Oceano woman avoids jail time for SLO crash that killed champion triathlete

Bridget Dawson competes in a race in an undated photo. The triathlete was cycling on Highway 227 in July when she was hit by Lisa Smith of Oceano.
Bridget Dawson competes in a race in an undated photo. The triathlete was cycling on Highway 227 in July when she was hit by Lisa Smith of Oceano.

An Oceano woman who was allegedly on the phone when she struck and killed a cyclist with her car on Highway 227 in 2016 will avoid jail time in a deal struck Monday with San Luis Obispo County prosecutors.

Lisa Smith, 55, is accused of killing Bridget Dawson, a world-champion triathlete and wife of the dean of Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business.

Dawson, 58, was fatally injured around 6:45 p.m. July 14, 2016, when she was bicycling south of Biddle Ranch Road. Smith’s 2012 Chrysler drifted onto the road’s right shoulder and hit Dawson from behind, the California Highway Patrol said.

Dawson was thrown from her bike and landed in a ditch on the east side of the road. She sustained multiple injuries and was pronounced dead at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center.

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The District Attorney’s Office charged Smith with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence, and Smith pleaded not guilty.

She was scheduled to go to trial this week, but on Monday, Smith entered a plea of no contest to the charge in exchange for no jail time, five years of formal probation, community service, and a yet-to-be-determined amount of restitution.

Smith is scheduled to be sentenced July 30 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

A misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail.

Dawson was a champion triathlete who bested her age group in the World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2012. She also won in the U.S. Duathlon Championships (a running and cycling event) from 2013 to 2016.

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Teammates who competed on Dawson’s national champion Iowa State cross-country team have remarked on her quiet impact, humility, energy and patience on a tribute website. According to the website, a scholarship fund has been established in Dawson’s name to support young women in triathlon and other athletic endeavors.

Dawson’s husband, Scott Dawson, dean of Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business, said Tuesday that it was “discouraging” that by the time Smith is sentenced, the criminal case will have taken more than two years to resolve.

While Scott Dawson said he and his children agreed early in the proceedings that jail time for Smith wasn’t necessary, he said they want to see Smith accept responsibility.

Smith’s attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, on Tuesday called the case a “tragedy.”

Though drugs or alcohol are not believed to be involved in the collision that killed Bridget Dawson, an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Dawson family alleges that Smith was on her cell phone at the time of the crash.

That civil case is scheduled to go to trial in January.

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Matt Fountain 781-7909, @mattfountain1