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Woman gets 3 years in death of bicyclists

June 8, 2009
photo - Barbara Thomas Photo by
Barbara Thomas Photo by  

In a courtroom filled with dozens of bicyclists -- some in cycling shorts and others with helmets hanging at their side -- 64-year-old Barbara Thomas said she was sorry. She said she wished it had been her. She said she felt badly for the two men she killed and their families.

But, as Thomas hunched over in her wheelchair Monday, 4th Judicial District Judge Gilbert A. Martinez said her crime was reckless and caused the most serious harm: the deaths of bicyclists Jayson Kilroy, 28, and Edgar "E.J." Juarez, 30.

He sentenced Thomas to three years in prison for plowing her one-ton pickup truck into a group of five bicyclists on Aug. 6, 2008, killing the two men. At the time, she was driving under the influence of prescription morphine and barbiturates and without her required glasses. Her sentence is three years shy of the maximum six years under a plea bargain.

"If this defendant could make restitution," said Martinez, looking down from his bench at the woman on 18 daily prescriptions for pulmonary disease and arthritis, "it wouldn't be such a difficult case. You can't make restitution for death."

As she faced the judge about to sentence her on two counts of vehicular manslaughter, Thomas at first declined to address the court. Only with the prodding of her defense attorney did she apologize in four unprepared sentences.

Thomas struck and killed the men at S. 26th Street, minutes after leaving the West Colorado Avenue Safeway. Police said she had been shoplifting and banged into a man's car in the parking lot before driving off. The man followed her and saw her hit the bicyclists as she tried to turn left onto Westend Avenue -- without yielding to oncoming traffic -- in her 1986 Ford F-350. Police found her speech slurred and her eyes bloodshot, according to an arrest affidavit.

The court summarized her history: four convictions of shoplifting dating back to 1983, drinking in a vehicle, careless driving and minor traffic infractions. She had no prior history of driving under the influence, according to court documents. But she had an outstanding summons for a hit-and-run two months before the collision.

Thomas, who pleaded not guilty, sat in bedroom slippers as she listened to wrenching statements from the families and friends of the two bicyclists. Three of her daughters described her as kind and selfless. She showed no emotion, until court officers began to roll her away with an oxygen tank in her lap.

Thomas begged the judge to let her spend time at home with family before going to prison. She struggled to lift herself out of her wheelchair, pleading for sympathy.

"Oh, my god!" she cried out. "Don't take me."

Family members of the victims sat in the front row, including Rita Kilroy, Jayson's mother from St. Claire Shores, Mich. She told the court he was her only child and the most valuable part of her life. His death took her identity, her happiness, her peace.

"I run through in my mind," she said through tears, "how he must have felt. Did it hurt? Was he scared?"

Then she collapsed. Draped around her neck was a silver necklace, and just below her collar bone dangled a heart engraved with her son's picture.

Outside the courtroom, escaping the past 10 months for a moment, she looked up at Pikes Peak. She pointed to the Incline. She used to bike the trail with her son.

"Every time I made it a little further," she said slowly, "but I never made it. I'm going to try again tomorrow."

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