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Cyclist sentanced to 15 year in road rage incident

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that guy

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Jul 18 2013 at 2:15pm #

Anyone know anything about this incident? Happened right near my home. I’m guessing there is more to the story. Doesn’t excuse the behavior, of course. Yikes.

Lawrenceville man gets up to 15 years in prison for road rage

By Adam Brandolph

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Published: Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 4:09 p.m.

Updated: Tuesday, July 16, 2013

An Allegheny County judge on Tuesday ordered a Lawrenceville man to serve 7½ to 15 years in prison for brutally beating a motorist with a metal bike lock during a road rage incident.

Common Pleas Judge Beth A. Lazzara also sentenced William Hughes, 34, to serve five years of probation for the altercation on April 26, 2012, near the corner of 42nd Street and Banner Way in Lawrenceville.

Police said Hughes spit on John Hrabolowski’s car, broke his side mirror and used a metal U-shaped bike lock to hit him several times. Hughes’ girlfriend, Sherryl Feli, 34, of Lawrenceville kicked Hrabolowski while he was on the ground.

Police said Hughes and Feli were riding bicycles and became enraged about Hrabolowski’s driving.

Hrabolowski, 51, of Lawrenceville told police he had to spend four days in the hospital being treated for his injuries.

Lazzara in March sentenced Feli to serve two to four years in prison and seven years of probation on three counts of aggravated assault and one count of conspiracy.

  • This topic was modified 1 yr, 3 mos ago by  that guy.

Pierce

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Jul 18 2013 at 2:48pm #

Worth keeping in mind, a lot of people around here are proponents of brandishing u-locks, but it’s probably an uphill battle trying to justify its use as a weapon in court


jonawebb

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Jul 18 2013 at 2:53pm #

Or even spitting, actually…


JaySherman5000

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Jul 18 2013 at 3:01pm #

Pierce wrote:a lot of people around here are proponents of brandishing u-locks, but it’s probably an uphill battle trying to justify its use as a weapon in court

It all depends on context. If you’re using a U-lock to defend yourself against an attacker, that’s easily justifiable, but if you’re using it to bash someone’s skull after they’ve lost consciousness, that’s another story.


Drewbacca

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Jul 18 2013 at 3:57pm #

Sounds like an incredibly harsh punishment in light of how things usually play out. Granted, I don’t know the details.


Mick

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Jul 18 2013 at 5:26pm #

Didn’t a bunch of us help that couple move to Lawrenceville by bike a few years ago? Or am I thinking of someone else?

The authorites don’t take kindly to violence towards motorists. A few years ago, they put a biker in jail for shooting a pickup driver when all the driver was doing was trying to run down the biker.


StuInMcCandless

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Jul 18 2013 at 6:29pm #

I suspect there will be an appeal. Or are we past that?

This has a bit of Trayvon Martin written on it.
* Hrabolowski did something to aggravate the cyclists; that was avoidable.
* Hrabolowski chose to stop instead of driving away.
* Hrabolowski chose to exit his vehicle and engage the cyclists.
* Cyclist(s) defend themselves as best they can
* Cyclist, while not dead, gets prison sentence.


mlinwood25

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Jul 19 2013 at 7:50am #

StuInMcCandless wrote:I suspect there will be an appeal. Or are we past that?

This has a bit of Trayvon Martin written on it.
* Hrabolowski did something to aggravate the cyclists; that was avoidable.
* Hrabolowski chose to stop instead of driving away.
* Hrabolowski chose to exit his vehicle and engage the cyclists.
* Cyclist(s) defend themselves as best they can
* Cyclist, while not dead, gets prison sentence.

This has zero similarity to Travon Martin. None. Probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve read here. There is nothing that this driver did, nothing, that deserved getting beat nearly to death with a u-lock…What on earth would the perp be appealing? That he used reasonable, justifiable force in attacking this guy while he was on the ground and that his girlfriend did too?

