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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.

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.

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.

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: Dale Danley, Petra Linke, Sophia Linke, and Michael Helquist.
Danley and Petra Linke visit the place where Yannick died.

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