Driver sentenced to 15 years in hit-and-run with Atlanta cyclist

A driver accused of intentionally hitting a bicyclist after a verbal dispute was sentenced to 15 years Tuesday after pleading guilty to charges in the June 2014 incident.

Joseph Alan Lewis of Atlanta, who was 19 at the time of the crash, seriously injured the then-50-year-old Gregory Germani when he hit the cyclist with his Dodge Nitro and then sped away, police said.

Witnesses said Germani and Lewis got into an argument at Montgomery Ferry Road and Flagler Avenue moments before Germani was hit.

Before being sentenced, Lewis, who fled to Las Vegas after the crash, apologized to the Germani family in court, Channel 2 Action News reported.

“Honestly and truthfully, from the bottom of my heart, this honestly was an accident,” Lewis said. “But at the same time I … accept the fact that I did leave the scene of the accident and I took careless acts.”

Germani’s brother and fiancé told the judge about the devastating impact the incident has had on the victim and family. The cyclist suffers from serious neck and torso injuries, and a traumatic brain injury. He requires around-the-clock care, family members said.

Germani rode away on his bicycle after exchanging words with Lewis, who later rammed the rear of Germani’s bicycle with his SUV, dragging the cyclist nearly 50 feet, the Fulton County district attorney’s office said.

Lewis turned himself in to police nearly a month later after he was identified as a suspect. Surveillance video captured the crash.

Germani had ridden his bike to work at Turner Broadcasting System every day for more than 20 years, according to family.

He was the creator of the historical website Atlanta Time Machine, which, along with his involvement with the Atlanta cycling community, attracted hordes of supporters to the injured man, fiancé Beth Harrill said after the injury. The website, which showcases Atlanta locales and what they looked like long in the past, hasn't been updated since the hit-and-run.

Germani was always a cautious cyclist but couldn’t stand reckless driving, especially through residential neighborhoods, his brother John Germani said last year. While he said his brother may have exchanged words with Lewis, the family was stunned that it provoked such a violent response, John Germani said.

“I’ve always worried about a careless driver, an inattentive driver, people on cellphones –That’s what scares me,” John Germani said in 2014. “But no one ever could have predicted that this would happen.”

Lewis was indicted on multiple charges, including criminal attempt to commit murder. But on Tuesday the attempted-murder charge and an aggravated-assault charge were dropped and he pleaded guilty to multiple charges including: serious injury by vehicle, hit and run, criminal damage to property in the 1st degree, tampering with evidence, reckless driving, failure to report an accident, driving without a valid license and expired or no license-plate decal.