Sheriff's deputy sentenced for killing cyclists

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James Council, 28, pleaded guilty in May to two misdemeanor counts of vehicular manslaughter in Santa Clara County Superior Court, according to district attorney spokeswoman Amy Cornell. He reached a settlement with the district attorney's office in a pre-trial conference. Relatives and friends of the victims have accused Council of having received preferential treatment because he was a deputy.

On March 9, 2008, Council's patrol car crossed a double yellow line on Stevens Canyon Road around 11 a.m. The vehicle struck and killed two bicyclists, Kristy Gough, 30, and Matt Peterson, 29. Another cyclist was injured.

Dressed in a dark suit, Council stood facing the judge and claimed responsibility for the accident in court today.

In between sniffles and tearful gasps, he said, "Not a day goes by that I don't think about the morning of March 9. I know that there's nothing I can say or do to replace their loss. I'd like them all to know truly from the bottom of my heart, I'm sorry."

After about an hour and a half of listening to remarks, Cena told the court, "The American legal system is not a perfect system. The (families') loss is so great that no legal sentence could ever diminish its magnitude."

Council's attorney Mike Rains said afterward that his client had received harsher treatment by the system because he was a deputy.

"I'm not happy about (the sentence). I think the sentence is harsh, and it's harsh because he's a law enforcement officer," Rains said.

Tears, sniffling and shaky voices created an emotional and somber atmosphere in the courtroom as the victims' family members and friends stood before the judge and appealed to him a final time on behalf of their loved ones.

Karen Clarkson, the mother of Gough, pleaded for Cena to judge Council according to the rules and laws that are in place.

Peterson's mother Betty Peterson frequently paused in between sentences to catch her breath as she talked about how the accident had changed her family's lives.

She said, "Today we face a challenge. Where do we go from here? How do I get happy again?"

Betty Peterson said, however, that no matter the punishment, the important thing was "to find 'joie de vivre' again and to not harbor the ill feelings that a situation like this can bring," causing Council to look down and sob quietly.

Jon Orban, a friend of Gough's who did not appear to be affected by Council's display of emotions, argued that Council's act was "obvious and gross blatant negligence."

He urged the court to dismiss the plea bargain, stating that Council "needs jail time for what he's done."

David Worm, Gough's former stepfather, told the judge, "I see a family that is torn asunder from her passing. Know that people are looking to you for justice."

Council was sentenced today at the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice to three years probation and is required to pay restitution to the victims' families in addition to wearing an electronic ankle-monitoring bracelet for four months.

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