A Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputy who fatally struck bicyclist Milton Olin will not face criminal charges in connection with the incident, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has determined.
According to a KTLA news report, the collision on December 8, 2018 that killed Olin, a prominent Woodland Hills entertainment attorney, has fueled outrage in
the cycling community. Olin, 65, was riding in a bike lane on Mulholland Highway when he was struck.
The deputy, Andrew Wood, was texting his wife prior to the collision and was communicating with another deputy via his in-car work laptop at the time of the crash.
Prosecutors said they would not be able to prove that Wood was criminally negligent to gain a conviction on a vehicular manslaughter charge. Because Wood was communicating with another deputy in course of his duties, his actions were legal, prosecutors said.
California’s Distracted Driving Law
California has distracted driving laws prohibiting motorists from texting or using a handheld cell phone while driving.
According to California Vehicle Code Section 23123 (a): “A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving.”
However, this cell phone or texting ban does not apply to emergency services personnel who are “operating an authorized emergency vehicle…in the course and scope of his or her duties.”
Wood’s cell phone records apparently indicated that he exchanged multiple text messages with his wife 14 minutes before the crash including one sent at 1:04 p.m., a minute before the crash. Prosecutors said the texts were sent only when the patrol vehicle was stopped, based on evidence.
Wood struck Olin as he was communicating via his work laptop with other emergency personnel and failed to negotiate a curve on the roadway, officials said.
Civil Action to Proceed
In spite of the prosecutor’s determination, it appears that Olin’s family will proceed with the civil lawsuit against the deputy and his employer, the sheriff’s department, because this incident occurred when the officer was on the job.
The civil lawsuit, filed in July by Olin’s two sons and his wife alleges negligence and wrongful death. The bicycling community is also rallying around the Olin family asking the prosecutor to reverse this decision.
Our legal practice has handled similar cases where prosecutors refuse to file criminal charges even when there is apparent negligence. The issue there has typically been the difficulty in proving “criminal negligence.” As evidenced in this case, victims or families of deceased victims can still proceed with civil action.
While the burden of proof for prosecutors in a criminal case is to prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard is lower in a civil case where jurors decide if the defendant was negligent based on the evidence. Civil action results in monetary compensation for the victims or their families as opposed to punishment for the defendant.
However, victims or families, is successful, tend to derive some satisfaction from the fact that justice was served and that the wrongdoers were held accountable.