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Hit-and-run driver guilty in crash that injured cyclist

The Register-Guard: Hit-and-run driver guilty in crash that injured cyclist

Sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday for Joshua Clifton, who lost control while racing

BY KAREN MCCOWAN
The Register-Guard

A Lane County jury took less than an hour Thursday to reject a young Springfield man’s claim that he didn’t realize he’d struck a bicyclist when he sped away after crashing his sports car onto a sidewalk in the late evening of Oct. 16.

The panel of six men and six women swiftly convicted Joshua Gene Clifton of all charges in the case: second-degree assault, hit and run, reckless driving, driving while suspended and filing a false report that his car had been stolen that night.

Clifton, 23, was westbound and racing another driver when he lost control of his Mitsubishi Eclipse as it sped downhill on East 30th Avenue near Amazon Parkway in Eugene.

According to trial testimony, he had been drinking rum before the incident and was driving with a suspended license because of a drunken-driving conviction in another state. Witnesses also testified that Clifton arranged to have his damaged car towed and then filed a false report that it had been stolen, in an apparent effort to deflect blame.

Clifton lost control of his car to the point that it flew broadside across the road and struck 26-year-old Hart Godbold as he rode his bicycle uphill on a sidewalk along the road’s eastbound lane.

A motorcyclist who witnessed the crash testified that he saw the Eclipse speed away from the scene, leaving Godbold unconscious and bleeding from a head injury.

Godbold, a 2009 University of Oregon fine arts graduate, attended the trial and spoke briefly about the verdict afterward. He said he felt it was fair, but nevertheless felt some sadness for Clifton.

“It’s something that happened in an instant that will having lasting repercussions for me and for him,” Godbold said. “I forgive him. I don’t have any animosity.”

Godbold said he is “mostly recovered” and continues to improve, but is still healing from effects that have included memory loss.

“It was interesting to me to attend the trial and learn about what happened that night, because I never knew before,” he said.

Clifton, a heavy-set man wearing all black clothes and a reddish goatee, showed no reaction to the verdict.

Judge Jack Billings set sentencing for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

One of Clifton’s convictions, felony second-degree assault, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of nearly six years in prison under Oregon’s Measure 11. A hit-and-run conviction in a case involving a seriously injured victim also is a felony, carrying a sentence of up to a year and eight months in prison.