Distracted deputy won't be charged for killing cyclist

Olin-no-charges-streetsblog.jpgLos Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Wood won't face charges for drifting into a bike lane and killing a cyclist while typing onto his patrol car screen. The DA's office declined to file charges in the death of entertainment attorney Milton Olin Jr. last December. Prosecutors explain in a story in the Daily News that Wood, a 16-year-veteran, was returning from a fire call at Calabasas High School at the time of the collision. (Photo: Olin and his sons.)

“Wood entered the bicycle lane as a result of inattention caused by typing into his (Mobile Digital Computer),” according to the declination letter prepared by the Justice System Integrity Division of the District Attorney’s Office and released Wednesday. “He was responding to a deputy who was inquiring whether the fire investigation had been completed. Since Wood was acting within the course and scope of his duties when he began to type his response, under Vehicle Code section 23123.5, he acted lawfully.”

The law does not prohibit officers from using an electronic wireless communications device in the performance of their duties, according to the letter. Furthermore, prosecutors said it was “reasonable” that Wood would have felt that an immediate response was necessary so that a Calabasas deputy wouldn’t unnecessarily respond to the high school.

To establish the crime of vehicular manslaughter, prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Wood was criminally negligent. While GPS records show the deputy was driving three miles per hour over the speed limit prior to the collision, investigators could not determine his speed at the time of impact. And while Wood was texting shortly before the collision, there was no evidence he was texting or doing anything else that would have distracted him at the time of the collision, according to the letter.

In fact, evidence indicates Wood’s personal cellphone was only in use while his patrol car was not in motion, the letter stated.

“Wood briefly took his eyes away from the road precisely when the narrow roadway curved slightly to the left without prior warning, causing him to inadvertently travel straight into the bike lane, immediately striking Olin,” the letter from the DA’s Office stated.

At Streetsblog LA, which advocates for cyclists, Damien Newton says "the system is broken."

Because Wood didn’t want another deputy to drive to a fire that was already contained, and because the LASD allows deputies to use their on-board computers while driving, there really isn’t much the law can do to bring Wood to justice for Olin’s death. Even though the communication he was sending was far from critical.

But that doesn’t mean the rage should subside nor that there isn’t still work to be done. Despite their tragic loss, Olin’s family is trying to create something positive out of the tragedy. The Milt Olin Foundation is dedicated to making the streets safer for bicyclists through education and advocacy. Doubtless some of that advocacy will be aimed at changing the Sheriff Department’s unsafe driving rules.

As news of Wood’s legal exoneration spreads–no matter what happens in the civil trial Wood will serve no jail time for killing Olin–more and more people will want to take action of some sort. There’s already talk of sit-ins, protest rides and testifying at an upcoming Metro hearing about the LASD’s uneven record of enforcing laws as Metro’s enforcement arm.

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