The investigation is finally complete.
As predicted as soon as the LA County Sheriff’s Department inexplicably insisted on investigating itself in the death of cyclist and former Napster Exec Milt Olin, no charges will be filed against the deputy who killed him.
And as long predicated by myself and others, the immediate cause of the collision was the deputy’s use of the patrol car’s onboard computer while traveling on a winding road at 48 mph.
It was clear that the Sheriff’s Department was attempting to downplay their investigation — if not coverup the results — when they announced late on the Friday before Memorial Day that it had been turned over to the DA’s office for evaluation over a week before.
Not a word from the District Attorney for over three months, until news broke late this afternoon that the deputy responsible, Andrew Wood, would not face charges.
DA refusal letter (pdf)
Surprisingly, it actually appears the Sheriff’s Department recommended a charge of vehicular manslaughter; not surprisingly, the DA declined to file, saying they did not feel they could prove the deputy was negligent, which would be required for a conviction.
As we have discussed before, the case hinged on CVC 23123.5, which prohibits using electronic communication devices while driving — but exempts police officers and other emergency service workers in the performance of their duties.
According to the DA, that exemption applied in this case, as Wood was typing a response to a query from another officer when he drifted into the bike lane and rear-ended Olin’s bike without ever braking.
As often happens in such cases, Wood initially claimed Olin swerved in front of him in the traffic lane, and he only went into the bike lane in an attempt to avoid him. That is, until physical evidence and witness testimony proved him wrong, at which point his story changed to say he never saw Olin prior to the collision.
Yet somehow, the mere fact that Wood was driving at nearly 50 mph — in a bike lane — with no idea what was on the road directly in front of him is not sufficient evidence of negligence as far as the DA’s office is concerned.
Simply put, there are only two options.
Either the deputy was at fault for driving distracted — even though he could legally use the computer, he is still required to drive in a safe and legal manner.
Or the Sheriff’s Department itself is negligent for a policy allowing its officers to use the onboard computer in a manner that places everyone else at risk, as they will undoubtedly be found responsible for in the civil suit filed by members of the Olin family.
Either way, thanks to the complicity of the DA’s office, no one will ever be held accountable for the death of an innocent man, whose only crime was going for a bike ride on a sunny afternoon.
And a dangerous, if not deadly, policy will never be changed.
Thanks to Brenda Gazzar for breaking the story.
Update: The afore mentioned Brenda Gazzar offers a detailed look at the case and the DA’s decision not to file charges in the LA Daily News, including this:
Eric Bruins, planning and policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, said he was disappointed to see a clearly distracted law enforcement officer escape charges on what he called a technicality.
“Just because the law allows someone to do something while driving doesn’t mean they are allowed to do something unsafely while driving,” Bruins said. “Hitting someone from behind is very clear evidence that whatever was going on in that car was not safe and should have been considered negligent.”
It’s definitely worth a read to get the full story.
Meanwhile, LAist quotes several angry tweets from very pissed-off cyclists. Including yours truly.