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Cyclist sentenced for manslaughter by bike in landmark California case

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A bicyclist who fatally struck a pedestrian in San Francisco was sentenced to community service and probation on Thursday, after pleading guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter in what is believed to be the first such conviction in the United States.

After striking a plea deal to avoid jail time, Chris Bucchere, 37, was sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service and three years of probation for the death of 71-year-old Sutchi Hui last year, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement.

"Mr. Hui was a loving husband, father, and grandfather who tragically lost his life in an incident that could have easily been prevented," Gascón said. "Motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists must share the road in a responsible way because there are dire consequences when traffic laws are disregarded."

Gascón has said the case marked the first felony vehicular manslaughter conviction in the United States against a bicyclist. His office last year prosecuted a similar case as a lesser charge.

Bucchere, a software developer, was riding his bicycle downhill in March 2012 when he entered a crowded intersection in the city's Castro District and collided with Hui, who had been crossing the street with his wife. Hui died of his injuries four days later.

Bucchere had been riding at about 30 miles per hour (48 km per hour) at the time, said Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the District Attorney's Office. Investigations into the collision showed that Bucchere used a GPS-based application that allows cyclists to compare speed records on a route and set personal records.

Witnesses of the crash told authorities Bucchere ran through a red light before slamming into Hui, and those witness accounts were a tie-breaking factor in the decision to prosecute the case as a felony, Gascón has said.

The plea deal was reached after Hui's son told prosecutors he did not want Bucchere to serve jail time for his father's death, Gascón said. A felony conviction for vehicular manslaughter could have carried a maximum sentence of six years in prison under California law.

Another bicyclist pleaded guilty in San Francisco to misdemeanor manslaughter last year. That cyclist received 500 hours of community service and three years of probation for striking a 67-year-old woman who later died.

A judge can decide in six months whether Bucchere's conviction can be reduced to a misdemeanor, Gascón said. A call and email for comment to Bucchere's attorney, Ted Cassman, were not returned.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

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