Horrific Crash kills 4 Motorcyclists

It was reported on 8/27/2011 that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery will retry Michael Jakscht. The first trial ended with a hung-jury mistrial.
There’s a new trial date set for June 6, 2012

The driver of a heavy commercial dump truck piled into a group of motorcyclists who were stopped at a red light; reportedly he was distracted.

Phoenix Public Safety Manager Jack Harris described the scene “I have never seen such a horrific accident involving so many motorcycles,”

The crash 3/25/2010 at Carefree Highway and 27th way, Phoenix, initially killed 3, a fourth died a few days later. Several were seriously injured, including a Phoenix Fire Captain in critical condition.

Today the Arizona Republic is reporting in a 3/27/2010 story that the driver has a string of infractions, many of which sound like technical/equipment-related, and several of them were dismissed. However, the driver has an outstanding citation for failure to control about two weeks ago in Scottsdale, related to an (apparently minor) collision. These cases pop up on a search of the Arizona Supreme Court case lookup. But strangely, the reporter seems to be unaware of additional actions in Maricopa Justice Court, including one just dated just a couple of days before the huge crash. (search on Michael Jakscht)

The investigation is still ongoing, but with no hints of impairment the likely outcome, barring a surprise, will be a traffic ticket and no criminal charges.

The Surprise

Driver in fatal Phoenix motorcycle crash booked on 4 manslaughter counts, 4/06/2010 & Bond for driver in fatal motorcycle crash set at $1 million, 4/07/2010, AZ Republic.

Phoenix police arrested Jakscht on suspicion of driving under the influence of methamphetamine. He was booked on four counts of manslaughter, five counts of aggravated assault and seven counts of endangerment. Apparently the suspect’s circumstances forced a quick arrest, and resulted in a relatively large bond.

The former article had lots of interesting snippets about how or why this investigation proceeded amazingly quickly. It has been only about two weeks since the crash (emphasis added):

Toxicology results take up to six weeks in most criminal investigations, according to police. Jakscht’s blood sample, which police drew after he passed field sobriety tests, was made a priority.

“In this case, to get the result, so he doesn’t drive more or drive impaired, it was the department’s decision to make it a priority,” Phoenix police Sgt. Trent Crump said.

…The Carefree Highway wreck came two weeks after Jakscht was cited by Scottsdale police for failing to control his speed to avoid a collision at Shea Boulevard and Hayden Road. The police accident report detailed how Jakscht, driving a pickup truck in his name, struck a stopped vehicle.

The Trial

The trial ended and went to the jury on friday Aug 12, 2011.

The prosecution maintained the driver was impaired; though it seems like they are depending on tox results that showed the driver tested positive for methamphetamines.  This is a big deal in any sort of “drug” accusation: “Unlike with alcohol use, there is no statutory blood-content level for methamphetamine that constitutes impairment. So the determination has to be based on the testimony of the police officer who administered the roadside sobriety test and observed the defendant’s demeanor” — azcentral.com. I’m sure there were hours and hours of dueling expert testimony on the blood tests.

The defense maintains the defendant was not impaired at the time, and that the positive result is due to diet pills. They also blame the crash on brake failure.

The contrast between drug impairment vs. alcohol impairment via blood tests is stark — it is quite possible/likely that many many drug-impaired drivers involved in crashes go undetected, or even when detected it’s so much more difficult to prove that prosecutors become unwilling to even go there.

The trial ended with a hung jury (9-3 in favor of acquittal) on Aug 18. Prosecutors must now decide whether to peruse a new trial. Interesting comments by lawyer Vlad Gagic that ring true , though perhaps “NO signs or symptoms of impairment” is too strong, to my uninformed ears:

“My belief is that the jury did not convict Mr. Jaskcht because there were no signs or symptoms of impairment. Thus, even if a driver has an illegal drug metabolite in your system and he is guilty of a illegal drug DUI, if the driver is not impaired then he cannot be guilty of manslaughter, endangerment, or manslaughter. In the parlance of legal procedure, the defense did something very smart: they presented their own alternative version of events…”

11 thoughts on “Horrific Crash kills 4 Motorcyclists”

  1. It is imperative that examination of the air-brake adjustments be conducted. Photos look like the truck was empty but, even with that, mal-adjusted brakes can drastically impact the truck’s stopping distance. I can’t see any skid marks in photos so it appears that the cause is either driver inattention or brakes out-of-adjustment. Nationally, one of every 4 commercial vehicles have defects so serious that they are not permitted to move when inspected by DOT inspectors. Half of those are due to brakes out-of-adjustment.
    My business partners and I all ride cycles. Our hearts go out to families and friends of those killed and injured in this crash.

  2. Personally I think we need to start treating all collisions as major problems. There are no accidents and there is no minor collision IMO.

  3. On June 9, 2007 in southeast Indiana there were 3 crashes within the space of a few hours – all within 60 miles or so. In each case a relatively young motorist did something stupid, causing one or more motorcyclists to be killed. In EACH case, no one was prosecuted! Why? Because, in Indiana, “WE DON’T PROSECUTE NEGLIGENCE” according to the police and prosecutors…

    In all FIVE were killed, five more were injured. You can read about it here

    http://www.seidata.com/~ripleynews/2007/07-06-12_Five.html

    Not sure what will come out of the prosecution in AZ, but my clients in Indiana wish there had been prosecutions of the guilty drivers – something beyond a payout ticket anyways…

    Steve Magas

  4. News story about the sentencing
    http://www.azcentral.com/community/northvalley/articles/20121116phoenix-fatal-motorcycle-crash-abrk.html

    Here are some intersting fragments from the story (emphasis added):

    The prosecutor in the case, Deputy County Attorney Aaron Harder, asked Judge Joseph Welty to impose the maximum penalty for each offense and run the sentences consecutively. That would have resulted in a sentence of 128 years. But Welty balked, saying that sentencing must take the defendant’s state of mind into account. By definition, manslaughter is a reckless crime, not an intentional crime.
    “How does the state propose a sentence of 128 for what they proved was reckless conduct?” he asked Harder.

    Jakscht was burned trying to aid the victims. Police felt he performed badly on roadside sobriety tests, and when Jakscht tested positive for meth, he was charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault and endangerment.
    But since there are no set standards for methampehtamine intoxication as for alcohol, prosecutors had to prove to the jury that Jakscht was impaired in order for them to find him guilty of manslaughter or aggravated assault. If not, the deaths and injuries would be considered accidental.

    Both trials were tense and emotional, with one side of the courtroom frequently packed with angry survivors and victims, many of whom belong to the motorcycle club that was on a weekend drive when the accident occurred. Friday’s hearing was no different. Some of the bikers glared at the defendant, and one removed a vest to reveal a t-shirt that said, “Can you see me now, (expletive)?” in large block letters on its back.

    But Welty disagreed. “This is not an accident,” he said. “This is a crime, this is reckless.” Welty said he felt the prosecutors had proven that Jakscht was “impaired to a slight degree.

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