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Parker resident Jake Kirby was out doing what he loved: Riding his bicycle along Hess Road, enjoying a fall afternoon.
Beth Young, who spends her days caring for homebound veterans, was driving her SUV along the same road at the same time. A split second later, after Young looked down at her dashboard to silence a call on her Bluetooth speakers, Kirby was dead and Young's life would never be the same.
More than four months later, a judge sentenced Young, 55, to 30 days in the Douglas County jail for the fatal collision that occurred just outside Parker in November. Young had pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense of careless driving causing death.
On April 13, a courtroom in Castle Rock was packed with Kirby's family, who gave tearful pleas for the judge to impose the strictest sentence possible: one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. With a slideshow of Kirby's life and family playing on court video monitors, Kirby's family members spoke to 18th District Judge Monica Gomez about the incident that took his life — and their disappointment that there are not stiffer penalties imposed for distracted driving.
Young watched the slide show on a computer in front of her, and listened to harsh words from Kirby's family.
Lynn Kirby Griffith, Kirby's mother, recalled getting the phone call from her grandson telling her of Kirby's death, and reminisced about his childhood and adult life before addressing Young.
“I want to tell you Beth, that I forgive you. But not just yet,” Griffith said tearfully. “Maybe someday, when I feel like I can breathe again.”
Gomez acknowledged that most judges would not have handed down jail time, but said that society was getting too comfortable with distracted driving and there had to be consequences for Young's actions.
In addition to the jail time, Gomez sentenced Young to two years of supervised probation, 300 hours of public service and a $500 fine. Young's jail sentence allows for work release, so she will be allowed to leave the jail during the day and continue her work as a home health aide for veterans. Young must turn herself into the court by 6 p.m. April 27.
Kirby's oldest son Tyler, 27, asked Gomez to take a strong stance against distracted driving.
“Your honor, today you have the chance to send the message that distracted driving is unacceptable,” said Tyler. “Distracted driving continues to be a growing problem in Colorado. When jail time is an option, the consequences of jail could be an incentive to pay more attention.”
According to Young's attorney, the day of the accident, Nov. 27, Young had the Bluetooth engaged in her car when her phone rang. Young did not answer the phone, but did look down at the dashboard to turn the radio off, which was transmitting the call. The time she looked down was enough for her to drift into the bike lane, striking and killing Kirby, 53.
Kirby's daughter Katie had no kind words for Young, and said she is making it her life's mission to change the laws.
“The sentencing will never be enough. You took our father,” said Kathryn. “It is my mission to change the laws for this being a traffic misdemeanor. Please give justice to my dad.”
Kirby's fiancee, Joan Hartwig, said they were planning to marry this year.
“Jake always chose kindness. Our loss is beyond description,” said Hartwig. “But Jake felt most alive when he was riding his bike outside, head down, riding into the wind or taking a hill.”
Kirby's brother Charles read a letter he had written to Young, and said as a Christian he was battling some inner demons.
“I try to look at it as a Christian. I understand mistakes happen, and can happen to anyone,” said Charles, who stopped several times to compose himself before speaking to Young. “I believe he left this earth on the date he was supposed to, doing what he loved. I believe when he was born there was a date and time stamp on the day he would leave this world. I forgive you. You may have been a pawn the good Lord used to call my brother home.”
Gomez heard from a supporter of Young. Kristen Garrett, Young's boss, said Young is a good employee and her chosen profession is helping others.
Young's daughter Trish, said her mother suffers nightmares, doesn't sleep at night and doesn't take the incident lightly.
“My entire life, she's been caring, to anyone who needed it,” said Trish. “I can't count the number of people who have come through our home because they needed a place to stay or something to eat. I just wanted to let you know that my mother has never intended malice. I hope you understand and realize none of us take this lightly.”
Debbie Hurfurst told the court that Young was the caregiver for her 87-year-old father and he has thrived under her care.
“She comes every day, and she's the most caring, loving, patient person,” said Hurfurst. “Beth has made my dad's life better and longer.”
Young had the opportunity to address the family and judge before sentencing was handed down.
“None of you think I'm sorry. I'm extremely sorry," she said. "I knew the night of the accident I had ruined lives. I'm aware of the stupid things we do in our cars every day. I would like to help stop others from turning down the radio, or moms looking in the mirror at their kids. I don't know what jail would do.”
The judge responded to family members who spoke, expressing her condolences to the family and recognizing the pain Young is going through as well.
“There is a lot of pain in this room today, on both sides of the aisle,” said Gomez. “It is difficult to comprehend that a simple action of turning off a radio could lead to Kirby's death. We all do it every day. Our culture simply accepts distracted driving.
“Miss young, you are a caregiver by nature, and having caused the death of another human being has to be horrible for you. I don't believe this is a typical distracted driving case. But I believe jail time is appropriate. Most courts don't impose jail time. In this culture, we are getting too comfortable and individuals don't receive punishment. Jail time is used for punishment and rehabilitation, and there's no rehabilitation here, but there has to be consequences.”
Young's sister-in-law Kim Sheek spoke after the sentencing.
“Everyone in our family recognizes nothing said or done today can take away the pain of Mr. Kirby's family. They continue to be in our prayers,” said Sheek.
Kirby's oldest son Tyler, said he was proud of his family for supporting each other, and felt the sentencing was a step in the right direction.
“I feel like some steps are being made forward that can possibly help with other judgments down the road,” said Tyler.
Daughter Katie said she plans to create a memorial for her father and hopes to organize a memorial ride as well.
“This is not the last time people will hear Jake Kirby's name,” said Katie.
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