From the Arvada Press
Golden couple say they were lucky to get away with just a welt
By Christy Steadman
An Aurora man will spend 1 1/2 years in county jail and serve two years of probation for shooting a Golden cyclist in the back with a pellet gun.
Scott Brown showed no regard for the law, other people or common decency, said First Judicial District Deputy District Attorney Claire Czajkowski during Brown’s Oct. 13 sentencing hearing in Jefferson County. “His actions were cruel.”
Along with jail time and probation, Brown, 65, will complete 50 hours of community service. Along with not being allowed to possess a weapon of any kind, one condition of his probation is that he undergoes mental health evaluation and treatment.
On July 16, Golden business owners and married couple Bart Sheldrake and Whitney Painter were riding their tandem bicycle on Golden Gate Canyon Road, west of Golden.
It was during the early morning hours on a Sunday when there’s not much traffic up there, Painter said, adding the couple generally does not ride during weekday heavy rush-hour traffic.
“We were well within our rights to be there,” she said, “and we were riding peacefully.”
The two were about a half mile past the Galbraith trailhead on the right side of the road, when Brown approached them from behind, driving a white passenger van. He fired a shot from a pressurized pellet gun that hit Painter on the lower left side of her back.
It caused significant pain, Painter said. It was a deep contusion that took about four weeks to heal — she said she felt lucky it didn’t require stitches.
However, the outcome could have been much worse, Painter said. Sheldrake was piloting the bicycle, and if he would have been shot, he could have lost control causing a serious crash involving critical injury or fatality.
After Painter was shot, the couple turned around and rode to the mouth of the canyon where they could get cell service to call 911.
Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies found the van and contacted Brown at nearby White Ranch Park. Painter said that deputies relayed that Brown’s statement was as follows: he carries a pellet gun because he hates squirrels, and although the cyclists were not impeding his progress up the road or provoking him in any way, he decided he also hates bikes because they mess up the trails.
“It may not have been personal,” Painter said, addressing the court, “but it certainly was cowardly, irresponsible and cruel.”
At the sentencing hearing, Brown admitted he “momentarily lost his head.”
“It is far from my normal self,” he said. “My action was as stupid as it gets.”
Brown said he had been struggling because of living alone in Colorado for so long, and that before the incident, he had been making plans to move back to Georgia where he had a support group of friends and family. He added that he had been receiving help through counseling from a church in Georgia.
Brown said he is “completely and utterly ashamed” of what he did, and that he is “very, very sorry” for diminishing the victims’ joy that day.
At his first court appearance on Sept. 18, Brown entered a guilty plea to three misdemeanor counts — third-degree assault, reckless endangerment and launching a missile at a vehicle.
“This was a shocking, deliberate, unprovoked act,” said Pam Russell, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.
Russell said the district attorney had filed the most serious charges possible under Colorado law. If the offense was slightly different, Russell added, either in regards to Painter’s injury or if she had been threatened, felony charges could have been filed.
Third-degree assault has a maximum possible two-year county jail term associated with it. County Court Judge Verna Carpenter took six months off Brown’s sentence because it was his first offense and he provided a sincere apology to the victims — which does matter, she said. She also noted both Brown’s and the victims’ love of nature.
Still, Carpenter mentioned that she “can’t fathom” having such anger for someone just because they are riding a bike and because he was feeling lonely.
“Your actions were so outrageous,” Carpenter said. “The level of recklessness is astounding to me.”
Sheldrake and Painter are both lifelong cyclists, and understand and obey the rules of the road when they ride, Painter said.
“Of course we wish that all cyclists did so,” Painter said, “but we do not believe that pursuing vigilante justice against riders is an acceptable response to those upset by poor cycling behaviors.”
The incident further sparked tension between motorists and bicyclists, resulting in public outcry — Painter was copied on at least 300 emails that community members sent to the court that offered feedback on what they thought Brown’s sentencing should entail.
“The cycling community is really upset. This is a real concern. These are things that actually happen to cyclists,” Painter said. But, she added, “people aren’t going to stop riding bikes — not in Colorado.”