Branding Saratoga businessman Robert Schiro as "callous" and a "danger to the community," Judge Sharon Chatman on Monday ordered him to serve an unusually tough sentence for a hit-and-run accident that left a cylist permanently injured -- three years in state prison and the permanent loss of his driver's license.
"The court puts a lot of weight on remorse and what the evidence shows is, there's absolutely no remorse," said Chatman, who ruled after hearing tearful impact statements from victim Ashley Jackson Nelson's brother-in-law about being taunted repeatedly by Schiro outside court. The judge flatly told Schiro, "Your privilege to drive a vehicle is revoked for the rest of your life."
The sentence -- which Chatman said was meant in part to deter other hit-and-run drivers -- appeared to stun Schiro, 72. His lawyer Dan Jensen had asked for probation, citing his client's age and deteriorating mental condition brought on in part by chronic alcoholism.
Tipping his mostly bald head back and raising his hands to his face, Schiro exhaled audibly and mouthed "unbelievable," as the bailiffs stripped him of his pocket change and other personal belongings, in preparation for taking him into a holding cell.
Nelson and her relatives were elated. Even though the judge didn't impose the maximum sentence of four years, she exceeded the two years recommended by the probation department and also
Monday's hearing ended a protracted legal battle that began April 19, 2009, when Schiro veered into the bike lane on Highway 9 near Fruitvale Avenue in Saratoga, violently toppling Ashley Nelson. At the time, Schiro was on probation for a drunken driving conviction and his license had been suspended.
"It's over, justice was served," said Dave Nelson, Ashley Nelson's husband, who witnessed the crash that left his then-fiance unconscious and gurgling blood. "Now we can move on."
The crash left Ashley Nelson with permanent brain damage, palsy to the left side of her body and significant damage to her vision. Recently, she was awarded $3 million in a legal settlement with Schiro's insurance company.
But choking back sobs Monday, she said she would gladly give back the money if it meant she -- once a competitive cyclist -- could be restored to her peak pre-crash physical and mental condition.
Over the weekend, Ashley Nelson said, a driver ran a red light, crashing into the car she was driving. She said the driver acted responsibly by stopping, showing concern for her and her child, and admitting fault.
"Bob Schiro could have stopped that day," she told the judge. "It was an accident -- he turned it into a crime."
Red flag warning
The judge also noted Schiro tried to cover up his role in the crash, first by telling his mechanic that his girlfriend had been in a car accident in his silver BMW. The mechanic testified at Schiro's trial that he was told they hadn't reported the accident to police, so Schiro wanted him to order a replacement mirror from out of the area. The mechanic reported the conversation to police about two weeks later, after he heard about Nelson's injuries from the accident.
The judge took the coverup into account and also considered an incident that occurred just last week. Schiro was stopped for erratic driving -- on the same stretch of Highway 9 where the hit-and-run occurred.
Schiro told the sheriff's deputy who pulled him over that he had been drinking beer at lunch and later after work. His blood-alcohol level was .039, well below the legal limit of .08, and he was not cited.
But the incident raised a red flag for the judge. She had been told that Schiro spent time after the crash drying out at the Betty Ford Recovery Center and that he was faithfully attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
"Mr. Schiro, when you're in AA, clean and sober means you do not drink, not you're not drunk,'' she said. "To drink and drive, after having a DUI and being involved in an accident that caused serious injuries is a profound statement of the risk you present."
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482.