A driver charged with fleeing the scene after hitting a 69-year-old man on his bicycle in North Berkeley in mid-September changed her not guilty plea to a no-contest plea Wednesday in an Alameda County courtroom.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon accepted the new plea in the felony case from 56-year-old Elise Priebe of Berkeley and found her guilty of leaving the scene after injuring Dezhi Luo in the Sept. 14 crash. Police said Luo had been eastbound on Gilman Street on his bike, with the right-of-way, when Priebe — who was northbound on Ordway Street — turned left onto Gilman and struck him.
Luo’s daughter Michelle told Berkeleyside previously that Priebe initially pulled over to yank the bike out from beneath her SUV but then left the area. Police found Priebe, pronounced “preebee,” later that morning at her home — just around the corner on Ordway — and arrested her. Luo had been cycling from his North Berkeley home not far from the crash when Priebe hit him.
As part of her plea, Priebe will be on probation for five years and have a 10-yard stay-away order from Luo. She will have to provide her DNA to authorities and will be subject to restitution fines, Reardon said.
Priebe is also required to participate in mental health counseling and take her medication, the judge said in court Wednesday. Priebe, who was no longer in custody as of the hearing because she posted bail soon after her arrest, will remain free in the community as long as there’s no further legal trouble, he said.
He ordered Priebe to meet with a probation officer who will complete a report and make sentencing recommendations prior to the next hearing.
“You have to be of good conduct,” said Reardon, and “cooperate with the probation department.”
Priebe could be sent to prison for three years if she fails to do so, he told her.
Prosecutor Lori Mullins, with the Alameda County district attorney’s office, asked the judge to include language in the plea deal making it clear that Priebe is not allowed to drive unless she is licensed and insured. Police said Priebe had no valid license at the time of the crash.
Priebe’s public defender, Patrick Jensen, told Berkeleyside his client had no comment on the decision, saying only that, “We’re very sad that it happened.”
Before the judge made his ruling Wednesday morning, Jensen had apologized to Dezhi and Michelle Luo as they sat in the courtroom, telling them he was sorry they had gone through what had happened. In court, Dezhi Luo was assisted by a Chinese language interpreter who quietly translated the judge’s words during the brief hearing.
Laurel Simmons, an attorney representing the Luo family, told Berkeleyside that Dezhi and his daughter plan to address the court during Priebe’s sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for Nov. 21 at 9 a.m.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Michelle Luo said she was glad the case was over but wasn’t entirely satisfied by the outcome and hopes the city will do more.
“I’m disappointed that she got no jail time, but I’m glad that this part of the process has come to an end as my father continues to try to recover both physically and emotionally,” she told Berkeleyside. “I remain very sad that he was treated so inhumanely by a neighbor, and also that the city of Berkeley has not made our street safer for bicyclists.”