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Justice system failed family of Lexington bicyclist allegedly killed by drunk driver, widow says

Mark Hinkel, flanked by daughters Andrea, left, and Kaci Hinkel, wife Mary-Lynn Hinkel, and daughter Lauren Lewis, held grandson Henry Lewis. Henry is one of Hinkel's two grandchildren.
Mark Hinkel, flanked by daughters Andrea, left, and Kaci Hinkel, wife Mary-Lynn Hinkel, and daughter Lauren Lewis, held grandson Henry Lewis. Henry is one of Hinkel's two grandchildren.

Just a week before his death, Mark Hinkel said if anything ever happened to him while biking, he'd be OK with it because he'd be doing what he loved.

"I don't think he dreamed anything would happen" when he said that, his widow, Mary-Lynn Hinkel, said in a recent interview.

Mark Hinkel, 57, was at mile 99 of the Horsey Hundred 102-mile Century ride on May 23 in Scott County when he was hit by an oncoming truck whose driver allegedly was drunk. Hinkel landed on the truck bed cover, and the driver went about 3 miles with Hinkel on the cover before the truck was stopped by police. Odilon Paz-Salvador, 29, has been charged with murder.

"When I got that call, I knew it wasn't his fault," Mary-Lynn Hinkel, 58, said of her husband. "I don't know much about cycling, but I knew that he was a safe, smart rider."

On the same weekend 32 years ago, Mark's mother, Naomi Heidrich Hinkel, died of breast cancer. "It was such a hard thing for him," Mary-Lynn said. Mark would always say, "The thing that I hate most is that she never got to see my kids."

Now, his children will have to deal with that.

Mark and Mary-Lynn Hinkel, who would have been married 35 years in August, raised three girls: Lauren Lewis, 31, who has two boys, 2 and 6 months; Kaci Hinkel, 30; and Andrea Hinkel, 28.

Her father was a very involved dad, Kaci said. "I vividly have memories of him running up and down the lanes as I was swimming going, 'Go Kaci, go Kaci, go!'"

He coached his daughters' basketball teams and kept coaching at Christ the King School after they graduated. "Everything he did, he did it with such a passion," she said.

"He was just a wonderful man," Mary-Lynn Hinkel said. "Everybody said he always had a smile on his face."

Most days, anyway, she said.

"He did get upset with me sometimes, and that smile would disappear," Mary-Lynn said with a small laugh.

For Mark Hinkel, every day was a new opportunity, daughter Andrea said. Every day was going to be the best day.

One of the most difficult tasks for the Hinkel family has been trying to explain his death to his 2-year-old grandson, Henry Lewis.

"Henry was so close to his grandpa," Mary-Lynn said.

"His face was a different face when he got to see his grandpa," said Scott Lewis, Henry's father. Knowing Henry will never see that face again has been hard for Scott.

Every Thursday, like clockwork, Mark Hinkel would take his father, John, to dinner, and Henry went along. "Henry lit up and loved to do that," Lauren Lewis said.

"He was the best," Andrea said of her father, "and you could put in any sort of noun that you wanted" ... lawyer, dad, husband, best friend.

"He had the ability to make every single person who he came in contact with feel like they were the most important person in the room, and he genuinely cared about what that person had to say."

At the visitation, Mark Hinkel's family witnessed how special he was to those in the community.

"The people that were there, ... it was amazing," Andrea said.

More than 1,000 people attended the visitation, and a similar number came for the funeral.

"One of the things that I have heard everyone say about Mark was that he liked everyone," best friend and fellow lawyer Bennett Bayer said in his eulogy. "Well, let's set the record straight. I am here to tell you — no he did not. He didn't like people who were not fair, he did not like people who did not care for others or who purposefully set out to hurt others. Mark believed in the world being a better place, and these people got in his way."

Bayer said that as a lawyer, Hinkel knew exactly how to handle his cases. He had been on Best Lawyers' list for the past 20 years, and was named lawyer of the year for 2014-15 for Lexington worker-compensation law, Bayer said.

One man at the visitation explained Hinkel's work accurately, Bayer said. "He said, 'Litigating against Mark was very simple. It wasn't easy: Every time, you knew what you were gonna get because he was so good, he was so methodical, and he was so fair.'"

That's the way he lived each aspect of his life, Bayer said.

"Mark was an intensely fair person, except with me, and he brutalized me every chance he got," Bayer joked.

He described Hinkel as a fierce competitor against life. "He wanted to make every day better," Bayer said.

Mike Kennedy, 61, who was on Hinkel's riding team, described their first bike ride together on the "triple bypass" route, which has three very steep hills. Kennedy had been riding for three years, but Hinkel had to walk his bike up each of the hills, Kennedy said.

"He never complained," Kennedy said. "He just knew that he wanted to get better." Five years later, Hinkel rode up Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga without stopping.

At the top of the mountain, Kennedy asked Hinkel if that was the hardest thing he'd ever done. Hinkel said, "No, riding with you that very first day was the hardest."

Kennedy responded, "You've come a long way, grasshopper."

On long rides, Hinkel was pulling everyone in his group at the end, Kennedy said. "He just rallied."

"We'd all be complaining and asking for mercy, but he would not give," Kennedy said. "And he knew that it was up to him."

As a bicyclist, Hinkel was a safe rider, daughter Kaci said. The preventability of his death has been hard to deal with for the Hinkel family.

The justice system really let the family down, Mary-Lynn Hinkel said. "That guy should never have been out of jail."

Paz-Salvador told officers after his arrest that he had nine previous DUIs, most older than five years.

The fourth DUI during a five-year period is a felony in Kentucky, but after five years, a person's DUI count resets. As a result, a driver could be charged every five years, and each time it would be the driver's first offense.

Without the five-year reset, Paz-Salvador would have been in prison, and Mark Hinkel would be alive today, Bayer said.

"The laws were not in place to protect our father, or anyone's father," Lauren Lewis said. "We cannot let another family go through what we're going through right now, because it's just unimaginable."

Scott Lewis hopes that Paz-Salvador's family can get through the wreck's aftermath as well. "To what extent this driver had loved ones of his own, they're innocent," he said.

The whole family shares his sentiment that there has to be some good that comes out of Hinkel's death.

"I think I'm just going to try to remember that he always looked for the good in everyone and everything," Kaci said. "I'm just going to try to always carry that with me and make sure that I treat people the way that my dad always treated someone."

Added her sister Andrea, "We're all going to live a little bit more like dad."

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