Teen who killed Przychodzen in Kirkland gets $42 ticket

$42 for an “unsafe lane change.” That is the penalty against the teenage driver who drove onto the shoulder of Juanita Drive in Kirkland and killed John Przychodzen earlier this summer.

From the P.I.:

“Unfortunately, unless a person’s driving recklessly, they’re intoxicated, (on) drugs or alcohol, then there’s really no criminal charge on this,” Kirkland Police Detective Allan O’Neill told the station.

John Przychodzen had been riding his bike home on Juanita Drive Northeast, when the teenager’s truck struck him from behind. Przychodzen, 49, of Kirkland, died at the scene.

KIRO reported that the family is now filing a lawsuit against the driver. The family’s lawyer has said the fatality was a “clear case of distracted driving,” and that based on witness statements, the driver was possibly using a cellphone.

The station also reported that the driver is “devastated” by the crash.

UPDATE: KIRO has more details and a good video report:

“His nickname was Mr. Safety,” said Chris Davis, an attorney for Przychodzen’s family.

Davis said Przychodzen was hit twice by the 18-year-old driver of a pickup truck when the driver veered sharply onto the shoulder of Juanita Drive. Przychodzen was riding on the shoulder, and was run-over from behind.”In fact, one of the witnesses claims after he was hit, he immediately yelled out, ‘What the’ — before the truck struck him again and then ran over him,” Davis said.

The Vulnerable User Bill, which was passed by the legislature and signed into law early this year, was crafted to account for exactly these kinds of situations. Often, when criminal negligence cannot be proven, there is little penalty for drivers who kill or main other road users due simply to an error (albeit, a potentially deadly one).

The Vulnerable User Law does not aim to make negligent driving a criminal offense, but it does give the state the power to suspend a license, assign higher fees and require community service in a related field. Service in a trauma center is one potential example that was thrown around, though it is up to the judge’s discretion.

Unfortunately, that bill does not go into effect until 2012. If everyone takes care and drives safely, John could be one of the last people to die on a road in Washington without that law in place.

A $42 ticket is insulting, considering the enormous effect of the driver’s actions. People have been quick to point out that the driver is surely being punished by having to live with the knowledge that he killed a person. That’s a truly heavy weight (at least it should be). But $42 is a symbolic insult to the cost of a life. There are parking tickets that cost that much.

It’s painful, but hopefully the legal recognition of fault will help the Przychodzen family get their financial burdens taken care of in civil court, which they plan to do. Condolences to them as the deal with the painful legal battles ahead.

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33 Responses to Teen who killed Przychodzen in Kirkland gets $42 ticket

  1. melinda says:

    What happened to the vulnerable road users bill here!?

  2. Sam says:

    One shouldn’t forget to mention his potential liability in a civil suit, and the small matter of living his entire life knowing he’s responsible for killing another human being. The penalty for his mistake will be a lot more than $42 in the end.

    • Shane Phillips says:

      Yeah, but he gets that penalty regardless of other penalties. I’m not equating this with a murder, but when you shoot and kill someone we don’t say “well, he’s gotta live with the fact that he killed someone for the rest of his life.” We punish them according to the seriousness of the crime, the intent, context, etc. In this case, the punishment clearly does not fit the crime.

      • Sam says:

        The question of intent goes into the actual determination of what crime or violation was committed. In this case, it’s not even clear that he was charged under the existing negligent driving law, because its maximum fine is $250. Upping the penalty when someone dies makes sense, but under the VUB he would just pay a steeper fine and/or be forced to go to traffic school. Whether he pays $42, $250, or $1,000 I have a feeling you’d still feel that the punishment “clearly” doesn’t fit the crime. The sense of outrage is understandable, but I haven’t heard anyone suggest what a supposedly fitting punishment should be.

  3. Biliruben says:

    He is just a kid. Our society shares in responsibility for this death by choosing to arm irresponsible youth with a deadly weapon.

    Raise the driving age to 25.

