A 14-year-old boy has died after being hit by a car near 83rd Avenue and Cactus Road in Peoria Friday morning. 14-year-old Steven Elijah Gessner was walking to school and as he entered the crosswalk on 83rd Avenue, he was struck by a minivan.Gessner was transported to the hospital with “significant injuries” but later pronounced dead, according to the Peoria Police Department. The driver of the vehicle who struck Gessner remained on scene, according to police.
Car accidents can happen to anyone—even the safest of drivers. If you are not driving safely, however, and you are in an accident in which another person dies, you could be charged with a very serious crime called “vehicular homicide.”
What Is Vehicular Homicide?
Vehicular homicide (sometimes called “vehicular manslaughter”) is a crime that is charged against someone who operates a vehicle recklessly or negligently and, by doing so, causes the death of another person. If you are in a vehicle accident in which someone is killed or seriously injured (someone seriously injured in the accident could die subsequently from the injuries), you should contact an attorney right away, even if you do not think the accident was your fault. An experienced attorney will be able to assess whether vehicular homicide may be charged.
state to state. Some states provide that ordinary negligence is sufficient to be guilty of vehicular homicide. This means that the driver fails to operate the vehicle with the same level of care with which a reasonable person would operate the vehicle under similar circumstances. This could occur when you do something accidentally or that you should have known was improper, like operating an unsafe vehicle, not looking before changing lanes, or fiddling with the radio while driving. Other states require a higher or “gross” level of negligence, which might include things like driving at an excessive speed, falling asleep at the wheel, or driving the wrong way into on-coming traffic. Some state statutes may qualify as vehicular homicide any failure to abide by designated road signs or signals, such as “no passing” or “no u-turns,” running a red light, or violating any rules relevant to school buses.
How Does Vehicular Homicide Occur?
Vehicular homicide occurs whenever someone’s negligence causes the death of another person. The person who dies does not have to be a passenger in your vehicle. It could be someone driving another vehicle, a passenger in another vehicle, a pedestrian crossing the road, or even an innocent bystander who is not involved with the traffic on the road.
Vehicular homicide can occur even when a reckless or negligent driver does not hit anyone with the vehicle, such as when, for example, a negligent driver is in a single-vehicle wreck and a passenger exits the vehicle, only to be struck and killed by another passing vehicle. In that case, the negligent driver who did not hit anyone could be charged with vehicular homicide, while the person who hit and killed the passenger would not be charged if they were not driving recklessly or negligently.
You also could commit vehicular homicide even when you are not the driver of the car. For example, one court held that a parent, who forced his minor child to drive because he was too intoxicated to operate the vehicle safely, was guilty of vehicular homicide when he fell asleep in the passenger seat, and the minor, who was driving, struck another vehicle on the road and killed the driver. The court held that the parent was negligent by letting the minor child operate the vehicle without supervision, which caused the death of the other driver.
How Often Does Vehicular Homicide Occur?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are nearly 6 million car accidents every year. Approximately 35,000 of those accidents involve at least one death; in all, more than 37,000 people are killed in accidents every year, which is more than 100 car accident deaths every day. It also is estimated that 30% of accidents that result in death are caused by speeding; 33% of fatal accidents are caused by reckless driving; and approximately 40% of vehicle deaths involve alcohol.
What Is the Punishment for Vehicular Homicide?
Vehicular homicide may be designated as a felony or misdemeanor, of varying degrees, depending upon the individual state statute and the nature of the criminal action involved. Vehicular homicides that are accidental or caused by simple negligence are typically qualified as misdemeanors, whereas more egregious behavior, like driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) or gross negligence, is more likely to be a felony crime. Likewise, the punishment for either qualification of vehicular homicide varies by state. Generally, depending on the degree of the crimes, a misdemeanor vehicular homicide could be punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $10,000 in fines; felony vehicular homicides could be punishable by as much as 30 years in jail and even greater fines. Additionally, your punishment could be increased if you have a prior history of accidents or violations.
If you are in an accident in which someone is killed or is seriously injured, contact the law offices of AZ Hometown Lawyers at 602-495-100. We will help you sort through what happened, identify possible witnesses, assess what caused the accident and who was at fault, and help you to understand the laws in your state to determine if you or someone else may be subject to criminal charges for vehicular homicide.