Charges avoided because deputy was answering a work-related e-mail as he was driving
I write often about the dangers of distracted driving. But in my quest to fight distracted driving, this case that I just read about recently is certainly one giant step back when it comes to better protecting the public and our families.
California prosecutors have declined to file charges against a sheriff’s deputy who struck and killed a prominent entertainment attorney and former Napster executive with his patrol car last year, according to a recent story in the Daily Mail.
Last December, Deputy Andrew Wood was allegedly distracted by his mobile digital computer when his patrol car drifted into the bike lane, running over cyclist Milton Olin Jr. in Calabasas. Olin was a 65-year-old attorney and former chief operating officer of the online file-sharing service Napster.
Prosecutors said in a letter cited by Los Angeles Daily News that because Wood was acting within the course of his duties when typing into his computer, criminal charges are not warranted:
“He was responding to a deputy who was inquiring whether the fire investigation had been completed… Since Wood was acting within the course and scope of his duties when he began to type his response, under Vehicle Code section 23123.5, he acted lawfully.”
Prosecutors are erroneously interpreting this section of the California motor vehicle code to mean that law enforcement officials are allowed to use electronic wireless devices while carrying out their duties.
Olin’s family as filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department, accusing the deputy of negligence.
And this is clearly negligence. In fact, in my legal opinion, this is gross negligence. Most states define gross negligence similar to Michigan, as conduct or a failure to act that is so reckless that it demonstrates a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury will result.
Whether or not the deputy was sending a work-related e-mail, he was driving distracted – and he killed an innocent man. Based upon the science that we now know about how dangerous distracted driving really is, and that sending a text message can increase your likelihood of being involved in a car accident 23 fold, sending that email shows a reckless disregard for others.
The California Sheriff’s Department knows this.
Named a “Leader in the Law” and “Lawyer of the Year” by Michigan’s largest legal newspaper for his record-breaking auto accident verdicts, settlements and advocacy work in preventing wrecks, Steven Gursten heads Michigan Auto Law—a firm dedicated to serious motor vehicle accident injury and wrongful death cases.