Man gets probation in death of bicyclist

Maurice Widener, 87, had pleaded guilty to negligent homicide.


An 87-year-old man was sentenced Friday to five years probation for an April 2012 wreck that took the life of a bicyclist in Southwest Austin.

Maurice Ward Widener pleaded guilty last month to a state jail felony charge of criminally negligent homicide in the death of Verter Ginestra, who was struck while riding along the shoulder of Loop 360 (Capital of Texas Highway) near Westbank Drive.

In court Friday, Widener stood in a black blazer and khakis before district Judge Karen Sage, who said it was in the best interest of the community to follow the terms of the plea agreement and hand him a punishment of five years deferred adjudication.

Under the type of community supervision, he will not be convicted if he abides by the probation conditions, including surrendering his driver’s license.

His lawyer, Perry Minton, has told the American-Statesman that he does not believe Widener was guilty but that his client did not want to put his family through a trial. Widener, who was employed at the time in the engineering department at the University of Texas, had never been in trouble with the law before the crash, Minton said.

He initially faced a higher felony charge of criminally negligent homicide with a deadly weapon after a grand jury indicted him last year, according to court documents. The indictment says Widener was traveling “at an unsafe speed” and on the shoulder “when he knew his vision was poor, and by failing to keep a proper lookout.”

Ginestra, a 54-year-old executive for an energy industry consulting firm, was bicycling north on Loop 360 just before 2:30 p.m. on April 28, 2012, when he was struck by a car driven by Widener, authorities said. He died at the scene.

The incident spurred calls from the Austin cycling community for improved education of motorists and stiffer penalties for those who hit bicyclists.

In court Friday, Ginestra’s wife, Jane Ginestra, told Widener she had mixed feelings about his punishment but that she would forgive him. She described a rough two years for her family, which she said had cried soul-shattering tears and was struggling to close a gaping wound.

Her husband was a patriarch for the household, she said, who drew people in with his smile, generosity and unwavering devotion to his loved ones. Family gatherings over sports and good food had stopped since his death. She and her children had stopped singing and playing instruments.

Only recently, “have we let music back into our lives to start the healing process,” she said. Her son will sometimes turn the radio dial to her husband’s favorite classical music station, she recalled, the one he used to play when he was tinkering away at his bikes.


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