Jongewaard’s Sentence Too Harsh?

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On Friday Aussie pro cyclist Chris Jongewaard was sentenced to two years in jail and has had his drivers license disqualified for 10 years.  You can find articles all over the web on exactly what happened, but the basics of the story are this:

Chris was celebrating Matthew Rex’s 22nd birthday in 2007.  Rex was a domestic pro cyclist and one of Chris’ training partners.  They were at a party and wanted to get more “supplies” (booze, snacks, whatever…).  A few of them rode their bikes and Chris and others drove.  They were all drinking and Rex likely on drugs.   Jongewaard hit Rex (who was riding his bike) at 80km/hr and fled the scene saying he went to get help.  It was dark and Rex was wearing no helmet, shoes or light and was riding erratically.  Jongewaard soon returned back to Rex with friends.  Rex suffered a broken back, hip and leg, internal bleeding, the loss of his right buttock as a result of the accident and was in a coma for two weeks and in hospital for two months.

I’ve left out lots of details but that’s the quick 100 word scoop of what happened.  Please feel free to correct any details. You can find a good story from a credible news source here.

From my conversations with members of the Adelaide cycling community, it seems that the general sentiment is that the two year sentence handed down to Jongewaard is much too harsh and heavy handed.  Olympic medal-winning cyclist Brett Aitken has publicly voiced his support for his fellow SA athlete, saying he has “paid the price” the incident.

New laws passed in 2006 increased penalties for leaving the scene of an accident to maximum jail term of 15yrs and Jongewaard is among the first to be sentenced under these laws.  “Parliament has made it clear that the fundamental duty of a motorist who is involved in a collision is to stop immediately and render such assistance as is possible.”

There’s always more to these things than meets the eye.  I’ve only heard second hand accounts of what’s happened and see the same news as everyone else does.   Feel free to use this as a forum to voice your opinions and perhaps give some insight to why Jongewaard’s sentence is viewed as being too harsh.

One thought that comes to my mind is this:  Hypothetically if Jongewaard was not an elite cyclist and had hit Rex, wouldn’t we all be crying bloody murder?  Wouldn’t we all be up in arms that a driver did a hit-and-run and ruined a pro cyclist’s career and only got a two year sentence?  Wouldn’t we be outraged that Jongewaard got to travel the world throughout his trial?  I understand that responsibility needs to be taken on both sides, but would the view sway in support of Rex if Jongewaard were just a regular driver and not a pro cyclists?

I don’t want to see Jongewaard go to jail any more than anyone else does.  He’s always been extremely nice to me when I’ve chatted to him in races and know by reputation that he’s a top bloke.   I also think he’s an amazing athlete.  I’ve never seen anyone else able to cross over from pro mountain biking to road and back again like he can.  The way I see it he unfortunately got himself into a situation where he made a bad decision in some confusing circumstances.  I certainly can’t say that I’m above that.  I can remember some of the stupid shit I did when I was younger and it’s a miracle that nothing like this ever happened to me.

I empathize for both Rex and Jongewaard.  One thing is for certain – two promising cyclists have lost their athletic careers over this accident.  No one wins.

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photo Mikkeli Godfree – Freewheel Magazine

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