Josh Calder, Drunk Driver Who Killed Nils Linke, Sentenced to Year in Jail

Josh Calder, who killed 22-year-old bicyclist Nils Yannick Linke in a drunk driving hit-and-run on Masonic Avenue nearly two years ago, was sentenced yesterday to one year in county jail followed by five years of probation. If he violates that probation, he will serve another eight years in state prison.

Calder at his arraignment hearing in August 2010. Photo: Bryan Goebel

The sentence was apparently lightened in a bargain with the judge after Calder changed his plea to “guilty.” Starting Friday, Calder will serve one year in county jail. His five-year probation will include an alcoholic rehabilitation program, and his driver’s license will be revoked during that time.

Although prosecutors were seeking a four-year term, Judge James Collins said the sentence he chose would be more beneficial for the “protection of society” and give Calder a chance to demonstrate the sincerity of the remorse he expressed to members of Linke’s family, who traveled from Germany to attend the hearing. Collins said Calder would be ordered to serve the rest of his sentence upon just one violation of his probation, which will include attending five Alcoholics Anonymous meetings per week. Calder will not be able to drive without violating the terms of the probation.

Calder’s girlfriend, Nicole Mairs, who allegedly helped him flee the scene of the crash by switching seats with him and taking the driver’s seat, did not face any charges.

Yannick’s mother, Petra Linke, said she was satisfied with Calder’s sentencing. “On first thought, a year was not really a lot, but then when he explained what was behind it — the AA meetings, and that he is on probation for so many years — it sounded to me that the judge is really giving him time to change,” said Linke. “The one year of prison is going to be over pretty fast, but the years afterwards, he will have to really change his life, which is good, and I hope he uses the time to grow up.”

Linke’s parents sent letters in recent months to Calder’s attorney, Lewis Romero, urging Calder to accept responsibility for their son’s death. The family said they never received any from Calder in return.

Nils Yannick Linke. Photo courtesy of Sophia Linke.

Shedding tears, Calder faced Linke’s mother, sister, and friends for the first time at the hearing to express his remorse for his “cowardly and careless actions.” Thanking the family for the letters, Calder said he spent “the last 709 days thinking about” Linke and his family, and that he hopes to “do something to honor Yannick’s life.”

“I don’t expect you to forgive me — not now, not ever,” said Calder. “My only hope is that I can live a life of honorable acts” to “find purpose in your loss.”

Linke’s mother told the judge that his death has been “a barefoot journey in hell,” and that “what enraged me most” was that Calder drove drunk, and that he and Mairs left the scene instead of helping him. The two allegedly moved Linke’s bike to the sidewalk before driving away. They were caught by police soon after.

Yannick’s sister, Sophia Linke, said she “believe[s] Calder, that he’s remorseful.”

“I was impressed by his story, by how he expressed his feelings. But still, I don’t understand why he didn’t send us a letter earlier or anything,” she said. “I hope that he had an impact on a lot of other people — that he will tell everybody he knows, don’t drink and drive.”

At the time of his death, Linke was visiting friends in San Francisco whom he had met while traveling in South America. According to his obituary, Linke had borrowed a bike to make a quick trip on Masonic of only a few blocks.

News of another traffic injury on Masonic broke just before the sentencing hearing began. On Sunday at 1:45 a.m., a 23-year-old woman was injured on her bike by a hit-and-run driver on the same block where Linke was killed, near Turk Street, the SF Appeal reported. The SFPD said there have been no updates in the incident, and the victim is expected to survive.

Masonic is notorious for its high-speed motor traffic, and sees an unusually high number of traffic injuries and deaths. Though a plan in the works would calm car traffic on the street and make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, it may not come for several more years. The SFMTA has completed the project’s environmental impact report, the SF Bicycle Coalition announced today, and staff are now set to begin a detailed design phase.

The most recent fatality on Masonic happened this May, when 25-year-old aspiring architect Suzanne Monaco was killed by a pickup truck driver near Euclid Avenue. Exactly a year prior, 61-year-old James Hudson was killed by a driver while crossing the intersection at Turk near Linke’s crash, and where Sunday’s hit-and-run took place.

Over 100 local residents and advocates ##http://sf.streetsblog.org/2010/08/26/candlelight-vigil-pays-tribute-to-bicyclist-killed-by-drunken-driver-in-sf/##held a candlelight vigil## soon after Linke's death. Photo: ##http://www.wmkirkmoore.com/##Kirk Moore##

After Linke’s death, more than 100 residents and local street safety advocates held a candlelight memorial and left a ghost bike at the site of the crash. Linke’s mother expressed her gratitude for the strong support she received in San Francisco.

