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Cyclist pleads guilty to first U.S. felony vehicular manslaughter by bike: prosecutor

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A bicyclist who fatally struck a 71-year-old pedestrian while riding downhill in San Francisco has pleaded guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter, believed to be first such conviction in the United States, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Under his plea deal, Chris Bucchere, 37, will avoid jail time but will be required to perform 1,000 hours of community service and be placed on probation for three years, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón told reporters.

"Mr. Bucchere has been held accountable to a historic level," Gascón said. "What he did deserved prosecution. This is about sending a clear message about prevention."

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

Bucchere, a software developer, was riding his bike downhill on March 29, 2012, when he slammed into Sutchi Hui, 71, at an intersection crowded with pedestrians in the city's Castro District.

Hui was crossing the street with his wife. He died of his injuries four days later.

Witness accounts described Bucchere as having run a red light before striking Hui, and Gascón said that was the "tie breaker" between prosecuting the case as a felony or a misdemeanor.

"The level of negligence made this case rise above the level of an accident," he said.

Bucchere also blew past two other red lights and a stop sign and was traveling at 30 miles per hour (48 km/h), said Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the District Attorney's Office.

An investigation revealed Bucchere used Strava, a GPS-based application that can record how quickly cyclists complete a particular route.

Under California law, a felony conviction for vehicular manslaughter can carry a maximum sentence of six years in prison, compared with one year in jail for a misdemeanor.

The plea agreement between prosecutors and Bucchere was entered after Hui's son told authorities he did not want to see Bucchere sentenced to prison for his father's death, Gascón told reporters.

The same month Bucchere hit Hui, a bicyclist pleaded guilty in San Francisco to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter for running down a 67-year-old woman who died a month later.

The cyclist was sentenced to 500 hours of community service and three years probation.

Ted Cassman, an attorney for Bucchere, did not return calls seeking comment. Bucchere has been free on bail since last year.

Bucchere pleaded guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter in a court appearance on Thursday but the District Attorney's Office announced the plea deal on Tuesday. Bucchere is due to appear before a judge for sentencing on August 16.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Editing by Karen Brooks and Dan Grebler)

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