Fatal accidents raise question of justice

A driver causes a fatal accident. The driver is later sentenced to a one-year term of probation and restitution for funeral expenses. The driver can also request the charges be removed from her record when she completes probation for the misdemeanor charge. The terms include a mandatory driver’s safety course and any evaluations that the probation department finds necessary.

Such was the outcome of a case in 5th Circuit Court on Kauai last week. This particular accident in July of 2013 involved an 83-year-old Kauai woman and a 52-year-old Kapaa man. The woman was turning left onto Lanikai Street from the southbound lane of Kuhio Highway. She collided with an oncoming motorcyclist who died as a result. The woman was at fault and was indicted on charges of second-degree negligent homicide and inattention to driving in November 2013. The charges allege she caused the death by operating a vehicle in a negligent manner. She pleaded no contest to an amended charge of third-degree negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, with the inattention to driving charge dismissed. County Deputy Attorney Melinda Mendes said the plea agreement recognized that this case is about simple negligence.

The driver wasn’t speeding. She wasn’t drinking. She made a mistake and turned into the path of the motorcyclist. The result was tragic. We understand, and it was made clear in court, this was an accident. We, like everyone else, are sorry it happened and wish peace and recovery to families of both parties.

There was a similar case in court earlier this year when a 72-year-old Oregon woman received a year of probation as a condition of a deferred acceptance of a no-contest plea in January for her role in a fatal crash on Feb. 6, 2013. In this case, the woman attempted a U-turn from the northbound shoulder of Kuhio Highway, near the lookout across from the Kaiakea fire station. A northbound pickup truck collided with the driver’s side of the woman’s vehicle as she tried to enter the lane. She had to be extricated from the vehicle and suffered head injuries, while her spouse died. The driver was arrested on Oct. 7, 2013, and charged with second-degree negligent homicide and inattention to driving. She pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of third-degree negligent homicide on Jan. 21. It was also billed as a case of simple negligence. We agree the Oregon woman suffered enough with the death of her husband and there would have been little justice in pursuing a harsher penalty against her.

It may seem, the 83-year-old Kauai driver of the vehicle in the November 2013 fatal crash received a light sentence — probation, driver safety course, chance to have the incident removed from her record — for causing the death of someone she has never met. A suspension of her driver’s license might be in order, as well as leaving the accident on her record. But it would not be justice to pursue a harsh sentence. It would serve no purpose to place her in jail. Like our visitor from Oregon, this driver caused a crash, an accident, for which she is sorry and sadly, must carry it with her.

If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that just a few seconds of inattention can have tragic consequenc-es — not just for ourselves.

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