I’m just back from the District Attorney’s office, where I picked up a copy of Senior Deputy District Attorney Chuck Sparks’ memo outlining why he declined to prosecute the driver of the cement truck in the collision that took Tracey Sparling’s life.
I read the memo on the way back to my office, and the line titling this post keeps running through my head. Most of the not-quite-four pages outline the facts of the collision, including witness statements, like the one from Robert Watson, “who was spare-changing cars on the west side of SW 14th” and saw Sparling pull up alongside the truck in the bike lane last October 11.
Watson saw the traffic start to move, then heard a metallic noise and Ms. Sparling yell “Hey!” He next saw the truck run over Ms. Sparling.
Why no charges? Sparks, himself a bike commuter—and, for what it’s worth, one of the most thorough and thoughtful people I’ve met in the course of this job—writes:
[The driver, Timothy] Wiles arrived at the intersection before Ms. Sparling and came to a stop, waiting to turn right. Wiles did not see Ms. Sparling as she approached his stopped truck, mor did he see her as he went into his turn. Ms. Sparling stopped in the bike lane near Wiles’ right front wheel, and was, due to her location and diminutive stature, not visible to Wiles; she was, through no fault of her own, in the driver’s blind spot…
The relevant standard is criminal negligence. Criminal negligence is the failure to be aware of “a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or the circumstance exists,” with the risk being “of such nature and degree that the failure to be aware of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a resonable person would observe in the situation.” The evidence must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Wiles acted with criminal negligence for the state to prosecute. After reviewing all witness statements, the scene evidence, and the toxicology reports I conclude that Wiles’ failure to perceive Ms. Sparling prior to his turn was not sufficient to charge him with criminally negligent homicide.
The entire memo is after the cut.
Tracey’s father and his attorney met with Sparks this morning to get a first look at the memo and hear the news before it was public.
The case now heads back to the desk of Portland Police Traffic Investigator Peter Kurronen, who could elect to cite Wiles. And if the police don’t, attorney Christopher Heaps and the rest of the citizen citation team are sure to do so themselves, for failing to yield to a cyclist in a bike lane.
(Click to see bigger, more readable versions.)
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