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Elderly driver expresses sorrow

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The elderly man charged with a May hit-and-run accident involving a boy at a bus stop proclaimed his innocence Friday, while expressing his sorrow to accident victims.

But his attorney questioned the comparisons made between Alfred William Kutchera's case and another auto-pedestrian accident that killed a Salt Lake police officer July 17.

Kutchera, 81, was arraigned Friday in 3rd District Court. He pleaded not guilty to negligent homicide, failure to stop at the scene of an accident and unsafe movement, all class A misdemeanors.

Prosecutors charge that at about 2 p.m. on May 30, Kutchera's vehicle struck Flora Gatzemeier and her children, 3-year-old Rebecca and 9-year-old Brent, as they waited near a bus stop at 1250 E. 4500 South.

Brent Gatzemeier died of his injuries.

Witnesses told police Kutchera failed to slow the car be-

fore or after the collision and that he attempted to have the car repaired shortly thereafter, according to court documents.

Kutchera's attorney Richard A. Van Wagoner said after the hearing that his client never intended to cause harm or injury, and that Kutchera wanted to convey his "deep sorrow and concern to the victims of this accident and their families and friends."

"This was a tragic accident for everyone involved," Van Wagoner said. "He sincerely hopes the healing process has begun."

Van Wagoner eschewed recent comparisons between Kutchera's case and that of 25-year-old Yocundo Cruz-Silva, the man investigated in connection with the death of Salt Lake police officer Michael J. Dunman.

Allegations of discrimination have swirled around both cases since Dunman was killed. Cruz-Silva's attorney Jose Luis Trujillo has questioned whether his client was justly incarcerated — albeit under Immigration and Naturalization Service jurisdiction — because Kutchera, an elderly Caucasian male, was not.

Cruz-Silva remained in jail Friday night, and at a Friday INS hearing, a judge upheld his $15,000 cash bail.

Van Wagoner said Friday if the rationale for detaining Cruz-Silva centered on INS issues, "that makes some sense."

He added, "My client is in his 80s and isn't driving now. So he's essentially under home confinement."

And, though news media reports raised the question of Kutchera's age as a possible factor in the accident, Van Wagoner said his client was legally licensed to drive.

"He passed all the tests required for a driver's license, including the vision tests," he said. "He had authorization from his eye doctor and his regular doctor."

Van Wagoner said age discrimination should not be tolerated.

"We need laws to make sure that everyone who's driving is a safe, competent driver," he said. "I don't think senior citizens ought to be targeted."


E-MAIL: jnii@desnews.com