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Supreme Court upholds prison sentence for hit-and-run driver behind cyclist's death in Helsinki

Finland's Supreme Court has upheld the two-year, eight-month prison sentence of a driver in a hit-and-run incident which resulted in the death of a cyclist in the capital city in 2015.

File photo of defendant in hit-and-run case which resulted in the death of a cyclist at Helsinki District Court in 2015. Image: Markku Ulander / AFP

The Supreme Court upheld the sentencing decision handed down by the Court of Appeals for a fatal hit and run incident in the summer of 2015 on the streets of Helsinki.

According to court testimony, the cyclist had made angry gestures towards the driver and the motorist accelerated past the cyclist and slammed on the brakes in front of him. The bike collided with the car, causing the cyclist to fly over the top of the handlebars and land head first on the asphalt. The cyclist died from his injuries the following day.

The driver fled the scene but was apprehended by police the next day.

Prosecutors had initially demanded the defendant receive an eight-year prison sentence for intentionally causing the cyclist's death.

At his criminal trial in Helsinki District Court, the male driver was sentenced to 4.5 years after being found guilty of aggravated assault, aggravated endangerment of traffic and fleeing the scene of an accident.

Later, the Court of Appeals lowered the man's sentence to two years, eight months, citing the large amount of publicity the case attracted.

The Supreme Court hearing was a matter of determining whether the appeal court's sentencing was appropriate.

The prosecution requested that the Supreme Court increase the jail term to the District Court's original sentencing of 4.5 years, while the defendant said the term should be reduced to a suspended prison sentence of 18 months.

Media coverage and driver's head injury considered

The Supreme Court said it took into consideration the widespread media coverage which the fatal road rage incident attracted.

About a week after the incident, some 850 members of the city's cycling community staged a demonstration about the importance of respecting cyclists on the roads. But the group's bicycle procession through downtown was stopped short when a bus ran into some of the cyclists, further fueling public outrage about the issue.

The Supreme Court said the public attention the case received was not exceptional or unjustified and did not warrant a sentence reduction.

In its decision the court said the cyclist's gesticulations and behaviour towards the driver were not adequate grounds for a sentence reduction. The court found that the main reason the cyclist lost control of the bike and was fatally injured was directly due to the driver's actions.

The court also heard testimony that the defendant had suffered a brain injury in a previous road accident.

The Supreme Court said the man's brain injury had made it difficult for him to control his behaviour, upholding the appeals court reduced sentence of two years, eight months imprisonment.