[2/6/2015 A Yuma county jury found the driver guilty of negligent homicide, a class 4 felony, along with several other endangerment charges. yumasun.com I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s unprecedented for a prosecutor to bring, and get conviction, on any homicide charge against a driver not suspected of being impaired. Note that the “defense had also argued that is not against the law to use a cell phone while driving” claim did not win the day; he was convicted anyway. ]
[Update Sept 2014; trial should have been going on but has been delayed due to defense attorney’s medical condition reports the yumasun.com ]
Police and prosecutors have released info regarding why they decided to charge the truck driver who caused a wreck that killed DPS Officer Tim Huffman near Yuma on May 6, 2013 with a string of felonies including 2nd degree Murder. (see Police work is dangerous, scroll down a bit, for earlier reports) Excerpts from Report: Truck driver was looking at phone in deadly crash:
documents and a video from an in-dash camera revealed that Espinoza was on Facebook looking at pictures of provocatively dressed women at the time of the wreck… He told police he never saw the multiple DPS and fire department vehicles on the roadway, or an officer frantically waving his arms trying to get his attention before he jumped out of the way… Police said the satellite-linked camera on his dashboard suggests differently. It showed what appears to be Espinoza’s white, Samsung smart phone flying from his hand when he struck the first vehicle. Espinoza, seen in the vehicle being knocked about like a rag doll, had told police the use of cellphones was strictly forbidden by his employer and that he followed policy… The video shows a wallet that, according to investigators, seemed to be “intentionally and neatly” placed in front of the camera to conceal Espinoza’s face and body, a police search warrant affidavit said. That, according to company policy, was also prohibited. “It also appeared Espinoza was looking or manipulating his cell phone prior to the collision,” the documents said… A detective executing a search of Espinoza’s cell phone records found that he “was viewing photographs of women with very little clothing, along with other photographs” when he struck the other vehicles. That wasn’t the only time he had used his phone while driving, according to his commercial driving logs and cell phone records.
This is all very interesting, and sensational, but none of this is criminally illegal behavior for drivers; in other words, how does that add up to 2nd degree murder? (Note that commercial drivers do have other standards to live up to; yet, again, it doesn’t make rule violations tantamount to homicide). In any event the case rumbles on as of June 2014 there are some motions and activity CR-201300594 Yuma County Superior Court (I can’t seem to get the case minute files? I’ve never looked at Yuma County before…)
Prosecutors will as a nearly iron-clad rule only seek serious felony (some form of homicide in the case of fatality, or something like aggravated assault if a serious injury) in the event of impairment. I can’t think of any case, off the top or my head, where this rule was broken… though I can point out many cases were the driver was certainly distracted (they were driving off the road!) causing a fatality or serious injury — the driver who killed Don Anselmo; the driver who killed Allen Johnson, the driver who killed Shawn McCarty, the driver who triple seriously injured Scott Drozdz, Brent Holderman, and Angelito Paras Silla, Only one of these drivers was even charged with a minor misdemeanor, several were cited for a traffic infraction… These incidents were all “just accidents”.
I’m not saying I think the prosecutors are making a mistake with the tanker-truck driver; I’m saying they are making a mistake by not bring these charges more often.
DPS Plans to pro-actively target distracted drivers
Laurie Roberts column DPS to (finally) crack down on texting drivers that appeared a few days later has some interesting stuff. The DPS chief seems to be responding to what we’re all thinking: “DPS Director Robert Halliday says he’s been working on an enforcement plan for a year, long before Officer Huffman’s death. ‘I don’t want it to look like that our organization, the highway patrol side of it, is being retaliatory,’ “. She goes over legislator Steve Farleys long, repeated, quixotic (so far, anyway) quest to get some sort of distracted-driver law on the books; he points out: “How many other incidents has this exact same thing happened but there was no video in the cab?”. I.e. driver doing something wrong tend to lie (claims he never uses a cell phone when driving) and attempt to deceive (obscuring his employer’s camera).