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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Lying For Lance

     Racing cyclist Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France every year from 1999 to 2005. He lost all seven of his titles, however, after he admitted using performance enhancing drugs. The truth came out in 2013 after years of lying to racing authorities and to the public.

     The icon in a sport most Americans aren't interested in, as a result of the doping scandal, went from hero to heel. Since his fall from grace, the word frequently associated with Armstrong and his athletic career is "disgraced."

     Disgraced athletes, particularly disgraced celebrity athletes, have been able to at least partially rehabilitate their reputations. If Armstrong's legacy of cheating and lying had been in the process of rehabilitation due to the passage of time, good deeds and fading memories, the possibility of this came to an end after the stunt he and his girlfriend pulled in Aspen, Colorado.

     On December 28, 2015, the 43-year-old Armstrong and his 33-year-old live in girlfriend Anna Hansen were mingling with the rich and beautiful at the St. Regis Resort in Aspen, Colorado. They had been invited to the gala event in honor of the Aspen Art Museum.

     The couple left the party after midnight with Armstrong behind the wheel of his GMC Yukon. As he rounded a corner driving too fast he lost control of his SUV and smashed into two parked vehicles, a Jeep Wrangler and a Toyota Four Runner.

     The collision could be heard from the inside of the homes of the people who owned the damaged cars. Anna Hansen climbed out of the GMC and spoke to a man looking over his crumpled SUV. She identified both herself and Lance, apologized for the accident, left her phone number and promised that Lance Armstrong would pay for the cost of the repairs.

     After speaking to the man whose vehicle Lance Armstrong had damaged, Anna climbed back into the GMC. Not bothering to wait for the authorities, the couple drove off. In Colorado, it's against the law to leave the scene of a traffic accident before the arrival of the police. The man Anna spoke to called 911 and reported the collision.

     When an officer with the Aspen Police Department questioned Anna Hansen the next day she gave an account of the car accident that didn't square with the conversation she had with the man at the scene the previous night. She told the accident investigator that she had been the driver of Armstrong's GMC.

     The investigator took this information with a great deal of skepticism because he had questioned the St. Regis valet who had seen Lance Armstrong climb into the driver's seat when the couple left the party.

     On December 31, 2014, just three days after the accident, Anna Hansen came clean to the police. She admitted that she had lied to protect Lance Armstrong. According to the police report, she explained her fabrication this way: "We've had our family name smeared over every paper in the world in the last couple of years, and honestly, I've got teenagers. I just wanted to protect my family because I thought, 'Gosh, Anna Hansen hit some cars, it's not going to be a national story.' " [Perhaps she should have thought: "Gosh, if Anna Hansen lies to the police and gets caught, it's going to be an even bigger story."]

     When the traffic investigator asked Anna if Lance Armstrong had pressured her into taking the blame for the accident, she said the lie had been a "joint decision." She assured the officer that Lance had not been intoxicated when he plowed into the parked cars.

     The Pitkin County prosecutor's office decided not to charge Anna Hansen with the crime of filing a false report. A prosecutor did, however, charge Lance Armstrong with failing to report a traffic accident, a misdemeanor offense that carried a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a $300 fine. Armstrong also received a traffic summons for driving too fast under the conditions, an infraction involving a $15 to $100 fine.

     In January 2015 Lance Armstrong pleaded guilty and was fined $238.50 and court costs.

     For Lance Armstrong, the consequences of this case had less to do with the criminal justice system and more to do with the damage to his already weakened reputation. Traffic accidents happen to everyone, but not everyone lets someone else take the blame.

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