Even though two reports recommended probation, a Van Nuys Superior Court judge sentenced a Los Angeles man to two years in state prison for stealing a highway worker’s truck, a crime that inadvertently caused the man’s death.
LeShawn Cummings, 29, pleaded no contest--the equivalent of a guilty plea in criminal matters--to involuntary manslaughter four months ago in a case that was initially investigated as one in a string of fatal carjackings that plagued the San Fernando Valley during the spring.
William Edward Fliehmann, a 41-year-old Whittier man, was killed in the early morning hours of April 21 when Cummings got into Fliehmann’s idling truck and drove away.
Cummings maintains that Fliehmann was at least 30 feet away setting up traffic cones on Victory Boulevard when he stole the truck, said defense attorney Tamar Rachel Toister.
Fliehmann’s body was found on the Victory Boulevard on-ramp to the southbound Hollywood Freeway. He died from massive head injuries apparently caused when he fell from the truck. Authorities say Fliehmann may have ran up to the truck as Cummings was driving away.
Authorities did not file murder charges against Cummings because they determined that he had no intention of harming Fliehmann and could not have foreseen the victim’s death.
“In this case, there was no physical evidence or other facts to show an intent to murder,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard F. Walmark.
If someone is killed during the course of certain felonies, such as robbery and burglary, the perpetrator is generally charged with first-degree murder. However, auto theft is not one of the crimes that falls under this felony murder rule.
After hearing that Cummings would probably be paroled in about one year, Fliehmann’s relatives expressed disdain for the criminal justice system.
“It’s just like another thrust of the knife,” said Pam Fliehmann, the victim’s sister-in-law.
The entire family is “dissatisfied to the max” with the outcome of the case and disturbed by some news accounts that suggested Cummings was worthy of pity because of a cocaine habit, she said.
“If people disagree with the sentencing (options) that is because of the Legislature,” Walmark said. “Our hands are tied.”
After hearing Cummings once again express remorse for the incident and after the victim’s family complained that the criminal justice system was out of control, Judge Kathryne Ann Stoltz carefully explained her decision to send Cummings to prison.
Cummings would not be placed on probation because his drug addiction necessitates intensive counseling. No residential treatment program would accept him because of his mental illness described in one report as chronic depression, the judge said.
“I think this case was a tragic accident, but it wasn’t entirely accidental or else Mr. Cummings would not be here facing criminal charges,” Stoltz said.
Cummings could have been sent to prison for a maximum of four years.