Driver May Face Vehicular Manslaughter Charges for Pedestrian Death in Berkeley (CA Penal Code 192(c))

56-year-old driver (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused) insists that he is not responsible for killing a 98-year-old pedestrian.  The pedestrian was killed when the driver’s car crashed into him while he was walking across the crosswalk near Bancroft Way in Berkeley.  After the accident, which threw the pedestrian 40 feet from the car after impact, local law enforcement agents interviewed the driver to try to get some answers.  The facts were a bit confusing.  First, the accident happened around lunchtime (12:20 p.m.) and the driver definitely had food in the car with him, though no one will be able to prove whether this was what distracted him.  Yet, the driver’s response was that his license had expired about 14 years ago and that he was operating the vehicle even though he is legally blind.

Perhaps the first thing that should be discussed in this odd and unfortunate case is the legal definition of ‘blindness’ in the state of California.  At first, one might think that ‘legal blindness’ means that an individual cannot see at all.  This is not the case.  All that ‘legally blind’ means is that a person’s vision in their ‘best’ eye cannot be corrected with either contact lenses, eyeglasses, or other means to better than 20/200.  What this means is that, while a person with naturally good vision or corrected vision may be able to see something from about 200 feet away, a person who is legally blind may only be able to see that same something from 20 feet – and with their ‘best’ eye.  A person may also be considered legally blind if they experience ‘tunnel vision,’ meaning that their peripheral vision is basically non-existent.

If convicted of vehicular manslaughter (CA Penal Code 192(c)), the driver may face anywhere from 1 year in county jail to 6 years in state prison, depending on whether prosecutors decide to prosecute the charge as a misdemeanor or as a felony.  He will have to prove that he was operating the vehicle while displaying ‘ordinary negligence’ as opposed to ‘gross negligence.’