It's an unfortunate reality that driving while intoxicated leads to countless car accidents in California every year. Some of these accidents kill other drivers and their passengers, if not the drunk drivers themselves. Given that all drivers should be aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, should causing a fatal accident while DUI be considered murder? A jury in San Jose thought so earlier this month when they convicted a man with multiple drunk-driving offenses on his record.
The 40-year-old Gilroy, California, man was drunk on Feb. 3, 2009, when he ran a red light in his pickup truck and broadsided a minivan. A 6-year-old boy strapped in a booster seat died instantly in the crash, which also injured his mother, father and 8-year-old brother. The man didn't deny causing the crash, but had three prior DUI convictions. Two of those required court-ordered driver education, including lessons on the risks of drunk driving.
When he first went to trial in 2010, the man was found guilty of felony drunken driving resulting in serious bodily injury -- specifically, the parents' injuries. Jurors couldn't agree that he'd committed murder, so prosecutors opted for a retrial. And earlier this month, a new jury decided to convict him on charges of second-degree murder and gross vehicular manslaughter. He faces 22 years to life in prison when he's sentenced late next month.
The man could be heard saying "It was a car accident. It was a car accident," to himself after the verdict was read. His attorney said the man took great issue with being called a murderer, despite the choice he made to drink and drive once more.
Meanwhile, the family of the boy who died in the crash is still without their son. And although the man's conviction and prison sentence may provide some closure, it won't compensate them monetarily. The critical injuries the boy's mother suffered, the boy's funeral and burial expenses and the family's emotional pain are all damages the family could choose to seek from the driver in the form of a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit in civil court. Regardless of whether he should be viewed as a murderer, it's not unreasonable to expect him to pay for his actions.
Source: Mercury News, "San Jose: Gilroy man convicted of murder in retrial of 2009 DUI crash that killed 6-year-old," Robert Salonga, May 18, 2012
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