45-year sentence in road rage death
BY CARLOS SADOVI
Sun-Times staff reporter
February 21, 2002
Sending a strong message to motorists who vent their rage on the road, a judge sentenced a Bellwood man to 45 years in prison Wednesday for intentionally striking a bicyclist with his SUV and killing him.
"It happens every day; most people shake it off, but some choose to escalate it further. They let their ego get the best of them,'' Judge Kenneth Wadas told Carnell Fitzpatrick. "They have to show they have the edge; in this case, a Tahoe definitely has the edge over a bicycle. He mowed him down.''
Fitzpatrick, 31, held his head in his hands and shook in disbelief as his friends and family groaned and sobbed in the packed courtroom. Fitzpatrick was convicted of first-degree murder in December after a jury found that he had used his 1997 Tahoe as a weapon against bicycle messenger Thomas McBride.
Before sending Fitzpatrick off to prison, Wadas said growing incidents of road rage required him to issue a harsh sentence. Fitzpatrick had faced 20 to 60 years for the death of McBride on April 26, 1999.
"I've been practicing law for the last 26 years, and I have never been involved in road rage cases. ... I've had two in the last few months,'' Wadas said. "It makes me conclude there is more road rage out there than meets the eye. This sentence, I hope, will deter others from the crime.''
On Feb. 4, Wadas sentenced Edwin Valentin to 45 years in prison for using his car to force his girlfriend's car into a fatal accident after the two had argued. Prosecutors said McBride's death was the first case of road rage in which a bicyclist was killed by an angry driver seeking revenge.
Fitzpatrick was convicted of running over McBride in the 5300 block of West Washington as McBride rode from his Oak Park home to the Loop. McBride slapped the hood of Fitzpatrick's sport-utility vehicle and cursed at him for nearly hitting McBride. Fitzpatrick apparently gunned the engine, drove up behind McBridge and struck the bicycle's rear tire before running over McBride.
Fitzpatrick fled but turned himself in to police a short time later.
McBride's family said both families lost loved ones.
In a tearful victim-impact statement read in court, McBride's father, Robert, called the youngest of their five children a loving son who was full of life. The family has started an endowment fund in Thomas' name at Harold Washington College, which has issued two $600 scholarships so far, Thomas' mother, Mary Ellen McBride, said.
"When you take someone's life, the punishment is that your life as you know it is taken away from you,'' Mrs. McBride said. "It's not a happy day for both families.''
Fitzpatrick apologized to the family but insisted, as he did during the trial, that the incident was an accident and he never intended to strike McBride.
"It was an accident,'' Fitzpatrick said in barely audible voice.
"I never meant to hit Mr. McBride or to kill him, none of that; it was an accident.''
But during the trial, witnesses said he sped up to hit McBride, and after the bicyclist fell on the side of the street, he quickly drove off with the mangled 10-speed bike dragging underneath and sending sparks flying.
Wadas said Fitzpatrick's two drug convictions in 1991 and 1994--each time, he received 24 months' probation--played a factor in the sentence.
Bicycle messengers hailed the sentence.
"We want to send condolences to his family; regardless of the sentence, it doesn't bring him back,'' said Pat Vecchio, a spokeswoman for Dynamex, where McBride worked for several years. "It was absolutely unnecessary for McBride to lose his life because this guy was acting out. Maybe it will raise the level of awareness to people for the potential consequences of their actions.''
Copyright © 2001, Chicago Tribune