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The driver who fatally struck popular bicyclist Aaron Cohen in a hit-and-run on the Rickenbacker Causeway was sentenced to just 364 additional days in jail Wednesday, disappointing Cohen's family and many in Miami's cycling community -- some who spent six hours at the courthouse in support.
Michele Traverso, 26, will also serve two years on house arrest. Traverso, who was driving illegally and on probation on cocaine charges at the time of the incident last February, previously pled guilty to charges of leaving the scene of an accident involving death, leaving the scene of an accident involving great bodily harm, and driving with a suspended license.
Check out some of the strong reactions to the sentencing from Miami's cycling community in the slideshow below.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas could have sentenced Traverso to as many as 35 years in a prison, according to NBC6. On Wednesday prosecutors recommended a sentence of six years, sending a ripple through Cohen's family and friends who believed Traverso deserved a longer stay.
"This needs to be a stern message to the public," Cohen's father Stephen argued in a statement before the court. "I don't think what the state has asked for is sufficient."
Traverso had escaped manslaughter charges, a decision that also rankled the Miami bike scene. Receipts reportedly show he was partying at a Coconut Grove bar before the 6 a.m. crash, but because he did not surrender to police for 18 hours, investigators were unable to take a timely blood alcohol level test.
After Traverso struck both Cohen, a father of two, and fellow cyclist Enda Walsh on the causeway's William Powell Bridge, he allegedly drove home instead of stopping to help or call police. NBC6 reports it was a security employee at his Key Biscayne condo who first called police about Traverso, reporting "a vehicle with heavy damage to the front, hood, and roof area entered the complex and parked."
Surveillance video appeared to show Traverso unsteady on his feet as he walked through the parking lot, then returned to the vehicle with his father in tow. Detectives later found it covered with a tarp. (View video of Traverso's return home above.)
"It's really hard to look at you in eyes and say I’m sorry," he said according to WSVN, apologizing to Cohen's wife in court.
Traverso's therapist Dr. Merry Haber spoke after Cohen's family, telling Judge Thomas that her client admitting having "a few beers" in the Grove before driving home, but swore to her he had not been drunk.
A doctor testified that Traverso had a rare immunological disorder and would suffer inadequate care in a prison, arguing he should be sentenced to house arrest instead.
"I think that this is a situation that at least in my opinion required a harsher sentence," Stephen Cohen, an attorney, told NBC6 after the sentencing. "I'm not saying what that sentence should've been, but i think it required a harsher sentence."
Cohen's death, which echoed a fatal hit-and-run on the same road the year before, intensified calls for immediate safety improvements on the Rickenbacker. The road has since been paved with rumble strip-like "vibratory ridges" that alert drivers when they are veering into the unprotected bicycle lane.
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