At the sentencing, neighborhood street safety advocate Michael Helquist told the judge that “we don’t believe an accident caused Yannick’s death, but a willful, intentional series of decisions made by the driver.”

“I did not know Yannick, but his death affected me deeply, as it did many others,” said Helquist. “We suffered as a result of the extreme recklessness and irresponsibility of the defendant. Our sense of safety on our streets has been eroded, and our pride in our city has been diminished.”

Calder was sentenced on four counts, according to Alex Bastian of the SF District Attorney’s office:

  • Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, without gross negligence, with an allegation of fleeing the scene
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol, causing great bodily injury
  • Driving under the influence with 0.08% blood alcohol content, causing great bodily injury
  • Leaving the scene of a crash with an allegation of permanent serious injury
Lawyers for the Linke family have also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Calder and Mairs. Petra Linke said the case is still pending, but that Calder’s admission of guilt “makes it a lot easier to get things going.”

Yannick’s sister, Sophia, said she hopes that Calder “won’t ever forget about” the incident. “I won’t ever forget my brother,” she said.

Left to right: Neighborhood activist Dale Danley, Petra Linke, Sophia Linke, and Michael Helquist.
Danley and Petra Linke visit the place where Yannick died.
  • Anonymous

    One year is not close to long enough.

  • Anonymous

    Drunk driving + leaving the victim to die alone in the street should be the equivalent of first degree murder.

  • Dan

    This is not justice

  • Fireplacetv

    Well maybe five years without a car might get him into cycling.

  • Susan

    How is killing someone while driving while drunk not gross negligence?  Why is Calder’s girlfriend- who aided and abetted Calder in committing a Hit and Run felony- not being charged? What about tampering with a crime scene by moving the bike. Or noting a complete lack of humanity by both Calder and GF in leaving a young man to die alone on a cold street in order to attempt saving their own asses. No justice has been served.

  • Anonymous

    How is this not gross negligence but the Bucchere incident IS?

    DUI is not implied gross negligence, perhaps?

  • If he so much as drives once*(1) in the next 5 years or misses one of his meetings(2)*, he’s back in the clink.  If I were he, I’d be walking on egg-shells and doing my damnedest to stay sober.

    I’m not happy with the sentence but it’s not like he’s off the hook after a year. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a fair amount of nuance involved in sentencing, too.  I’m the first one to bring the torch and pitchfork when a vulnerable roadway user is injured or killed.  I would have been dismissed from a Josh Calder jury in a New York Minute.

    The sentence is pretty light in that it’s not sending a strong enough message to would-be drunk drivers.  But when you think about it, the messaging on DUI is already pretty clear and people still do it so I’m not sure there’s much more we can do other than hope they get sober _before_ they kill somebody.

    If Bucchere ends up doing more time than this clown, though, I’ll be there with my torch.
    And pitchfork.

    *(1)and is actually caught
    *(2)or forgets to forge his own attendance slip

  • Anonymous

     @twitter-14081958:disqus I understand what you are saying, but I still think 1 year is too light. This is partly because I have no faith our system will actual prevent or discourage him from driving again, but it’s also because, not only was he drunk, but he fled the seen, switched seats with the passenger, and then originally tried to plead “not guilty”. If he had been sober, stayed at the scene, and not pulled out any other legal shenanigans, then I would say this punishment seems fair. I mean, if 1 year is all you get for all the crap he pulled, how can you justify giving anything more than a month of jail time to somebody who kills somebody out of negligence but was sober and stayed at the scene? This prison term is not justice.

    But I do think, if it were to truly prevent him from driving and it truly forces him to go to AA meetings, 5 years of parole with no license is fair.

    I think 3-5 years in prison plus the 5 years of parole (with the same conditions) sounds fair. For doing something as utterly negligent as what he did, the prison time has to be a significant hit to his life, and 1 year is not that.

    And there is no absolutely no reason why his passenger should not be tried for the crap she pulled. It sickens me that people can get away with that. We are so addicted to our cars that we can’t see straight anymore.

  • Sprague

    I agree that it would be interesting to have an explanation as to why the girlfriend did not face any charges.  The victim’s family and the neighborhood activists who attended the trial, supporting both justice and the family, are heroes in this story.  Calder’s actions are a very poor reflection of our society.  How do other nations compare when it comes to hit and run statistics?  Every visitor or resident of San Francisco who takes to the street by bike or on foot remains at risk by the likes of Calder.  One person has been sentenced but not much else has changed. What would the penalty have been if Calder had remained at the scene?

