of the plea bargain, “but you can’t really expect too much.”
Jesse Roberts, a computer technician, was returning from Penn Valley, where he helped a paralyzed woman with her computer, when his car was struck head-on by Kirkpatrick’s pickup truck.
The California Highway Patrol claimed Kirkpatrick and Grass Valley-area resident Raymond Herve were engaged in an angry westbound chase when Kirkpatrick’s truck skidded into the oncoming lane as Herve drove away unscathed.
Herve, 46, was acquitted at trial while Kirkpatrick recovered from head injuries that left him temporarily incompetent to stand trial.
Kirkpatrick’s lawyer, Dewey Harpainter, said he had no immediate comment on Thursday’s plea.
Deputy District Attorney Dave Walters was satisfied with the deal, given Kirkpatrick received punishment while a trial might have ended the same way as Herve’s. He also called the case a tragedy.
“I feel that it’s a fair outcome, and I think Mr. Kirkpatrick will probably never be able to drive again,” Walters said, noting Kirkpatrick suffered significant mental and physical impairment.
After the hearing, Jim Roberts said he was upset by aspects of the plea but understood chances for a conviction were slim.
In changing the charge from a felony to misdemeanor, Walters had to swap the term “gross negligence” for “ordinary negligence.”
“What’s ordinary about running over somebody in the middle of the day?” Jim Roberts said, noting reports showed Kirkpatrick was driving about 90 mph before impact.
“If he’d at last been driving the speed limit, my son would still be alive,” he said.
The Roberts and Kirkpatrick families and friends were among about 20 people who attended the hearing. Before they left, the judge invited them to offer input to the Probation Department regarding sentencing.
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