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California officer faces criminal charges in fatal pedestrian crash

Law enforcement officers must often make split-second decisions when they are called into action. That's why it is not unusual to see a patrol car suddenly make a U-turn, throw on its lights and siren and begin speeding toward whatever emergency the officer has been called to.

Because officers must make these split-second maneuvers in traffic, it is understandable that auto accidents are sometimes an unavoidable consequence. It is a far different story, however, when law enforcement officers speed and drive recklessly simply because they can. Officers who think traffic laws don't apply to them are sometimes the most dangerous drivers on the road.

A criminal trial and a separate civil lawsuit are pending against a Southern California sheriff's deputy who killed two pedestrians in a December 2011 crash. He has been charged with two counts of felony vehicular manslaughter for fatally striking two individuals as they pushed a motorcycle along the side of the road.

According to news reports, it was revealed in a recent court hearing that the sheriff's deputy had been formally reprimanded by the sheriff's department for speeding and reckless driving in the months prior to the fatal accident. If this evidence is ultimately admitted into proceedings, it will likely be very influential in both the criminal trial and the civil lawsuit filed by the families of the victims.

 

California Highway Patrol officers testified that on the day of the crash, the defendant was driving at speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour. Furthermore, his lights and siren were not activated and he was traveling through an area that he knew to have a lot of pedestrian traffic.

Just four months earlier in September 2011, the sheriff's deputy had been formally reprimanded and warned for similar driving behaviors. The sheriff's department had reprimanded him for scratching a patrol vehicle. He was also warned at the time that reckless driving and speeding endangered his life and the lives of others.

The fact that the defendant went on to cause a fatal pedestrian accident just four months after being warned is telling. Speeding and reckless driving are not tolerated among ordinary citizens, and law enforcement officers should be held to an even higher standard of conduct. When officers continually drive in a reckless manner simply because they can, it is not just an abuse of power. It is also an accident waiting to happen.

Source: The Bakersfield Californian, "Deputy charged in pedestrians' death had previously been reprimanded," Jason Kotowski, May 2, 2013

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