A free ride. That’s how Kent Clark described Cassie Gelzer’s punishment for her connection to his nephew’s death in 2011.
“To me it’s wrong,” Clark told a judge in Moncks Corner on Monday afternoon. “I think this should have gone to a jury trial.”
But there will be no jury. No verdict. Instead, Gelzer, 24, of Summerville pleaded guilty to a lesser charge for crashing into Ronny Gallardo with her car.
Gelzer had originally been charged with leaving the scene of an accident with death or bodily injury.
Monday afternoon she accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident with minor injury, a misdemeanor.
Gelzer will not go to jail. She’ll serve two years of probation.
Her freedom is heartbreaking to Clark, who lost Gallardo, a 17-year-old senior at Cane Bay High School.
But prosecutors said the only law Gelzer broke was leaving the scene of the accident that killed Gallardo and since she returned to the scene, there was little to prosecute under the statute.
Gelzer was driving a car that struck Gallardo’s bicycle shortly before 7 p.m. on March 6, 2011, as he was riding on U.S. Highway 176 near Alexander Circle, according to prosecutors.
Gelzer drove to her parent’s house and told her father that she hit something and thought it was a deer, prosecutors said. Gelzer’s father took a look at the damage to the car and determined it probably was not a deer and that they needed to go back to the scene of the crash.
Gelzer and her father returned 30 minutes after Gelzer’s car hit Gallardo on his bike, prosecutors said. Gallardo died from blunt-force trauma at the hospital about an hour after the crash. Ninth Circuit Assistant Solicitor Jennifer K. Williams said the witnesses, drivers who passed by during the crash, said they didn’t see a person.
Gallardo was wearing all black and had one reflector on his bike, she said. The area was poorly lit. Williams also told the judge that there is no indication that alcohol or texting was involved.
“She literally hit Mr. Gallardo and continued to her home,” Williams said.
But having a jury decide whether Gelzer knew that what she hit was actually a person would have been too risky a move, Williams told the judge.
Clark said a jury finding Gelzer not guilty still would have been better than this plea. “That would have satisfied my heart,” he said. Instead, Gelzer is getting a slap on the wrist, he told the judge. Circuit Judge Stephanie McDonald gave her condolences to Clark for his loss but explained that if prosecutors thought they could get a conviction, they’d take it to trial.
Williams said the law allows you to leave the scene of an accident to report to authorities. Gelzer left, but she told her parents and she came back, prosecutors said.
McDonald accepted the recommendation for probation and gave Gelzer a one-year suspended sentence, which means if she violates her probation, she’ll have to serve the year in jail.
Gelzer’s attorney, David Schwacke, said Gelzer suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 2008 car accident. He also told the judge that Gelzer is remorseful. “She’s indicated she wished it (had been) her killed in this accident and not Mr. Gallardo,” he said.
Gelzer was quiet and soft-spoken during the hearing. At one point she told the judge she was nervous and later cried as her attorney spoke of her remorse.
Her father, Johnny Gelzer, told the court that their family is heartsick. “We live with it every day, every time we get behind the wheel. I wish it didn’t happen,” he said. “I wish we weren’t here.”