Jake Crockett

Guilty Plea


I’ve wanted to write something like this for a while, but I haven’t had the right frame of mind, or haven’t known quite what to say, or feared saying something that might interfere with the wheels of justice, or something. But I’m ready. (Ali is preparing something of her own, and given that she will speak at the defendant’s sentencing in about a month, her piece is actually worth something. My ramblings and incoherence, on the other hand, are just for kicks and giggles.)

THE BIKE

We took bikes on our honeymoon, and we’ve ridden regularly since then (I’ve been riding a road or mountain bike off or on for something like 20 years [at Deer Valley in the mid-90s, and anywhere else I could find back before there was an actual bike trail between City Creek and Bountiful], and consistently for the last 14+). Even when she was 7, maybe 8, months pregnant, Ali would pedal away on her trainer in my home office, trying to keep up her fitness as long as she could before some mandatory recovery time.

Since that first trip as a married couple, our vacations for the last 14+ years have managed to include bikes–borrowed when we flew across the country from Ohio to ride in Orange County; carried on top of the car when we spent our 10 year anniversary in Aspen; broken down and packed into luggage for the annual pilgrimage to Ohio; rented posthaste when we reached a port of call in Alaska; and so on and so forth.

Our kids, whether or not by choice, have been grafted into the hobby. The boys have wanted to ride Emigration Canyon for years, and I finally took Noah when he was 10–what I consider a young age for a ride like that. He hasn’t stopped talking about it since. In fact, he mentions it so frequently, that it wasn’t too long until 8 year old Logan followed suit. Logan hasn’t stopped talking about it either, and Miles (all of 6 years old) is confident, no insistent, that he could do it too (and given his track record, I’d be a fool to doubt him–the kid taught himself how to ride a bike, sans training wheels, at age 2, and his older brothers have struggled to keep up with him ever since).

Bikes are what we do and form a huge part of our identity, both individually and as a family. When we looked at neighborhoods considering a move, we rejected many of them *solely* because we couldn’t bike or walk from home to the grocery store, school, library, park, etc. Yalecrest is nearly unbeatable in that regard, and it’s something we’ve come to value tremendously. For us, bikes are a means of transportation and recreation, of course, but bikes are also part of who we are.

THE IMPACT

May 12, 2016, at about 10:30am, changed that. I’ve had my fair share of crashes (some my fault, some not). I’ve been hit by cars twice in the last three years. I haven’t cared. I mean, I’ve been angry about it and frustrated that we don’t treat two to three ton vehicles with more care, but being hit hasn’t deterred me from riding.

But that morning, when I listened to a voicemail telling me that my babies’ mom had been in an accident, followed by my rushing to pick up my four year old from preschool, followed by happening upon the scene of the accident from which my wife had recently departed, only to learn that she was hit by a drunk driver who had an empty vodka bottle on the seat next to him, well, it changed my perspective on riding a bike. And I also found a new sort of anger I didn’t recognize before.

What’s the point? I mean, really? I’m not particularly talented, I have horrible genes (sorry mom and dad, although I guess you should be sorry too!), and I don’t have as much free time as I would like. But, I was willing to suffer and enjoyed competition, even when that meant being embarrassed in a race. But as an old man, what was really the point of flogging myself in the dark (often starting before 5:00am) or for 5 to 9 hour-long rides on a Saturday? Would I be better served spending some of that time with the kids doing something they wanted to do, with me having the energy to do it?

I miss it, sometimes a lot. I haven’t stopped riding, but a typical ride is now a mere hour long. Sometimes, I only squeeze in 30 minutes just to keep up the habit. No more 5:00am to 8:00am weekday rides (frankly, I’m not sure that I could pedal for 3 hours even if I wanted to). I spend more time riding trails, and again more time running, trying to hold on to the last vestige of aerobic conditioning I’ve developed over the course of years and lost over the course of weeks.

I think the thing that makes Ali (or at least me) the most frustrated isn’t the physical pain (going on 5 months), mental pain (will it ever go away?), or anything like that–I think it’s the fact that we feel robbed of an important part of our identity. We recently stayed in St. George–one of our favorite places on the planet to ride. The boys and I took our bikes, and we didn’t pedal a single stroke on them. They went from the car rack to the garage when we arrived, then from the garage to the car rack when we left. That’s a shame.

If indeed time heals all wounds, then I assume that at some point we’ll rediscover our love for it–but I just don’t FEEL it. You know? And with what we’ve invested in cycling both in terms of dollars and in terms of time? Well, that’s a shame too.

