James Council, a Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy is being held at the Santa Clara County jail on two-misdemeanor manslaughter charges, according to an article in The San Francisco Chronicle.
Council was on duty, in his patrol car March 9, when he ran over and killed two bicyclists and injured the third. Council could now face jail time for the deaths of San Francisco resident 29-year-old Matt Peterson and 30-year-old Kristy Gough of San Leandro. The deputy had been driving on Stevens Canyon Road in Cupertino when his car crossed the centerline hitting the three cyclists. Council, who was 4 1/2 hours into his shift, said he had fallen asleep at the wheel. He had worked a 12 1/2-hour shift the previous day.
My deepest condolences to the Peterson and Gough families in this most unfortunate accident. In California, our great weather and bicycle–friendly city policies encourage more cyclists to get on the road. But the challenge for much of the State is for both vehicles and bicycles to do a better job of sharing roadway space.
Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data shows in 2006 that of a total of 141 bicyclist fatalities in California, 95 or over two thirds occurred at “non-intersections,” such as this Cupertino accident. And single vehicle crashes killed 135 bicyclists of the 141 total deaths. This is a sad reminder that a bicyclist equipped with even the best gear and helmet does not stand a chance in a car-bicycle crash.
The California Highway Patrol’s (CHP) investigation established Council was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and was not speeding at the time of the crash. Based on this evidence and the law, Council should face the lesser vehicular manslaughter misdemeanor charges and not felony charges. However, misdemeanor charges seem light for a two fatality bicycle-auto accident.
If we were representing either Peterson’s or Gough’s families or Christopher Knapp who was the cyclist that was critically injured but survived in this accident, we would be pursuing the Sheriff’s department vigorously. I believe the log shift hours officers were working was a significant contributing factor to this accident.
Keep in mind that any claim against a governmental agency like a county or a sheriff’s department must be properly filed within 180 days.
This is a case where Santa Clara County ought to be doing the right thing by victims and working out a fair settlement of their claims without Knapp and the families having to file a claim or an eventual lawsuit.