Just because somebody drives like an asshole when you are out cycling doesn’t give you the right to beat the hell out of them and their car with a steel lock. When has escalating road-rage into violence ever been productive?


jonawebb

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Jul 19 2013 at 8:41am #

Yeah, I really think Stu is wrong on this one. It sounds like Hughes could easily have caused permanent damage, even death, to his victim, and intended to do just that. I know there’s more to the story — Hrabolowski must have done something, maybe a lot, to set him off — but that didn’t give Hughes any sort of pass for acting the way he did. The prison time is 7½ to 15 years. In practice I think this means a few to several years in prison, which sounds about right.


flyS564

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Jul 19 2013 at 9:25am #

I’m a bit speechless really. A lot of us have seen them a lot over the last few years. I can’t count how many times I have heard someone joke about using their U lock as a weapon. While I can’t see justification for a beat down like this, I have had the snot beat out of me by an angry motorist who I just blocked most of the punches from and thought for sure he would go to jail or get charged but, wasn’t. I would have loved some pepper spray and no wind that day but the last time a cyclist pepper sprayed a motorist, they were ridiculed on here.

I know this outcome doesn’t compare but, all I had to do was fight back to defend myself and I would have been thrown in jail, which is bs.


Eric

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Jul 19 2013 at 9:25am #

He used to post on the board a good bit, I think under the name Willie. He and his lady friend were regulars a bike events.

What a shame, wish I knew more about the situation.


reddan

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Jul 19 2013 at 9:31am #

What a shame, wish I knew more about the situation.

The judge lives a few blocks from me; if I see her, I’ll ask for more details.


Lee

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Jul 19 2013 at 10:05am #

I served on a Lazzara jury a while ago. I was impressed with her as a judge. I’d like to hear the rest of the story though. For all we know the guy could have been trying to run them down and then gotten out of the car to fight. Does winning the fight automatically make you the aggressor in the eyes of the law? Every time i read about something like this it convinces me that discretion is the better part of valor.


jonawebb

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Jul 19 2013 at 10:11am #

I looked up Willie’s most recent post — http://bikepgh.org/mb/topic/carefull-of-aggresive-drivers/#post-0 — and it really sounds like a guy who was trying really hard to deal with aggressive drivers legally, calling the police while the driver was abusing him, and getting nowhere. So I can understand how he might have gotten very, very frustrated and decided to take things into his own hands. Not to justify his attack, but this is not a guy who was riding around with a U-lock looking for drivers to beat down. It seems like a guy who tried everything else.


reddan

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Jul 19 2013 at 10:12am #

Does winning the fight automatically make you the aggressor in the eyes of the law?

No, but failing to retreat if you have a reasonable opportunity to do so, or re-engaging an aggressor after they’ve disengaged, makes self-defense much harder to claim.


jonawebb

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Jul 19 2013 at 10:21am #

BTW, does anyone know Willie well enough to reach out to him in jail? I think he’s probably feeling pretty bad right now.


Lee

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Jul 19 2013 at 10:23am #

Reddan: fair enough. I’m sure it was all hashed out at trial.

Jon: that was from after the incident, but I just did the same thing and got the same impression as you. Guy who stands up for himself, but doesn’t take any guff. From now on, I officially take guff.

Here’s a post that refers briefly to the beatdown case. He’s posting to sell bikes for his legal defense. I think the news article must be wrong about the incident date since the post is from 3 days before.

http://bikepgh.org/mb/topic/surly-pugsley-for-sale/#post-0


flyS564

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Jul 19 2013 at 10:25am #

jonawebb wrote:I looked up Willie’s most recent post — http://bikepgh.org/mb/topic/carefull-of-aggresive-drivers/#post-0 — and it really sounds like a guy who was trying really hard to deal with aggressive drivers legally, calling the police while the driver was abusing him, and getting nowhere. So I can understand how he might have gotten very, very frustrated and decided to take things into his own hands. Not to justify his attack, but this is not a guy who was riding around with a U-lock looking for drivers to beat down. It seems like a guy who tried everything else.

