The deadly chain-reaction car crash on Pacific Coast Highway over the weekend involving Bruce Jenner has again sparked discussion about cellphones and traffic safety.
L.A .County Sheriff's Sgt. Phil Brooks said investigators have asked the former Olympic decathlon champion Jenner to produce his cellphone records in connection with Saturday's crash after a photograph was taken before the collision of him holding a phone while at the wheel. Jenner, through his spokesman. has denied he was texting and said he will fully cooperate with the investigation. Jenner's SUV was one of four vehicles in the collision. Officials said the accident might been caused by a Prius that had stopped on the highway in Malibu.
How can a minor traffic infraction lead to a vehicular manslaughter charge?
Brooks said using a cellphone without hand-free function is an infraction in California with a fine; when it leads to a death, it can be far more serious. "If they commit an illegal driving maneuver or distracted-driving offense like using cellphone, a vehicle code violation can become a vehicular manslaughter, typically a misdemeanor offense," he said. Brooks cautions it is far too early to say whether anyone will face charges in this case.
A cellphone violation during a fatal car accident may not be enough to bring a felony vehicular manslaughter charge that requires a greater degree of negligence. But it is more likely to trigger a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge, experts say. Conviction on those charges can carry up to a year in jail for each death.
What is the history of criminal charges in a cellphone use case?
California drivers have been charged with vehicular manslaughter for using a cellphone without hands-free function during a deadly collision.
A San Diego woman was charged in Orange County with vehicular manslaughter in the April 2011 death of a 23-year-old man on the 405 Freeway in Westminster. She rear-ended his car while allegedly on the phone going 84 mph. Prosecutors alleged she was so distracted that she did not brake.
How common are cellphone tickets?
In 2013, the California Department of Motor Vehicles reported more than 426,000 convictions for using a hand-held cellphone. A first-time offender faces a $162 fine, which rises to $282 for subsequent offenses.
What do we know about the woman who died in the Jenner crash?
Calabasas resident Kim Howe, 69, was known for her love of animals. At the time of the collision, Howe did not have a current driver's license in the state, according to California DMV. It expired in 2007.
Widowed in 2003 when her husband, Robert, died of a sudden heart attack two days after they closed on a multimillion-dollar home in Calabasas' exclusive Oaks community, she dedicated the rest of her life to her church, her animals and her community. "She was very stoic. A very independent lady," said Jim Pascucci, the Realtor who sold her and her husband the Calabasas property in 2003. "She carried on and was involved in charity events. She liked to travel, took care of her investments."
Property records show that Howe amassed a portfolio of properties stretching from Calabasas to Malibu to Arizona. Her husband made his money running a health-food distribution company, and the two used it to buy up real estate, Pascucci said. The home they bought in 2003 and that Howe lived in until she died Saturday was previously owned by former major league pitcher Bret Saberhagen.
"She was very sweet; she'll be sorely missed," Pascucci said. "It's just very tragic. She was at the wrong place at the wrong time."