Why Sandi Day was cleared of criminal wrongdoing

I know, it’s another post not about trains.  Sorry.  But consider answering this question to be just one of the many services I provide.

Yesterday the grand jury’s findings were released that Sandi Day, the TriMet bus operator who struck 5 people in a crosswalk as she was making a left turn, killing two, would not be charged with criminally negligent homicide.

Official report here.

And because everyone on the internets is a legal expert (amirite?) hundreds of comments on news sites all over the Portland metro area have Portland’s most charming individuals weighing in with their learnèd legal opinions, most saying they have no idea how Day can walk free, others saying she should go put a bullet in her head.  Nice, eh?

Here’s the thing – the question that was asked in this investigation was not “Was Day at fault?” or “Should Day just go back to driving a bus and put this whole thing behind her?”  No!  The question was “Does this incident meet our standards for criminally negligent homicide?

Since a lot of people seem to be struggling with what that means, I’ve got a perfect example for you.  A few years ago I was summoned for jury duty for the case of Samuel Allen Wilson (I did not serve on the jury, I was #10 in the box but was removed by the judge at the end of voir dire. Out of interest I followed the case anyway).  I’ll summarize that incident for you:

Wilson, at the age of 18, was arrested for drunk driving after he was going down a one-way street in Portland the wrong way.  His license was suspended and he enrolled in diversion classes, promising never to do it again.

The next day, for “sentimental reasons”, he wanted one last ride in his car.  He downed a beer at a friend’s house and a glass of whiskey at his own, pushed his car out of his parents’ driveway so they wouldn’t hear the engine and took off.  He saw a patrol car on Murray by Sunset, turned his lights off and made an illegal turn towards NW Cornell Rd.  He was going about 45-50 miles when he got to the stop sign by Joy Rd, skidded through the right-only turn, hit the median and went airborne into the door of nurse Betty Sherman’s car, killing her.

That, boys and girls, is what the criminally negligent homicide charges are meant for.

Now compare that with Sandi Day, who was not distracted, intoxicated, or using a cell phone.  Following TriMet’s own policy, she dropped off an elderly passenger at his request before making a left turn. A combination of inconsistent lighting, the dark clothes worn by the pedestrians, other vehicle traffic passing through, her position after making the courtesy stop, and the mirrors creating blind spots on her bus meant that she did not see the five people in the crosswalk as she made her left turn.

Is it tragic? Absolutely.  Is it on the same level as Samuel Allen Wilson’s drunk joyride?  No. The jury’s findings were exactly as they should have been in this instance.  As far as I know she still can face civil charges, but no, she was not criminally negligent based on the precedents of what criminal negligence means. And for all of the people crying foul over the result, I hope you’re the same people that try to weasel your way out of jury duty when you get summoned, because I do not want you on mine should I ever be in the situation to need one.

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5 responses to “Why Sandi Day was cleared of criminal wrongdoing

  1. Excellent piece of writing.
    Even someone with an IQ of 75 should understand the concept of criminally negligent homicide after reading your piece!

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Why Sandi Day was cleared of criminal wrongdoing « MAX FAQs -- Topsy.com

  3. According to http://www.portlandcriminalattorneyor.com/homicide/ , “Criminally negligent homicide-criminal negligence is a lower standard for criminal liability than reckless or intentional conduct. This means that even if you did not intentionally or recklessly cause the death of another person, you may still be criminally liable. Under Oregon law the definition of criminally negligent homicide requires “a person commits the crime of criminally negligent homicide when, with criminal negligence, the person causes the death of another person”. Essentially, criminally negligent conduct is that which is a gross deviation from that of a reasonably prudent person or that you failed to perceive an unjustifiably [sic] risk to human health or safety. Under criminal negligence, you did not know of the risk of death to the alleged victim but you should have (a reasonably prudent person would have) and as a result your grossly negligent conduct led to the death of another person. This crime is a Class B felony. ”

    Isn’t it debatable that an illegal left turn in the conditions as you described a “gross deviation from that of a reasonably prudent person or that [Ms. Day] failed to perceive an unjustifiably [sic] risk to human health or safety”? I’m not saying the grand jury was per se wrong; but I’m saying when I read this definition, it’s not so open and shut as you seem to make it; in fact it seems entirely open to debate.

    • Fair enough, you may very well be right. I’m not a lawyer, and that example was the extent of my familiarity with criminally negligent behavior. Offhand I don’t know of other instances where someone was charged with that and what types of incidents that’s used for.

      • In my semi-experienced opinion, the actions in this case didn’t qualify as Negligent, according to the definition of the term in the legal sense. Nor does it fall into Knowing, Reckless, or Intentional.

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