THE DEFENDANT

Leaving for a moment what we’ve lost since May, here is what we’ve learned:

– The defendant’s blood alcohol content was 3.5 times the legal limit when he hit Alison–so drunk that he was a sip from being unconscious. At 10:30am on a Thursday.

– He drove past Evergreen Junior High, Evergreen Park, and the Millcreek Recreation Center (and who knows where else) before he hit Ali and came to a stop. Ever been by those areas on a weekday? If not–hold your kids tight. The area is crowded with kids–some at school, some on their way to/from, youngsters at the park, parents and kids headed to/from the library, etc. I sometimes have to keep myself from imagining what could have happened.

– It wasn’t his first rodeo. Granted, about three decades had passed since his last DUI, but still. Not a great thing to have experience with.

– The defendant pleaded guilty to a 3rd degree felony, the maximum possible, and will be sentenced in November.

– The federal government doesn’t make it a habit of employing felons, and thus the defendant, formerly a federal employee, is now in forced retirement.

THE STRUGGLE

I’ll try to not get too religious here, but let me say this: It is tough to balance the demands of justice with the demands of mercy.

Ali is not a vengeful person, and I don’t think that I am either (although I’m certainly not on Ali’s level). I believe in the rule of law and that a consequence should be affixed to each action. I also believe in forgiveness and that forgiving a villain can bring peace to a victim. You may feel the same, or you may think I’m nuts. I’m fine with that.

When you’ve been hit by a drunk driver and had something you love taken from you, it’s one thing to think about what you’d like to see happen as the wheels of justice grind along. When your spouse has been hit by a drunk driver and you can overcome a period of rage, it’s one thing to think about what you’d like to see happen. But how much consequence is too much consequence? How much consequence is too little consequence? Ali and I talked about some of these issues on May 12, and have talked about them countless times since.

It wasn’t until we got a call from the assistant district attorney that we actually had to grapple with those issues in a meaningful, concrete way. Theoretical discussion is fine (and part of the healing process), but when the prosecutor asks you what you’d like to see happen, and at that point realizing that what you say will have real consequences, it’s quite another thing entirely.

We’ve asked ourselves all sorts of questions. For example:

– How fulfilled is someone who is completely smashed at 10:30 on a Thursday morning? I feel badly for those who don’t feel fulfilled by their relationships, or their hobbies, or their employment, or just the amazing valley in which we live.

– Is jail time a deterrent (I don’t think so, for many reasons I won’t get into)? Or should jail time be punitive?

– How likely is the defendant to repeat? How likely is punishment to prevent recidivism generally?

– Is the criminal penalty sufficient? In the grand scheme of the events and consequences, how severe should the civil penalty be? Should the criminal penalty temper for us what we think might be a fair civil remedy?

– Is it fair that his spouse and family suffer for his actions (more than they already have)?

– On the continuum from “slap on the wrist” to “spend five years in the clink and be forced into bankruptcy,” at what point does punishment go from motivating change to feeding a cycle of depression (and consequent potential damaging behaviors) that only make change more difficult and less likely?

– Is what seems fair to us necessarily fair to the defendant? Is it fair to the defendant to have a maximum penalty? Is it fair to the defendant to have no penalty? Is it fair to the defendant’s family to have a maximum or no penalty?

– How sincere is the defendant’s remorse? Does it matter?

– Should perceived remorse ameliorate consequences?

– By not seeking the maximum possible criminal and/or civil penalties, are we doing a disservice to others–both those who might in the future be affected by this particular defendant’s potential actions as well as by the chance (if any) that a lack of extracting the maximum penalty might not serve presumed deterrence effects for others who might do similarly in the future?

– How do you economically quantify hours, days, weeks, months, and years of pain? Multiple surgeries? Impaired limb function? A summer (few they are whilst the kids are young) hearing about or watching your kids do the things you love to do but can’t participate in? Emotional wounds presenting at unexpected times, or in unexpected ways, and that you can’t fully understand yet?

– How do you make up for the fact that your short term memory has been so affected that your husband actually now wins an argument from time to time (“Where is my book?” “You put it on the table 30 seconds ago, literally.” “No I didn’t.” “Walk over there and look.”)

And the list goes on. (and on. and on.)

THE FUTURE

I’ve tried to help Ali understand that her input into the criminal process is not, or at least should not be, a burden in which she must decide the defendant’s fate. The defendant’s fate was in his own hands, and it is now in the hands of a trier of fact. Her input is important in that process, but whether or not the defendant is convicted is not her burden, and she should feel no guilt at the consequences imposed if she perceives them to be too harsh or too lenient. It’s easy for me to say. It’s not easy for a victim to appreciate.

