For several months, I’ve been in periodic contact with a couple from Sublimity whose grandson was killed in a December 2009 two-car crash in Polk County. Also perishing was a female friend of his.
The couple got ahold of me after coming across my name while researching other traffic fatalities like their grandson’s in which the driver of the car that seemingly caused the wreck didn’t end up being charged with anything.
To them, it just didn’t seem right that someone could drive his way into a collision that took someone’s life — in their particular case, two lives — and not even end up being written a citation of some kind.
I was and am sympathetic, because I had thought the exact same thing myself before ever talking to them, regarding in particular a couple of incidents I had written about for the DH.
Even though both their town of residence and the location of the crash were a bit outside the DH’s circulation area, I decided to do some poking into the case, including speaking at length with the Polk County district attorney.
The state trooper investigating the crash recommended that the DA’s office consider a variety of charges including second-degree manslaughter, reckless driving and DUII, and the office did consider charges but ended up not pursuing them after the driver’s toxicology scan turned up clean for the drugs that are routinely tested for.
Apparently the guy just fell asleep or otherwise blacked out and lost control of his car, and according to the Polk DA, there was nothing about the case to suggest criminal intent — also known as a guilty mind; the driver hadn’t knowingly done anything to cause those people’s deaths, leaving it as simply a tragic accident.
He allowed the fellow could’ve been written some kind of traffic citation at the time given that he did leave his lane, and speculated the state police did not do that because it expected criminal charges would likely come along and trump the traffic matter anyway.
That, of course, didn’t happen — proving again that it is possible to be the driver of a car that kills someone and face no recourse from the criminal justice system, not even receive so much as a ticket.
That just galls the Sublimity couple, who as their repeated contact with me suggests are not willing simply to let the matter drop. They basically feel like their grandson died without as much of a show of remorse from the driver of the other car; they’ve tried to meet with him but have been rebuffed.
While I’m highly sympathetic to the couple’s pain, I can’t really accept their contention that the police and the DA’s office are some combination of apathetic and inept. Among other reasons, I covered the courts for a year and generally got the impression that prosecutors and police are relentless in trying to make sure criminals get arrested, charged and convicted.
If it appeared charges could’ve been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, I have told the couple, they would have been filed.
I’ve suggested they pursue wrongful death action in civil court, where the burden of proof is much lower, but they aren’t really interested in that. They want the criminal justice system to do something, anything, even if it’s just writing the guy a ticket.
I understand they are wracked by grief, but when I try to put myself in their shoes, I really don’t know if a traffic citation would ease my pain any. It certainly isn’t bringing anyone back to life.
What do you think: Would a citation make any difference to you if it were your grandson who had been killed?