Reading those posts really sucks and I wish he restrained himself in this one like he did in the past. Will is always usually calm and cool and it’s unfortunate for everyone involved.

Edit: this happened 3 days after that post linked above.


byogman

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Jul 19 2013 at 10:44am #

This is just a wild guess, and I do try not to make too many of those, but just being buzzed triggers a huge shot of adrenaline and a lot of anger, quite a reasonable response to callous endangerment. Can’t imagine how much worse that is if a driver is seemingly actually trying to run you off the road entirely.

Reading back over the history, Willie had a crap ton of that garbage to contend with in the days preceding the incident in question. And maybe even this driver was a repeat of one of the ones he posted about? I’d be curious to know that.

People vary in how much control they have over their behavior when the fundamentals are working against them that badly. It’s hard to know where you land unless you’ve experienced something close in severity. I haven’t, so I don’t know for myself.

Here, as in the rest of life, once the proximate danger to your life is over (driver out of the car here), self defense is out the window, and it’s your responsibility to take whatever you might be feeling, stuff it down far enough to keep things to words, doing what’s necessary to block punches, and call the police. NOT easy.

Based off the newspaper account, the cyclists are very far in the wrong here, I guess I’m saying that in spite of that fact, I do not think their behavior here is an indicator of a strong a basic character flaw like I would think of a savage beat down that was not preceded by the traffic altercation, reported driver aggression out of the car afterward, and a very bad history of very recent traffic altercations and direct demonstration of the ineffectiveness of relying on the police to protect you.

None of this is legally relevant in terms of guilt, I guess I’m just saying that the sentence seems excessive to me. Sigh.


Marko82

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Jul 19 2013 at 10:46am #

Wow, I feel so bad for Willie. I would not expect him to be the type to start a physical altercation at all, so this just doesn’t seem right. I’ve had a few drivers get out of their vehicles after words have been exchanged, but luckily nothing has escalated beyond that. I hope he has the ability to appeal this.


Drewbacca

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Jul 19 2013 at 10:49am #

Lee wrote:Does winning the fight automatically make you the aggressor in the eyes of the law?

My suspicion is that it has to do with the use of the u-lock. It may also be due to more than one person being physically involved. If you bring a u-lock to a fist fight, the burden seems to fall on the shoulders of the better armed person (regardless of who started it). I could throw out hypotheticals all night… so hopefully someone can report the exact circumstances so we aren’t left to make up our own.


edmonds59

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Jul 19 2013 at 10:57am #

Damn, that sucks. I remembered those posts and wondered if that was the person.
I also remember the case Mick alluded to, the cyclist in Monroeville defending himself against a guy in a pickup truck trying to run him down. There’s no way that cyclist should have been convicted, that was a complete failure of the system.

mlinwood25 wrote:There is nothing that this driver did, nothing, that deserved getting beat nearly to death with a u-lock…

In certain situations I can easily imagine, I couldn’t possibly disagree more.


mlinwood25

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Jul 19 2013 at 11:17am #

Edmonds59: That’s why I said THIS driver. Not ANY driver. Even then, what is the point? To prove that you are a bad ass? For example…Somebody cuts you off while you are on your bike, so you spit on their car. The driver responds by slamming on the brakes in front of you…and it all goes to hell after that. What is the point? A person on a bike is at a disadvantage anyway, so what are you succeeding in doing by acting exactly like one of these road-rage monsters? Isn’t that why we ride in the first place, as an alternative to the automobile lifestyle/mindset?

Doing what ajbooth does with his camera on West Liberty Ave? THAT is what makes a difference, not spitting on, slapping or vandalizing a car, no matter what the driver did to you. I would encourage all of you to just walk away from these types of road rage incidents…that type of behavior is beneath us.

If it all does go to hell and somebody shoves you or even punches you, you have a right to defend yourself for sure. However, you don’t have the right to pulverize their skull with a u-lock. Your girlfriend doesn’t have the right to then kick them while they are down. That’s not the society we live in, thankfully…at least in PA. Its a “reasonable” standard, and putting a guy in the hospital because of traffic frustration isn’t reasonable no matter who is operating the vehicle.


