Hit-run Driver Gets A Year, Almost

Michele Traverso will serve time in a county jail, not a state prison, for the hit-and-run death of bicyclist Aaron Cohen last Feb. 15. Judge William Thomas sentenced him to 364 days, followed by two years of probation.

The prosecutor, Jane Anderson, asked for six years in prison and five years’ probation. The defendant, a 26-year-old aspiring masseur, had already pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal accident and to driving with a suspended license. Today he addressed the Cohen family, acknowledged that “what I have done is unspeakable,” and promised to dedicate his life to helping others.  “I beg for the opportunity to do that,” he told the crowded courtroom as he stood in Miami-Dade Jail orange.

Traverso said he was not drunk, as many have assumed, but asleep at the wheel when he plowed into Cohen and riding buddy Enda Walsh on the Rickenbacker Causeway’s Powell Bridge.  Walsh told the court Cohen was thrown 30 feet down the road by the impact. Traverso kept driving, his windshield smashed, but the next car and the next and the one after that stopped to offer aid. Cohen was beyond help, though. He lingered briefly on life support at Jackson Memorial Hospital, then died.

Defense attorney Ramon de la Cabada brought to the witness stand psychologist Dr. Merry Sue Haber, who has been counseling Traverso at the Metro West Jail since May. She said she found him truly remorseful, fully aware of the gravity of his actions. “I believe this man has learned his lesson,” she said.

Traverso’s mother and their family physician told of his rare, inherited genetic ailment that leaves him at risk of fatal infection several times a year. That became the basis of de la Cabada’s bid for a light sentence, a request backed up by former Florida prison warden Ron McAndrew, who said inmates in the state prisons routinely are denied care and medicines — and punished if prison nurses think their complaints are unjustified.

Judge Thomas drew attention to the testimony about prison medical care, but most in the courtroom were stunned when he announced the sentence. “This is an outrage,” Walsh said afterward. “It sends a message to drivers that to kill a cyclist is no big thing.”

A condition of the sentence was that Traverso waive credit for the time served awaiting trial, and that he undergo frequent, random drug tests during his two years of community supervision.

The case electrified bicyclists and runners, for whom the Rickenbacker is a secular Mecca, and prompted a new wave of attention to safety along the busy road between Miami and Key Biscayne. Speed-feedback signs have been installed along the causeway, and rumble bumps were applied along the roadside bike lanes on the causeway bridges.

Green Mobility Network launched SafeStreetsMiami days after Cohen’s death and sponsored a public forum to review potential remedies for traffic danger throughout the county.  The project’s latest initiative is a current bus bench ad campaign promoting Florida’s three-foot law for bicyclist safety.