Saturday, June 25, 2016

Without Even Scant Care

Three women have been killed in St. Paul this year while crossing the street. One was hit by a guy making a left turn, while the other two were hit on four-lane streets when the car in the first lane stopped for them to cross but the car in the second lane lane didn't.

You may know the scenario. You're driving down a four-lane street in the left lane. You're lagging another vehicle, maybe a larger truck, that's in the right lane. As you approach an intersection (one without a traffic light), the truck stops. You don't know why, but you pass it on the left, thinking it's maybe turning without signaling or stopping for whatever causes people to stop for no reason.

But it wasn't for no reason. The truck stopped because there was a pedestrian you didn't notice, waiting to cross the street. The pedestrian has the right of way, and the truck's driver knew that. The pedestrian has just made her way past the first lane and is heading into the second lane as you pass the truck.

And then it's too late.

This happened twice in my city, once in March and once in May. St. Paul police just announced that the killer-driver in the March "accident" will not be charged. She wasn't impaired, she wasn't speeding. So therefore she wasn't at fault.

The cops aren't even charging her with a misdemeanor like failure to yield to a pedestrian, which she is clearly guilty of since her victim is dead (and the victim's mother was severely injured). I don't expect much more in the May killing, either.

The left-turn case may come out a little differently, though, it seems. Yesterday, Minneapolis announced it's charging a left-turning driver who killed a pedestrian in downtown last winter with multiple crimes. And not just with failure to yield, but two additional misdemeanors: failure to use due care to avoid hitting a pedestrian (duh) and careless driving. And the prosecutors didn't stop there. He's also being charged with a gross misdemeanor, criminal vehicular operation resulting in bodily harm, which carries a one-year jail sentence.

That charge requires the prosecutors to prove he was driving in a "grossly negligent manner," "without even scant care." That seems kind of a high bar, but these are the facts of the case:

“The impact [which was captured on video] occurs directly in front of the defendant at what would have been the center of his field of vision had he been looking straight ahead,” the complaint said.

Prosecutors said video footage showed the truck maintained the same speed after the crash, dragging [the victim] for about the length of a bus before the rear tires rolled over her body. The truck then stopped.
So the fact that the driver never tried to stop before hitting the pedestrian (or even soon afterward) shows he wasn't looking ahead through his windshield while making a left onto a very busy, wide street in a snowstorm. I hope we all can agree that fits the definition of driving without scant care. The victim was right in front of his windshield, but he never slowed down because he never saw her.

Our St. Paul left-turn death was at a less complex intersection. What excuse does that killer-driver have? What will he be charged with?

Charging drivers in these deaths will not bring the victims back, and it's not even about justice. But maybe it will get drivers to slow down and pay attention if they know they'll be held accountable for their unintentional but negligent actions.

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