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Man sentenced for hit-and-run death of St. Helens bicyclist

Photo Credit: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Kristopher Woodruff breaks down in a Columbia County Circuit court room Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 10, during his sentencing hearing. His defense attorney, Gabriel Biello, stands at his side.

Kristopher Lee Woodruff kept his head down as he choked back tears Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 10, in Columbia County Circuit Court.

The 34-year-old man listened as Elie Linden, the widow of Peter Linden, spoke about the impact of her husband’s death to Woodruff, who struck and killed Peter Linden with his silver Ford F350 on Aug. 30 as he looked down at a text message on his phone.

Peter Linden, a retired St. Helens city attorney, was bicycling along Highway 30 just west of Rainier when Woodruff’s truck veered out of its lane and into the path where the 74-year-old was riding.

When many others in the courtroom succumbed to emotion, Elie Linden kept her composure, discussing her grief and the impact her husband’s death has had on her life, while also offering compassion and encouragement to Woodruff.

Photo Credit: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Elie Linden, the widow of Peter Linden, prepares to address Kristopher Woodruff in court Tuesday.

“On Saturday, Aug. 30, my beloved husband died because of your carelessness, and our lives are forever changed,” Elie Linden said.

She told Woodruff she has since spent hours staring at his mug shot on her computer screen.

“I immediately saw a troubled young man who lost his way and embraced the dark world of drugs, alcohol and bad choices,” she said. “Please know that not once have I spoken ill of you. I pray to God that this experience changes you so that you can become the man God intended you to be.”

Woodruff was sentenced Tuesday by Columbia County Circuit Judge Ted Grove to two years in prison and five years of probation, after pleading guilty to criminally negligent homicide and failing to perform the duties of a driver to injured persons. He faces a suspended sentence of 40 months in prison if he doesn’t follow the rules of his probation after he is released. Grove also suspended Woodruff’s driving privileges for eight years.

Columbia County prosecutor John Berg said Woodruff left the scene after Peter Linden was hit, but was later stopped by an Oregon State Police trooper. Woodruff was driving on a suspended license at the time of the incident and text messages in his phone indicated he was a heroin user, Berg said. He had two prior convictions for driving under the influence from 2005 and 2008. Woodruff was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash.

Prior to his death, Peter Linden had recently been treated for cancer. His family described him as an avid cyclist and his wife said her husband quit drinking more than 20 years ago.

Elie Linden said her husband joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1992 and embraced “a journey to sobriety and spiritual growth.”

“You also can walk through that door, Kristopher,” she said.

Woodruff addressed his victim’s family, vowing to change his life.

“I’m sorry. I know that I’ve taken something from you that I can never give back, but know that if I could, I would,” Woodruff said. “I will change my life. I won’t let his death be in vain. I’m sorry.”

Linden’s daughter also gave a tearful account of losing her father, who was well known in Columbia County.

“He left a legacy,” she said. “He was the real deal for a man. He touched many people’s lives.”

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