The ride has been interesting, and it is not over. But sentencing will be an important milestone as we move forward and try and put the issues behind us and can focus on Ali being who she wants to be and doing what she wants to do.

Until then, next time you drive down the road, please drive sober/drive safely/put your phone down, and please give a cyclist a little space (we only take up a few feet). You may lose five (or even 15!!) seconds of time, but you’ll potentially save the cyclist a lot of pain and suffering, not to mention that of those waiting at home for her/him. You don’t understand the battles one is facing merely by looking at her/him.

Lucky to Live Here

It has been 5.5 years since I moved back to SLC, and I still can’t stop staring at the mountains.  I can name most of the peaks visible from the Salt Lake Valley, have hiked to the top of many of them, and feel lucky to live in an area of such beauty.  I’ve been wanting to take a picture of the Salt Lake Valley and label the visible peaks for quite some time, and I finally got around to it this week by taking the first picture (from the south end of the valley).  The peaks look so different depending on the angle that a single image won’t do them justice.

I’ll get around to labeling the various peaks, sharing that version, and moving around the valley to capture different perspectives over the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this preview (the original version of this image is nearly 400mb! You can click below for a larger, though reasonably-sized, version).

We’re lucky to live in a land of such beauty.

Mount Olympus, Take One

When we moved to Ohio nine years ago, I left behind a number of things: family, the Wasatch, and lungs accustomed to the altitude and burn of flying up and down trails on foot and wheel. When we arrived in Ohio, I was so busy getting used to a new home, law school, new friends, a new city, and new trails, restaurants, and shops that there wasn’t much time to miss the Wasatch. We visited Salt Lake at least yearly, but the few-days-to-a-week-long jaunts were a whirlwind of seeing parents, siblings, and friends, leaving little time to venture outdoors and explore the areas that we grew up visiting.

Deciding to return to Salt Lake City was an emotional cocktail of apprehension and excitement–we loved Ohio, realized that Utah posed unique challenges, but were excited to be back amongst family and the Wasatch. We moved to a neighborhood where I’ve always wanted to live, providing instant access to Emigration Canyon, and few-minutes access to Millcreek, Big Cottonwood, and Little Cottonwood Canyons. I knew it was good to be back the first time I huffed my way up Emigration Canyon–it was exciting to have such an ideal training ride right out my front door. Proximity to the Wasatch eventually erased any misgivings I harbored about living in Salt Lake City again.

I always enjoyed the Wasatch, but I under-appreciated them until I returned to their shadow. My absence cultivated a profound gratitude for their presence, an appreciation for their magnificence, and a strong desire for their protection. There are many things that make Utah unique, but its rugged places make Utah pleasantly unique.

Although we have now lived here for over three years, I remain smitten by the magnificence of Mount Olympus every time I venture to my dining room or hop in the car. How many people have a view like this from their home?


Mt. Olympus from my house

I catch myself gazing at Olympus and other peaks that rise a vertical mile or more from the valley floor. Olympus’s sheer granite cliffs, the shadows cast by a setting sun, the vertical wall of snow in the winter–I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be up there looking down on my home, rather than at home looking up there. I finally succumbed to the tug and made Olympus the first substantial hike of the season. Here are some details:

Getting There: Take I-215 East, Exit at 4500 South, and head south on Wasatch Boulevard until you see the trailhead/parking lot on the east side of the road (approximately 5400 South). Get out of the car and climb straight up the mountain! The easiest way to catch the trail is via the south end of the parking lot, something we could not see at our 4:00 am start time. Instead, we scrambled up the side of Pete’s Rock. Either route will get you to the same place, and neither is particularly level, but skip the Pete’s Rock scramble.

Hiking Distance/Time: 3.2 miles one way. Between breaks to adjust yet-to-be-broken-in boots (I optimistically–and incorrectly–thought carrying 40+ pounds worth of my two youngest kids on hikes in Zion the week before would be enough break-in), to catch sunrise pictures, etc., we took our time hiking up, and we hit the summitt in 3 hours 15 minutes (moving time was closer to 2 hours 45 minutes). After about an hour at the summit, the trip down (brutal on the knees and quads at this age, this early in the season) took 2 hours 30 minutes on a crowded trail.