Pseudacris

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Jul 19 2013 at 11:31am #

Drewbacca wrote:
….If you bring a u-lock to a fist fight, the burden seems to fall on the shoulders of the better armed person (regardless of who started it).

…and the automobile is never considered a weapon, even if the driver is essentially brandishing it in a life-threatening way.


Vannevar

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Jul 19 2013 at 11:34am #

It surprises me that the omniscient google doesnt seem to have any story of the initial event or the initial charges. Has anybody found those?


edmonds59

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Jul 19 2013 at 11:37am #

^@Pseudacris – bullseye.


Drewbacca

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Jul 19 2013 at 11:58am #

Once the driver is no longer behind the wheel, I imagine it would be a moot point. If the driver used the vehicle itself with deadly force, we’d never have a chance to use our u-lock in defense/retaliation to begin with.

I’m not disagreeing with you, the use of a vehicle to instigate/threaten should absolutely be considered with more weight than I suspect it was in Willie’s case.


Lee

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Jul 19 2013 at 12:01pm #

I agree with pseudocris. Also, the whole idea that you can just defend yourself adequately with your fists against anyone is bunk. If it’s a truly inescapable situation, why wouldn’t you arm yourself as best you can for protection? If you have the option, you should just run.


Drewbacca

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Jul 19 2013 at 12:14pm #

Lee wrote:If it’s a truly inescapable situation, why wouldn’t you arm yourself as best you can for protection?

I certainly would! I’m not one to ever throw a first punch (despite this, I’ve been in a countless number of fights in my life). If someone were to push me and I had a u-lock in hand, I wouldn’t hesitate to club that person over the head in my own self defense.

Perhaps it’s an issue of knowing when to stop? Or is the system just that broken? *shrugs*


Pierce

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Jul 19 2013 at 12:21pm #

The post where he’s selling the Pugsley says the guy out out of his car to attack him

We know factually, the guy at least got out of his car, unless they pulled him out, which seems like it would be hard to do

I’d like more information as well, but so far it doesn’t seem like the punishment fits the crime


rsprake

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Jul 19 2013 at 1:18pm #

This really sucks. I never met him but have been in that situation before. Driver almost kills you or bullies you, you react, driver freaks out and comes charging at you. If you’re on a bike and you’re stopped you’re not exactly nimble so what do you do?


Mick

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Jul 19 2013 at 1:58pm #

I don’t know Willie well, but I’m convinced that it was him and Sherryl that we moved.

jonawebb wrote:BTW, does anyone know Willie well enough to reach out to him in jail? I think he’s probably feeling pretty bad right now.

I don’t know him hardly at all, but I could make a committment to visit him regularly.

Monroville incident (from my own post on another forum. I’m lazy. Sue me.)

I dont’ know the situation.

“There are a lot of idiots in the world. Some of them ride bikes.” -Brad Quartuccio

Road rage is possible for any anyone on the road. My prejudice is still to blame the motorist.

In 2005, a pickup driver tried to run bicyclist off the road in Monroeville. The biker pulled a pistol. There was a standoff with the two deadly weapons (pickup truck and gun). The bicyclist shot the driver and the bicyclist went to prison.

From 2004:

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/neighborhoods-east/monroeville-cyclist-held-for-trial-in-road-rage-incident-529390/

From 2005

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/neighborhoods-east/monroeville-bicyclist-guilty-of-assault-573280/

From everything I read about the 2004 case, it strikes me that they sent the wrong person to prison in the incident. (One man attacks another with a deadly weapon. The person attacked defends himself with a pistol. )

But two little articles obviously don’t tell the whole story.

There seems to be an impression in our legal system that a car is somehow NOT a deadly weapon. This is simply incorrect.

I think it could be that the judge viewed the situation with Willie as, “Guy with a U-lock going after an unarmed man.”

The reality could have been more like “Guy with U-lock defends himself from attack with SUV (a seriously deadly weapon).”

