Is a short jail sentence a just punishment for a repeat traffic offender who killed a bicyclist and mother of four riding legally on a Wisconsin road?
Not in the minds of friends and relatives of Tammy Gass, who have written letters to law enforcement officials expressing their outrage over a plea agreement that will be presented to Marathon County Circuit Judge LaMont Jacobson on Thursday.
As reported by WAOW-TV, Tracy Kruzicki, the man who drove into and killed Gass on May 23, 2012, plans to plead guilty to a charge of driving with a suspended license and causing a death, a felony that carries a maximum 6-year prison sentence. The defense attorney and prosecutor are expected to argue for a sentence ranging from no time behind bars to six months in jail, and several years of probation.
Details of the plea agreement rekindled the grief and anger that followed Gass’ death.
A cross-country skier and avid cyclist and one of seven siblings, she had been part of an active group in the Wausau area.
Gass’ first husband, Greg Bednorski, died in crash while bicycling on the same stretch of highway in 2008. Working through her grief, she reconnected with a high school friend, Tim Gass, who shared her struggle with the loss of a spouse. His first wife died in horse riding accident.
Tim and Tammy married in January 2012 and were set to travel on a honeymoon to Costa Rica a week after she was killed. Their combined families included four children.
Dave Mikalofsky, a long-time friend of Tammy Gass and her husband Tim, calls the proposed punishment for her death an outrage beyond words.
“It’s not acceptable to me,” he said.
“You murdered somebody’s mom, wife, and sister, and ‘geez, we’re just going to give you three months because we feel sorry for you,’” Mikalofsky said during a phone interview Monday. “Make an example and say it’s not all right to drive without a license and it’s not all right to kill an innocent victim biking on the road.
“Everybody focuses on her being a cyclist. She was a taxpayer and an innocent victim, killed by a repeat offender.”
Mikalofsky and his wife, Karen, have shared their anger in letters to Jacobson and Dist. Atty. Kenneth Heimerman, and asked other friends and cyclists to do the same.
“It wouldn’t matter if she was in a car, or riding a bike or driving a tractor or walking a dog on the side of the road,” Mikalofsky said. “He was a multiple offender and he deserves to go to jail for it, and for more than 90 days.”
Kruzicki, a 44-year-old laborer who lived within two miles of the crash site, drove into Gass from behind while motoring westbound on Highway KK south of Wausau. According to the investigative reports, he had drifted nearly two feet onto the paved shoulder, and reportedly didn’t see Gass, who was wearing a hot pink jersey, white helmet and black shorts.
The crash occurred about 11:30 a.m. on a flat, straight stretch of road.
Kruzicki, of Mosinee, was convicted of driving with a revoked license in February and March of 2010, and driving without insurance in August 2011. His lack of a license on the day of the crash led to the felony charge.
While an outrage to Mikalofsky, the proposed penalty for Kruzicki exceeds that in similar cases.
For example, Michael Gustman, a car dealer from Seymour, paid a $187.90 fine for driving into Kris and Doug Hanson as they pedaled a tandem bicycle on County Highway EE in the Town of Oneida on Aug. 1, 2011. Kris Hanson died from her injuries.
Like Kruzicki, Gustman reported he didn’t see the bicyclists. He was initially cited for inattentive driving, but ultimately pleaded no contest to improper parking on the roadway.
In Sawyer County, Anna M. Amparo was fined $641.50 for inattentive driving in the death of Dave Landgraf on Aug. 5, 2011. Amparo reportedly turned to check on her children in the back seat and didn’t see Landgraf bicycling on Highway 27, near Hayward.
Motorists – largely at fault in at least a half-dozen fatalities, based on police reports – have received similar punishment in the past three years, citations and fines ranging from $120 to $650.
“If the district attorney and the attorney general don’t hold the criminals accountable, then the law is meaningless,’ Mikalofsky said. “People are going to break that law because there are no consequences for their action.”