Criminal Justice

Deputy distracted by patrol car's computer won't be charged in fatal collision with bicycling lawyer

A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was distracted by his patrol car’s mobile computer when the vehicle fatally struck a well-known entertainment attorney bicycling in a designated lane last year, an investigation has determined.

But Deputy Andrew Wood won’t be criminally charged in the Dec. 8 accident that killed attorney Milton Everett Olin Jr., 65, because the officer was using his work computer rather than a personal electronic device, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has decided.

Proceeding down the Mulholland Highway in Calabasas at approximately 45 mph that afternoon, “Wood briefly took his eyes away from the road precisely when the narrow roadway curved slightly to the left without prior warning, causing him to inadvertently travel straight into the bike lane, immediately striking Olin,” says a Wednesday letter from the DA’s office. It explains that the decision not to charge Wood with vehicular manslaughter is based on a determination that he was acting lawfully at the time and hence criminal negligence could not be proven, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

However, a charge evaluation worksheet for the DA’s office seemingly says something a bit different. It says that under standard state-court jury instructions for criminal cases, a vehicular manslaughter charge against Wood would require proof that he: (1) drove a vehicle; (2) while driving, “committed an infraction or otherwise lawful act that might cause death”; and (3) “committed the infraction or otherwise lawful act that might cause death with ordinary negligence.”

Ordinary negligence is defined under jury instructions, the worksheet says, as “the failure to use reasonable care to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to oneself or someone else.” Negligence can be shown “if he does something a reasonably careful person would not do in the same situation or fails to do something that a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation.”

Although Wood violated the state vehicle code by crossing into the bike lane, he was acting lawfully in using his mobile computer for non-emergency work purposes, the worksheet says. A state law against texting and driving contains an exception for emergency services personnel driving emergency vehicles. And, because another law enforcement officer was trying to figure out whether to respond to a matter that had, in fact, been dealt with, it was “reasonable” for Wood to answer immediately to prevent unnecessary work by the other officer.

Without explaining how the ordinary negligence standard discussed earlier in the document became “criminal negligence,” the worksheet concludes that there is insufficient evidence to prove a vehicular manslaughter case against Wood:

“Unlike a civil case where the standard of proof is ‘by a preponderance of the evidence’ the People would be required to prove Wood was criminally negligent beyond a reasonable doubt. Based on all of the circumstances, the People cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Wood’s momentary distraction in the performance of his duties constituted a failure to use reasonable care to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm as required under the statute.”

Olin, a former executive for A&M Records and Napster, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. After Wood drove up from behind and struck Olin, he was thrown from his bike into the windshield of the patrol car before falling onto the roadway, sustaining a severe head injury.

Hat tip: Daily Mail

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