Recently, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one man was killed and two others were injured when their car crashed into a utility pole. At the moment of impact, it is believed that the car was traveling at approximately 100 mph in an area where the posted speed limit was 35 mph. While it is not known whether or not charges have been filed yet, I can expect that various criminal charges will be filed, including Homicide by Vehicle and Recklessly Endangering Another Person.
Excessive Speed and Accident May Result in Homicide by Vehicle Charges
In order to be charged with Homicide by Vehicle, in violation of 75 Pa.C.S. § 3732, a person must recklessly or with gross negligence cause the death of another person while violating any law applying to the operation or use of a vehicle. A charge of Recklessly Endangering Another Person, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 2705, charges a person with a misdemeanor offense if "he recklessly engages in conduct which places or may place another person in danger of death or serious bodily injury." In order to be convicted and satisfy the mens rea requirement of "recklessness," a person must consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk.
Was the Driver "Reckless"?
The driver may argue that driving at an excessive speed alone is merely negligent and not "reckless" as required to justify the charges. Such an argument is supported by the decision of Commonwealth v. Heck in which the court held that only ordinary negligence in not sufficient to justify a conviction of Homicide by Vehicle. In this case, because the driver caused the death of one of the passengers and the perceived cause of the accident was excessive speed, the only element left to prove would be whether or not the driver was reckless or grossly negligent.
In considering whether a person was "reckless" or merely negligent, a jury is always instructed to consider the totality of the circumstances. In this case, factors such as such as the amount of traffic, nature of the roadway, weather conditions, etc. are considered. In this case, the driver was traveling on a narrow, two-lane neighborhood road at 5:15 p.m., a time when many people are traveling home so the roadway is heavily populated, and these factors are likely to support a finding that the man acted "recklessly." In this case, I expect that the man will be charged with Homicide by Vehicle and Recklessly Endangering Another Person. Hopefully the man hires a good criminal defense attorney to provide representation to try and obtain a favorable resolution that would include in-home detention and probation as opposed to jail time.