But I dont’ know.

I googled the Judge’s name and “bicycle”. The Allegheny Bar lists her hobbies as “running, biking.”

I didn’t get much of interest with her name and DUI. Hard to tell where she is on issues like driving as a right vs driving as a privilege or on appropriate penalties for inappropriate driving.


reddan

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Jul 19 2013 at 2:02pm #

Speculation in the absence of fact is counter-productive, as people who join in later are reading things that didn’t necessarily happen.

All of the following more-or-less fit the information given:
Scenario 1: Driver does something crappy, gets out of car to attack, cyclists defend themselves successfully.
Scenario 2: Driver does something crappy, cyclists follow driver until he parks, attack him.
Scenario 3: Cyclists do something crappy, driver follows them, gets out of car, attacks them.
Scenario 4: Cyclists do something crappy, driver follows them, gets out of car, tells them they’re being douches, cyclists attack.
Scenario 5…
Scenario 6…
Scenario n…

Now, as far as speculation goes: the one thing I find really suggestive is the count of conspiracy. You don’t generally see conspiracy charges leveled against someone who was _reacting_ to an attack.


jonawebb

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Jul 19 2013 at 2:05pm #

The point is, once the car is stopped, it’s no longer a deadly weapon. You aren’t allowed to retaliate against someone who used a deadly weapon against you. If, say, the car was running you down, you couldn’t get out of the way, and you pulled your gun and shot the driver, like in so many cop movies, that’s a different story.
@Mick, I’m really glad to hear someone will be visiting him.


Jacob McCrea

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Jul 19 2013 at 2:18pm #

There’s an easy way to move beyond all the speculation above and base comments on facts: bike over to the county courthouse and make a copy of the case file. If you need additional information, order the transcripts of the hearings and/or trial – they aren’t that expensive.


StuInMcCandless

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Jul 19 2013 at 3:14pm #

It’s possible I am wrong. It’s quite possible I do not fully understand what happened. See various scenarios as laid out by reddan.

But how is this different from Castle Doctrine? Assuming the scenario where driver did something that physically threatened the cyclists (itself a chargeable offense), then stopped and physically engaged the cyclists in some manner, IMHO Castle Doctrine enters into it somehow.

Simply put, after you fire just one bullet to protect yourself, are you supposed to stop?


Marko82

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Jul 19 2013 at 3:18pm #

The docket sheet States: “Defendant is to have no contact with victims: John Szwaczkowski and John Hrabolowski.” There’s no mention of a passenger in the news story…

Also, unfortunately he’s been in county lockup since 3/7/13.

http://ujsportal.pacourts.us/docketsheets/CPReport.ashx?docketNumber=CP-02-CR-0009919-2012


jonawebb

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Jul 19 2013 at 3:19pm #

Well, one difference is that at some point Mr. Hrabolowski was laying on the ground, and Ms. Feli was kicking him. It’s pretty hard to see how Mr. Hrabolowski was a threat at that point, right?


Mikhail

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Jul 19 2013 at 3:31pm #

jonawebb wrote:It’s pretty hard to see how Mr. Hrabolowski was a threat at that point, right?

Is it? I’ve been in fights enough to say that if you don’t keep opponent down either by keeping damaging him or delivered one final blow then he would stand and continue to fight. And if I am down and capable to get on my feet and continue to fight — I would do the same.


reddan

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Jul 19 2013 at 3:34pm #

Assuming the scenario where driver did something that physically threatened the cyclists (itself a chargeable offense), then stopped and physically engaged the cyclists in some manner, IMHO Castle Doctrine enters into it somehow.

That’s an interesting question. Aside from the question of whether the driver directly threatened the cyclists (not evident), I suppose it would be analogous to the question “under Castle Doctrine, can you legally continue to attack someone after they’ve disarmed themselves, if they attacked first?”

Given how fuzzy various interpretations of Castle Doctrine seem to be, I’d be unsurprised if the answer was yes. Saddened, but unsurprised.

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