Elevation Gain: Approximately 4250 vertical feet (roughly 1,356 vertical feet per linear mile, beginning at around 4,800 feet and topping out at 9,026 feet). That elevation gain is the equivalent of climbing from street level to the observation deck of the Empire State Building over 3 and 1/2 times.

Difficulty: Strenuous (on a scale of weak, moderate, and strenuous). Salt Lake and Utah Counties only offer a handful of steeper hikes (including the more challenging Neff’s Canyon route to the summit–a whopping 1,939 vertical feet per linear mile and the steepest trail in Salt Lake and Utah Counties). Regardless of your level of conditioning, you will find this trail to offer excellent exercise, and your fatigued legs will probably curse the stairs at the bottom of the trail as you return. This is not a hike for young children (it would probably be irresponsible to bring children given a few areas of light bouldering and minimal exposure)–people have become stranded and died on this mountain. But, for well-prepared 10 year olds and older, the trail is definitely doable (infinitely more so for teens than for my aging knees!).

Beauty Quotient: Inspiring.  You will see Utah Lake, the Great Salt Lake, Lone Peak, Twin Peaks (Broads Fork), the Lake Blanche drainage, Granduer Peak, the Oquirrh Range, Deseret Peak, and the expanse of the Salt Lake Valley from end to end. The views are spectacular in all directions–I mean look at this panorama!


Salt Lake Valley, from Mt. Olympus.

Solitude Quotient: Busy.  This is one of the more popular hikes in the Wasatch, and for good reason. Most people on the lower trail are not aiming for the summit, but the summit is large enough to accommodate plenty of people. We only saw a few people on our way up at 4:00 am, but the trail was very busy as we returned. If you want solitude, you should find another trail unless you summit during non-peak hours. Regardless of the crowds, the views are magnificent and worth bumping elbows. Take, for instance, the view to the south: the majestic Twin Peaks (Broads Fork), Lone Peak, and others provide a view of just how rugged the Wasatch mountains are.


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My Take: This is a great trail, ranging from desert to high alpine vegetation. The first one-and-a-half to two miles are pleasant, then the trail steepens considerably. I will not give full route details here (there are plenty of trail guides available on the interwebs)–just know that once you’re on the trail, follow it until it ends (the trail will take you to the South Summit, the higher of the two summits comprising Mount Olympus). There are a few places where you might feel like you are taking a wrong turn–if you find something too exposed, back up and look for another route. Upon reaching the saddle, there is one way to the top, and that is about 2/10ths of a mile straight up the rocks. Wear sturdy shoes with good grip, because, to paraphrase something I read somewhere else, the rock is very slick when dry, and would be murderously slippery when wet.

As with almost every other hike I have been on, the up-hike is much better than the down-hike. The steep trail and many rocks will entertain young legs and test not-so-young legs. This was my first time using trekking poles, and while not necessary on this trail they certainly helped with the ascent and descent–especially the last mile or so when my quads and knee were spent. I plan to hike Mount Olympus again this summer, and I’m certain the experience will be less pain-inducing when better conditioned.

This is a trail on the south side of the mountain, so be prepared to bake in the sun. We left at 4:00 am in part due to time constraints and in part due to the forecasted 90+ degree weather, and we were glad to miss the heat of the day. Plus, the sunrise was fantastic.


Sunrise at Mt. Olympus


I brought a gallon of water and drank about 3 litres. There are no reliable sources of water on this hike (a seasonal, low-volume stream only), so you need to take plenty of water. I was amazed at how many people on their way up were nearly out of water only 1.5 miles into the 6+ mile hike. While not everyone on the lower trail plans on summiting, we ran into a group who were very grateful for the last litre of my water (they still had 4.5 miles of hiking in front of them if they reached the summit as they planned!). Even at 4:00 am, the 65 degree weather was plenty warm, and it was downright hot the whole way down (I would not start this trail any later than 6:00 am in the heat of the summer).

Where else can you drive 15 minutes from the city and find a 3 mile trail with 4,000+ feet of vertical?! We are lucky to live in Salt Lake City–the opportunities are endless.

Finally, a note about stewardship. Please stay on the trail–short-cutting switchbacks is a huge problem on this mountain. Also, to whoever leaves bottles, cans, and other garbage and paints graffiti on the rocks (we found spray paint as high as the saddle!), get a life. The Mount Olympus wilderness is not your trash can. We packed out some garbage left behind by others (the slobs always depress me)–please pitch in and do your part, and please remember to Leave No Trace. Let’s preserve the Wasatch’s beauty for your kids and mine.

Any questions about the hike? Feel free to leave a comment or contact me. Check out the other pictures here.