Does 1 year in jail + 500 hrs = James Weiss’ life?

Pa-Kou-Xiong, 20

On Tuesday, Outagamie  Circuit Court Judge Gregory Gill sentenced PaKou Xiong to one year in jail, and  five years of probation, during which she must do 100 hours of community service each year speaking to students wearing her orange jumpsuit. She also will not be allowed to drive without permission from her probation agent and can’t have a cellphone.

The prosecuting attorney and family of James Weiss, 46, had asked for the maximum of 5 years in prison. Phone records show that Xiong was texting and driving last summer when she hit Weiss while he was riding his bike on Kimberly Avenue in Kimberly. Weiss died later from injuries he suffered in the crash.

“I’m trying to find it in my heart to forgive you for killing my brother,” said David Weiss when he addressed Xiong at the hearing, but that did not stop him from reminding Judge Gill that “the law provides guidelines for crimes of this nature and court has the responsibility and the power and we would expect  to see that people who commit these crimes receive the maximum allowed.”

Judge Gill explained he thought it more effective to have Xiong out educating people about the dangers of inattentive driving than to keep her behind bars for the full five years. “A long term of incarceration followed by supervision, we take this issue off of the hot button for two to three years,” said Judge Gregory Gill. “I don’t want to lose the time that we have to now educate while the issue is before us.”

News media reports and television clips from the sentencing hearing show Xiong to be apologetic and remorseful.  Is one year in jail plus community service a fitting sentence for killing an innocent person?

Personally I am on the fence about this. I am happy that Xiong got prison time and I appreciate that the judge handed down a thoughtful sentence, but the family members might still feel cheated by this sentence. On the other had, no amount of jail time that can bring their loved one back and at least Xiong will spend five years reminding other young people of the potentially horrific consequences of inattentive driving.

What do you think? Is this a fair sentence for taking a life or should she serve 5 years in prison and still have to do 500 hours of community service?

James Weiss

 

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

8 thoughts on “Does 1 year in jail + 500 hrs = James Weiss’ life?

  1. I am not in favor of the maximum sentence being given except in situations where the offender is belligerent or un-repentive. That said, I hope that the judge was able to determine that the one-year sentence and 500 hours of service would have a better end result than 5 years in jail.

    • My thought on longer time in jail is that jail is more of an advanced education for criminals than a tool for reform. I agree that we need to strengthen the consequences for inattentive driving. I agree that texting and driving an a road shared with people walking and biking is like cleaning a loaded gun in a crowded room. I agree that the crash that killed James Weiss was not an “accident.”

      Like you Phil, I remain unsure about the value of maximum prison sentences for people who seem to be truly repentant. That said, was one year enough? Would three years in prison and five years probation sent a stronger message? Perhaps as Norm and Lance feel, it fell short and reflects our cultural tendency to shrug and say “too bad” when someone is killed because of a motor vehicle crash. I think it would, but I do feel that this sentence was at least thoughtful compared to some others recently where the person got off with nothing more than a traffic ticket.

  2. OMG People!!! How does this not infuriate you? I feel that just shy of inflicting physical pain — we should be handing out maximum sentences to individuals who kill or maim people on bicycles or pedestrians. Here we are talking about creating vulnerable user laws and we are debating wether this sentence was tough enough? This accident was not! Not to get personal, but I think these attitudes of softness is why we have multiple OWIs etc. If the judge wants education to happen; how about putting posters of her behind bars (in her orange jumpsuit) with the caption, “Maximum sentence being served”, in her most recent high school? I think the message would get through. Having this young lady wear an Orange jump suit during her talks makes it nothing more than a costume she will probably wear some Halloween. I totally feel for James Weiss’ family as yes, nothing is going to bring him back so why give the young lady such a light sentence for KILLING him? What if it was your ____________ who was killed by a texting driver? There is No excuse!

  3. So she gets to go to schools and tell impressionable youngsters, “I drove irresponsibly, but I had a lot of fun. I drove recklessly a lot, but just one time I killed somebody. No biggie. One year later it was as if nothing happened. The judge didn’t care. So, go nuts. Live wild. Do whatever you want in your car. If anything happens, acting sorry is easy. You might even feel bad for real – whatever! You can kill whoever you want and no one will do anything, because you all are crazy drivers like me, and you learned this disrespect for life from your parents – who like me refuse to drive unless they are on the phone. So party hearty, kids!” This is exactly how the 17-year-old mind will interpret this. Heck, it’s how I interpret it, even if I don’t choose to live like she did. She’ll get a cell phone from her friends, be moderately careful when she drives, never get caught, and drive and text for the rest of her life, except for that one year. New message from the judge: irresponsible driving is good with me.

    • This sort of comment borders on those I read under most every story in mainstream media. In the same way that our legal system uses prison as a deterrent for crime, it uses terms probation to deter crime. If Xiong were to act flippant and not take her probation seriously, her probation officer would be able to revoke her probation.

      A person can certainly a valid argument that she should spend more time behind bars and then do the probation speaking to kids, but none of us have any reason to believe she will be flippant about her actions. I am not willing to assume that Xiong is a heartless person who was not devastated by her crime. She did not exhibit any psychopathic or sociopathic behavior in any of the clips I watched.

      • It’s not only that the initial perpetrator is potentially flippant, which she may or may not be. It’s that someone else in her audience, can see how she could be. She did something terrible, and there is little consequence. So some other teen, whether through malice or poor judgment, could then go out driving with the newly discovered notion that recklessness is not unacceptable – you get sympathy and understanding. Whether Xiong or the judge think they are sending this message or not, this is the message a significant number of listeners will get. While the message might deter already cautious youngsters, I don’t think her story will deter those more prone to be a future threat, it will encourage them. Sending her out with this possibility is not helping. The potential for bad outcome is higher than the potential for good.

  4. “No amount of jail time can bring their loved one back…” Really? So, by this I assume we should never prosecute or sentence murderers. After all, if someone breaks into your house tonight and guns down your family, prison time would be a waste of time, because it won’t bring the family back. I find this line of reasoning incomprehensible. The intent of prison sentencing for criminals is not to resurrect dead people. It is to serve as a deterrent. Even psychopaths can adjust to the norms imposed by society – most of them do. But if society has no norms, the otherwise decent people will occasionally act like criminals. This sentence will lead to more death. The message is that driving irresponsibly is not punishable, so it encourages irresponsible driving, which at some point will kill more people.

    • Lance,

      Really, no amount of jail time can bring their loved ones back. Really.

      Your next assumption is illogical at best, so I won’t respond to it.

      I totally agree that our justice system uses prison time as a deterrent, but also to remove dangerous people from society. That said, I don’t believe our prison system is fair, that it has a successful rehabilitation rate, or that it serves as much of a deterrent. If the judge had not ordered at least a year behind bars, I would be angry too. In this case, I think the judge took into account the failures of our prison system and made an attempt to create a sentence that would have a more positive effect on young drivers.

      I do think it is fair to ask is one year enough given she has to spend five more years talking about the terrible crime she committed in front of others. You might reasonably argue the judge should have sentenced her to five years in prison plus five years probation in which she has to encourage others to avoid distracted driving and might help change our admittedly lax norms on driving. I certainly think more time in prison combined with the terms of probation has merit and could serve as a stronger message to other people about the dangers of inattentive driving. Again, I asked this question to get other people’s opinions. I said I was on the fence about it and I still appreciate that the judge was thoughtful.

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