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Jury trial begins for man suspected of causing cyclist’s death

Cordell Schneider charged with vehicular homicide in crash that killed Benjamin Sonntag

The quality of the investigation into the crash that led to the death of professional cyclist Benjamin Sonntag served as a focal point in opening statements Tuesday in the trial of the man charged with vehicular homicide in the cyclist’s death.

Cordell James Schneider, 20, of La Plata County is charged with vehicular homicide and reckless driving in Sonntag’s death, which occurred shortly after noon on March, 4, 2020, while Sonntag was on a training ride on Cherry Creek Road (County Road 105).

The Colorado State Patrol investigation concluded Schneider was traveling in his pickup at 69 mph on County Road 105, hitting Sonntag head-on after failing to negotiate a curve about seven-tenths of a mile north of the intersection with County Road 100.

“Mr. Schneider, the defendant, was recklessly driving his truck at least 69 mph, a rate so fast that he simply could not control his truck, and he could not account for Mr. Sonntag, and at that rate of speed, he could not account for anything that appeared on the road,” Assistant District Attorney David Ottman told jurors during opening statements.

Benjamin Sonntag, a professional cyclist who lived in Durango, was killed March 4, 2020, while riding his bicycle in rural southwest La Plata County. Cordell Schneider, 20, of La Plata County, was driving the pickup that hit Sonntag. (Courtesy of Bill Schieken)

Defense attorney Joel Fry said Schneider was on his way home after working an overnight shift at IronWood Mill, a plywood manufacturing lumber business in Dolores.

Evidence in the trial will show the crash occurred after Schneider encountered Sonntag, who was riding in the wrong lane of traffic, Fry said.

“He was rounding a slight curve on County Road 105 when he encountered the bicyclist in his lane, riding toward him in the illegal lane of traffic,” Fry said. “The bicyclist was not simply over the centerline. He was far into the left-hand lane.”

Fry said Schneider tried to avoid Sonntag, but Sonntag mirrored his evasive movement and the two eventually collided.

Fry said because law enforcement officers at the scene failed to close the road when the accident occurred, traffic continued, which damaged evidence.

The location on County Road 105 in southwest La Plata County where a crash killed cyclist Benjamin Sonntag on March 4, 2020. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

“There was a dead bicyclist and a fatal accident, and they needed to determine what happened,” Fry said.

In the end, Fry said evidence will show there is reasonable doubt about the speed Schneider was traveling.

In addition, Fry said evidence will show Sonntag as traveling on the wrong side of a lightly trafficked county road because there was less gravel on that side of the road and he wanted to get in the fastest training time he could.

Ottman said Sonntag’s death was preventable except for Schneider driving recklessly and causing the crash.

“Benjamin Sonntag’s death was entirely preventable if the defendant had not been driving recklessly, 69 mph and lost control of his vehicle,” Ottman said.


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