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Sleeping Rich Guy Says 'New-Car Fumes' Made Him Hit Cyclist

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The laws of physics dictate that when a two-ton car hits a 150-pound rider on a 30-pound bicycle, the cyclist loses. Which is why drivers have an extra responsibility to be careful ... or so it used to be.

Enter one Martin Joel Erzinger, a (presumably) wealthy Denver fund manager for Smith Barney who allegedly hit a cyclist last July in the tony community of Vail, Colorado.

While at the wheel of his 2010 Mercedes-Benz, he allegedly hit 34-year-old surgeon Steven Milo from behind, struck a culvert, left the scene, and then called the car company's auto assistance service to ask that his car be towed because of damage. He did not contact law enforcement, court records show.

Dr. Milo is likely to experience pain for the rest of his life, according to his lawyer, and his ability to perform liver transplants is now jeopardized.

There are two reasons to raise an eyebrow at Erzinger. First, he will not face a felony conviction for hitting another person and fleeing the scene. Vail district attorney Mark Hurlbert offered him a plea bargain, saying, "Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger's profession."

In other words, your basic automotive journalist--for whom a felony conviction does not affect his ability to write--would be charged with a felony, but because Erzinger's livelihood might be threatened, he wasn't. Hmmmmm. Hurlbert said he had received more than 1,000 e-mails about the case, most critical of his decision.

But there's more. Erzinger's lawyer now claims that his client may have also have been affected by "new-car fumes." John Koziol of Koziol Forensic, an "accident reconstructionist" working for the accused, said he examined the month-old Mercedes-Benz and observed that it was emitting "new-car fumes."

In his report, Koziol said that, “Harmful and noxious gases emitted from the upholstery can infiltrate the driver's compartment and potentially alter the driver." The victim's lawyer crisply noted that there is no scientific basis for this conclusion.

Automakers are working to reduce such emissions, chiefly for customer satisfaction reasons. But if such a syndrome exists, one might reasonably expect hundreds of thousands of the 10 million or more new-car buyers in the U.S. each year to be similarly affected. There appears to be no such effect.

In fact, there's a much simpler explanation: Erzinger's lawyer has said his client suffers from sleep apnea, diagnosed one week after the accident, and briefly fell asleep behind the wheel, meaning he never knew he hit Milo.

(We remain perplexed; wouldn't that condition be narcolepsy, which in some states disqualifies the sufferer from holding a driver's license?)

One might think that any responsible person with such a condition would avoid driving. But perhaps the customs are different for wealthy guys in Vail.

[Vail Daily via TreeHugger]

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Comments (10)
  1. Scurrilous.
    Reminds me a little of the guy who was on the phone to 911 for the better part of an hour, claiming that he couldn't stop his accelerating Prius... What ever happened to him? (I think he already had financial problems?)
    Neil
     
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  2. "in the tony community", "diagnosed one week after the accidnet"
    Proof-read much?
     
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  3. @PTR: Thanks for catching the "accidnet" typo. Fixed. However, "tony" is a widely accepted adjective meaning posh, upscale, well-manicured, etc. 1 for 2, not bad. :)
     
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  4. It reminds me of a placard I once saw:
    American Justice - The Best that Money Can Buy.
    It shouldn't be so.
     
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  5. Sleep apnea is NOT narcolepsy. In sleep apnea sleep is interrupted by difficulty in breathing due to physical causes such as being overweight. Narcolepsy is a neurological condition a manifestation of which is lack of consolidation of nighttime sleep episodes, which then causes the excessive daytime sleepiness, a SYMPTOM of narcolepsy.
    Know what you are saying, please, rather than encouraging the spread of misinformation.
     
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  6. @Michael Turner: Thanks for the additional info. Your comment seems to support the question I asked in the article: If Erzinger has sleep apnea, how does that cause him to fall asleep during the DAY?
     
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  7. Sleep apnea has been shown to cause drivers to fall asleep at the wheel. In most cases that I've heard, it is basically snoring or heavy breathing which wakes you up many times throughout every night. It interrupts your sleep cycle, preventing you from ever really being well-rested. It is certainly different from narcolepsy, but your final assertion is correct: he should realize he is constantly drowsy, not fit to drive, and take responsibility for his actions behind the wheel.
     
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  8. Ahh, Lawyers- Gotta love em! Something doesn't have to make sense, just misdirect from common sense. I'm surprised that he didn't claim the car accelerated all by itself and then attacked the women and children. If it had been a Toyota, he probably would have.
     
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  9. Point here is the typical dual standard. He should not get a break because he would loose his job. I remember when I had a newborn at home that kept me up all night for weeks. For a while, I could not make a 20 minute drive to work without stopping to the side.
    We have a tendency to not hold people accountable for their actions. Attorneys can come up with all sorts of lame excuses, it is up to the judges to ensure justice is served....unless they also drive a Mercedes and are showing up to work after inhaling the fumes.
     
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  10. I can relate because the intoxicating smell of a certain lady made me hit the gas pedal instead of the breaks :-)
     
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