Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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March 15, 2013

Driver who struck teen bicyclist sentenced to home detention

GOSHEN — The driver in a hit-and-run crash that seriously injured a Middlebury girl last summer will avoid prison under a sentence handed down Friday.

Pasquale Chase Rulli, 26, was sentenced by Elkhart Superior Court 6 Judge David Bonfiglio to 18 months of home detention. He’ll also serve 18 months on reporting probation. He will also be required to perform 120 hours of community service.

In addition, Rulli will lose his driving privileges for three and a half years. The home detention will likely be served as part of the community corrections program in Allen County, where Rulli lives and attends school.

Rulli had pleaded guilty to a Class D felony charge of leaving the scene of a crash resulting in serious bodily injury. He admitted his guilt without benefit of a plea deal, and had faced up to three years in prison.

The crash occurred around 10:19 p.m. July 10 on C.R. 35 north of U.S. 20, west of Middlebury. Rulli was driving a 2008 Cadillac STS sedan that struck bicyclist Zion Carlstrom from behind. Carlstrom was out riding with one of her brothers.

Carlstrom hit the Cadillac’s windshield and caved in part of it. The crash impact hurled Carlstrom airborne over her brother, and she landed in a ditch.

Rulli drove away from the scene. Defense attorney Phil Miller indicated Rulli went to Fort Wayne, thinking he’d hit a deer.

“He regrets and is remorseful he didn’t stay and render assistance at the scene,” Miller said.

In July, Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers said Carlstrom’s bike had limited reflectors, but no lights. Carlstrom continues to recover from her injuries.

The day after the collision, Rulli came forward to Elkhart County police and admitted being the driver. Deputy Prosecutor Nathaniel Henson said Friday that Rulli waited 16 hours to turn himself in.

Rulli was working as a manager at his family’s restaurant, Rulli’s, the day of the crash. Henson said Rulli consumed alcohol, and that versions differ regarding how much alcohol he consumed. Miller said his client had a beer at the restaurant.

Henson said Rulli has a prior conviction for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and resisting law enforcement. He cited this as Rulli’s history of drinking and driving and trying to avoid police.

“I’m not saying the defendant is the worst of the worst,” Henson said, but added that the circumstances of this case are bad.

Miller said Rulli has suffered emotionally because of the incident.

“He’s been distraught over this,” Miller said. The attorney also said Rulli has thought of Zion Carlstrom daily, and of what she and her family have gone through.

“There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think about it,” Rulli said on his own behalf Friday. He also said he completely understands he has to be punished.

Before that punishment was handed down, there was also talk of forgiveness. Judge Bonfiglio cited letters written to the court by Carlstrom’s family members as testament to their desire to forgive.

“I found their letters quite remarkable,” he said.

Earlier in the proceedings, Henson also referenced the Carlstroms’ forgiveness. He also said the family hoped justice would prevail.

“Forgiveness and justice aren’t necessarily tied together,” he said.

Criminal case aside, Rulli is also the target of a civil lawsuit filed by Zion’s parents, Blair and Tracy Carlstrom. Judge Bonfiglio said Friday he’d see if the civil process resolves the issue of restitution. If not, that matter may be revisited later.

In addition, the judge ordered Rulli to undergo an addictions and psychological assessment.

After the hearing, defense attorney Miller indicated that if Rulli isn’t accepted into the Allen County community corrections program for administrative reasons, he’ll serve his sentence in the Elkhart County program.

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