  • Anonymous

    The sentence does seem light and I have zero sympathy for him but a year in county is not going to be easy for Calder. From his picture he looks pretty soft and the homies will use him for sport. Also you make friends inside that you would not make on the outside and his new buddies will come looking for favors after they get out as he appears to come from a well to do back round. Also the civil suit is against Calder, the driver, the girlfriend, and the girlfriends grandmother who loaned them the car with the conviction the civil suit will be a slam dunk and I’m sure the loss of money will hurt Calder. I was concerned with the large number of delay granted that this case would fade away. At least he is convicted.

  • Sober driver who didn’t actually kill anyone gets 5 years yet Calder only gets a year? And his girl friend, his partner in crime, isn’t even charged?? This is an epic screwup by the DA. It shows that not only can you kill someone if you are in a car and virtually get away with it but even if you are one of the most vile, evil creatures on the earth that you will still only get a light sentence.

    See http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/01/cyclist-sentenced.html

  • Anonymous

    Intent >> negligent

  • Anonymous

    Per freakonomics a drunk driver could expect to drive across the country and back 3 times before being pulled over, on average. Calder could play the odds and drive. Though as we see here, a drunk driver could kill someone and only get one year, Calder would in theory have a stiffer penalty for being pulled over at all.

  • Anonymous

    It’s always bothered me that first time DUI’ers are almost always granted a provisional license to drive to work. It says a lot about public transit that the court doesn’t expect it to be a viable alternative for most people with jobs.

    In a case where injury to a bicyclist is involved (not death), a fair sentence would include a requirement that the convicted to take an urban bicycle skills course so they would understand what it means to be a vulnerable street user as well as lose their license for a period of time. If death, jail, so no need for bike class until release.

  • claude229

    Rather than being granted a provisional license to drive to work, he should be required to ride a bicycle to work.

  • Lenore

    What a relief.  And another thoughtful effort by Streetsblog. Thank you. Yannick’s death affected me deeply – and served as a catalyst to engage our neighborhood and the City in the fruitful discussion of safer streets and urban space.  The pending improvements slated for Masonic will set the bar. This is a reasonable outcome to a horrible, horrible incident.  Thanks Michael and Dale for opening your home to Petra and Sophia this week so they could be here  – and to our German friends for having the courage to return to see justice done.  Brava! 

  • mikesonn

    Did the DA’s office release a statement at all?

  • The Greasybear

    One year in county jail does not fit the severity of the crimes committed. Our entire system is so biased that even the most harmful and craven motorists like this guy are coddled and shielded from true justice.

  • No.

  • mikesonn

    Do they usually release a statement after a case is complete?

  • ferrous

    Thank you for staying on top of this story.   I live in the neighborhood and I think of this crime every time I travel on Masonic.  My thoughts are with the Linke family.

  • Anonymous

    I often bike down Masonic during rush hour, because it’s the only efficient way to get to the Panhandle.  Despite the 25 MPH signs everywhere, motorists go much faster because of lack of enforcement.  I don’t think SFPD can effectively protect cyclists on our streets, because they don’t take the safety issues seriously.

    It’s also clear that our justice system can’t protect cyclists after the fact, in the case of these “accidents”.

  • Greg

    If we’d admit that enforcement isn’t happening, we could address the problem with design.

  • SFNative

    This fact that this murderer isn’t doing more time and that his accomplice wasn’t even charged is a travesty.  

    Here’s hoping his year in jail is nothing short of hell, and that the Linke family takes him, his girlfriend, and his grandmother for every dollar they have in the civil suit.

  • @mikesonn:disqus They only seem to release statements for cases they deem to be high-profile, or want to be high-profile.

  • mikesonn

    That’s pretty much what I thought. Hmm, priorities.

  • Happyone

    You sound like a very spiteful and vindictive individual…qualities that must cause you to lead a miserable and unfulfilled existence.  How sad….perhaps you can find some meaning in your life before it’s too late.  Wishing ill on others in the aftermath of a tragedy such as this will never bring you any happiness.

  • Funnygirl

    You should understand the facts before commenting.  #1 Neither Calder nor his girlfriend have any money so there is no loss of money that will hurt him.  #2 The grandmother didn’t “loan” them the car, the car was given to them months earlier with a change of title.  Sorry to disappoint you.  Don’t be so sure of things you know nothing about

  • @9cffa6ea0e3c7f17267a394c8c8234aa:disqus / @7d588ac41eb31da7ad2f76a4bf683281:disqus Please use a consistent name.

  • Judgement against future earnings would be pretty annoying…

  • Judgement against future earnings would be pretty annoying…

  • davravidumn

    One year in county jail is not sufficient, relative to Mr. Calder’s willful negligence. His girlfriend should have been charged as an accomplice, too.

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