Distracted Driving Accident Results in Prison Sentence Intended by Judge as a Deterrent

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by | Nov 20, 2012 | Auto Accidents

A Massachusetts judge imposed the maximum allowable sentence on a teen convicted of motor vehicle homicide, calling it a deterrent to distracted driving. “Distracted driving” refers to driving while also using a mobile device, such as a cell phone, in a way that takes one’s attention off the road. In the present case, prosecutors alleged that the teen was not paying attention because he was sending and receiving text messages. The case was reportedly the first prosecution in Massachusetts for motor vehicle homicide resulting from distracted driving in the state, and it demonstrates that courts are taking notice of the dangers distracting driving presents.

At about 2:36 p.m. on February 20, 2011, a car driven by Aaron Deveau, who was 17 years old at the time, crossed the center line of a street in Haverhill, Massachusetts. The car struck a car driven by 55 year-old Donald Bowley head-on, causing Bowley to suffer severe head trauma. Bowley died at the hospital eighteen days later. His passenger was reportedly not seriously injured.

Prosecutors alleged that Deveau was texting shortly before and at the time of the accident. Deveau admitted to sending and receiving as many as two hundred text messages throughout that day, but he claimed that his last text message before the accident was three minutes earlier, at 2:33 p.m. Phone records presented by prosecutors, however, showed that Deveau’s phone was used to send a text message at 2:34 p.m., and that it received a reply at 2:35 p.m., within one minute of the collision. This led prosecutors to insinuate that Deveau might have deleted some text messages from his phone after the accident.

Deveau was charged with motor vehicle homicide, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, mobile phone use while driving, and several other offenses relating to distracted driving. He pleaded not guilty, and the case proceeded to jury trial in late May 2012. Deveau denied sending or receiving text messages prior to the accident, and maintained that the phone was in the passenger seat while he was driving. He testified that he had recently left work at a nearby grocery store and was distracted by thoughts of school work. The jury convicted him of motor vehicle homicide, and the judge imposed the maximum two-year prison sentence on June 6. The judge described the sentence as a “message of deterrence” to drivers who might not appreciate the laws regarding distracted driving.

Thirty-eight states have enacted bans on texting while driving. Massachusetts, where this case occurred, bans texting while driving by all drivers throughout the state, making it a primary law that police can enforce in the absence of any other alleged offense. Missouri only prohibits texting while driving by novice drivers. Even in the absence of specific criminal prohibitions, courts have begun to recognize that texting while driving and other forms of distracted driving breach every driver’s duty to operate their vehicles safely. This can help make a case for negligence in a civil suit for damages.

Auto accident attorney Doug Horn is an advocate for safe driving in the greater Kansas City area. He represents the rights of people who have suffered injuries or lost loved ones due to the negligent or illegal conduct of others. Contact us today online or at (816) 795-7500 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.