An immigration officer was sentenced to three-and-a-half months in prison Friday for a hit-and-run incident which caused the death of a 59-year-old cyclist.
Nicholas Tibbetts, 26, admitted to causing the death by careless driving of Donnie Ray Connor, a coconut seller whose body was discovered along with his damaged bicycle on the side of the Linford Pierson Highway in April 2015.
Tibbetts, who fled the scene, claimed in police interviews to have no recollection of the incident, saying he must have fallen asleep at the wheel.
However, he accepted responsibility after officers searching for a silver Honda spotted on traffic cameras tracked him down. An accident reconstructionist linked Tibbetts’s vehicle to the incident.
CCTV footage from a nearby gas station showed him making repairs to the car shortly after the accident.
Passing sentence Thursday, Justice Linda Dobbs, said she found it hard to believe that Tibbetts had slept through the incident.
She said the impact of Mr. Connor hitting the car and being carried on its bonnet and the sound of the bike being dragged beneath the vehicle would have “woken the dead.”
She said he was clearly awake and functioning enough to drive to a gas station and make repairs to the car shortly after the incident, but had not stopped at the scene. He compounded this error, she said, by making swift repairs to the car in the days that followed and disposing of the damaged parts at the dump.
Tibbetts was initially sentenced on Thursday to eight months, but the jail time was reduced after a late plea from his lawyer, Amelia Fosuhene, for his time on bail, with an ankle bracelet electronic monitor, to be discounted from the sentence.
After a fresh hearing Friday morning, the judge agreed to reduce the sentence to three-and-a-half months in consideration of the 596 days he had spent under an electronically monitored curfew, restricting him to his home address between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. each day.
The family of the victim, Mr. Connor, were among those to write letters to the court urging leniency for Tibbetts, who the judge said otherwise had an impeccable character.
Summarizing the evidence, Justice Dobbs said Mr. Connor’s body was discovered on the side of the highway at around 4:30 a.m. on April 23, 2015.
Traffic cameras showed CCTV footage of a damaged silver Honda close to the scene at the estimated time of the accident. Officers pulled a list of all owners of that make, color and model car, which eventually led them to Tibbetts. When they arrived at his home, they noticed his vehicle had been recently repaired and smelled of fresh paint. He acknowledged he had been in an accident, near to the Country and Western Bar on the night Mr. Connor was killed but claimed he did not believe he was responsible for the man’s death.
He told police he had taken Benadryl allergy medication before going out with friends and drinking rum. He claimed to have drunk plenty of water and did not believe he was over the legal driving limit, the court heard.
According to Tibbetts’s statement, he remembered turning onto the Linford Pierson Highway but did not recall hitting anyone and maintained that he must have fallen asleep.
He said he only realized he had been in an accident when he was by the Country and Western bar on Crewe Road, at which point he stopped to make repairs.
Even when he heard on the news the next day that the man had been killed, he said he did not think he was responsible.
Once he heard police were looking for the owner of a silver car, he discussed on Whatsapp with friends whether he might be responsible. He said he planned to come forward but the police had tracked him down before he had a chance.
The judge noted he had “sought to distance himself from the incident, claiming not to remember it.” But, she said, she was giving him credit for his previous good character and early guilty plea.
“Any positive things that can be said about a person have been said about this defendant,” she added.