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Guilty verdict for La Plata County man who hit, killed pro cyclist

Cordell Schneider convicted of vehicular homicide in death of Benjamin Sonntag
Schneider

Cordell Schneider was found guilty Thursday of vehicular homicide and reckless driving for causing the crash that killed professional cyclist Benjamin Sonntag.

The decision came after more than four hours of deliberation by a 12-person jury, including nine women and three men.

Schneider stood composed in a maroon shirt as 6th Judicial District Judge William Herringer read the verdict.

Sentencing is scheduled for 2 p.m. Oct. 15.

Schneider will remain free on bail pending the sentencing hearing.

He faces two to six years in prison for vehicular homicide and 10 to 90 days in jail for reckless driving. Herringer can also sentence Schneider to probation on both offenses.

“I think we asked a lot of the jury on this case,” Herringer said.

He called the case “particularly difficult.”

He added: “I will tell you that I think this was a case that was particularly well-suited to having a jury as opposed to a job for one individual, a judge, in making a decision.”

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Earlier this month, on July 2, Schneider was arrested in connection with a single-vehicle crash while driving a motorcycle on U.S. Highway 160 near the Residence Inn by Marriott in west Durango.

A witness told police he was trying to “walk away” from the scene after the crash. When police arrived, he allegedly attempted to flee the scene on foot, according to police.

Police also reported that a bystander ran across the road and stood in front of Schneider until the officer caught up to him to prevent him from leaving the scene. The officer then held Schneider at Taser-point until backup arrived and took him into custody.

Schneider is free on a personal recognizance bond in that case, as well.

Herringer warned Schneider that failure to abide by his bonds’ conditions could adversely affect his sentencing in October.

Thursday’s verdict came after closing arguments.

Prosecuting attorney David Ottman told jurors the case was simple: Sonntag was killed because Schneider was recklessly speeding at 69 mph down Cherry Creek Road (County Road 105), forcing him to lose control of his vehicle – striking and killing Sonntag.

Defense attorney Joel Fry said numerous reasons existed to find Schneider innocent, including:

  • Inconclusive evidence that he was speeding at 69 mph down a seldom-used back road.
  • A botched investigation into the crash.
  • Initial confusion among troopers about the direction of travel of Sonntag. Troopers initially, incorrectly, believed the cyclist was southbound and was hit from behind when in fact Sonntag was headed north while traveling in the southbound lane.
  • Sonntag’s decision to ride in the wrong lane of traffic to speed his training ride.

According to Colorado State Patrol investigators, Schneider was driving a green Ford Ranger at an estimated 69 mph in a 35 mph zone southbound on the dirt road when he collided with Sonntag, who was riding north on a 2019 Specialized S-Works Tarmac bike.

Sonntag, 39, was a German national who had lived in Durango since 2007 and graduated from Fort Lewis College in 2010.

Fry said: “This is not simply Mr. Sonntag being in the correct lane and inadvertently moving for a short period of time across the center line into oncoming traffic. This is him making a decision to move to the left-hand lane because that’s the fastest route.”

Fry said Sonntag was sending his performance data electronically via an app for storage, and he purposely was cycling in the southbound lane while traveling north because gravel in the northbound lane would have slowed him.

“Regardless of speed, Mr. Sonntag was driving on the wrong side of the legal way,” Fry said.

Ottman said two other vehicles encountered Sonntag on his run and were able to negotiate conditions to give him safe passage, but Schneider, because of his excessive speed, could not.

“This was preventable,” Ottman told jurors. “Benjamin Sonntag did not have to die after being struck and killed by the defendant.”

parmijo@durangoherald.com

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