    Or at the very least, suspend the license for 2-5 years for any infraction that could easily take a life.

    • Mike H says:

      I once thought that we should increase the drivers age limit but I have begun to rethink that position. The only thing we have at a higher age limit is less years of actual driver experience. So instead of having an 18 year old driver with (an assumed) 2 years of experience, we have a 27 year old. The result is still the same.

      We do need to increase the quality of drivers education in our school system if we expect that our children will drive. We also need to make the drivers license test require at least some thought to pass them. And we need to make sure we re-certify drivers once they have their licenses. These will hopefully emphasize the fact that we are giving some people the privilege of having control of an instrument which if used wrong can result in the death and/or injury of the operator or other individuals if used incorrectly.

      Around 10 years ago, there was a collision in Arizona where a teenage driver was driving a truck and passed a cyclist too close. The driver got an unsafe passing ticket for something like $60. Unfortunately, this case is one of many and hopefully the proposed traffic safety summit will look at comprehensive solutions, not just political soundbites.

      • Bushman says:

        Raising the age limit for drivers would be beneficial. You’re just being foolish if you think driving is only about experience*. Operating a motor vehicle properly should require a person to be emotionally mature. Does a 16 year old have the same emotional maturity as an 18 year old? For most people the answer is “No”. How about 16 vs. 21?

        What is a reasonable age? We require individuals to be 18 before they can vote. Eighteen is a legal adult. But 18 is not always a guarantee that the individual is mature.

        I am in favor of raising the age limit for driving and making the requirements for obtaining a driver’s license more rigorous. In addition, let’s start writing stronger laws that better protect bicyclists and properly penalize the drivers that violate these laws.

        *If you want more experienced drivers then let’s require them to have more documeted hours of training.

      • Mike H says:

        I agree with you Bushman that drivers should have more training which is what I followed up on. Whether that age is 16, 18, 21, or 65, the main point is that we don’t “train” drivers with much more than handing them a manual written to describe the very minimum of situations and a 15 minute drive along with an instructor where the most challenging act is parallel parking.

  4. Anthony says:

    Biliruben’s statement is all to treu, he’s just a kid. I don’t know the particulars of this young man, and how he really feels about his mistake. In time we may know whether or not he was texting as alleged in some circles, I hope for his sake he wasn’t.

    The fine though is another story. I find it hard to believe that a regular person like myself would only get a 42 dollar fine, I suspect his lawyers(i.e., family) made either some hefty contributions or have some good political connections. Or maybe they just got lucky, of course the victims family is left with nothing.

    What a great system we have…..

  5. esther clark says:

    How could choosing to drive in a manner that kills another person not be considered reckless? That is what I don’t understand. He was obviously swerving out of his lane into another lane occupied by a cyclist, striking them from behind killing them. What could show more wanton disregard for someone’s safety than running over them and killing them?

    RCW 46.61.500 Reckless driving – Penalty.

    (1) Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving. Violation of the provisions of this section is a gross misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of not more than one year and by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars.
    (2) The license or permit to drive or any nonresident privilege of any person convicted of reckless driving shall be suspended by the department for not less than thirty days.

    • Sam says:

      “Willful or wanton” is the issue here. There’s no way to prove intent because we don’t know why he was on the shoulder.

      • Al Dimond says:

        He may have lost control due to mechanical failure of his vehicle or because of some fluky situation in the environment. Were this the case, it would be easy to verify.

        Unless something like that happened, then a decision he made while driving caused his vehicle to go onto the shoulder. It’s unlikely that he directly decided to go onto the shoulder, which would have be willfully reckless. As the police claim there was no proof of impairment or distraction, it’s unlikely that he decided to drive drunk or while txting, which would have been willfully reckless. He may have been asleep (there was some speculation about this earlier) — deciding to get behind the wheel while too tired to stay awake is a willfully reckless decision. He may have been driving too fast for the conditions and lost control — the decision to drive too fast is a willfully reckless decision. In any case where there wasn’t an unusual external factor, he must have made a willfully reckless decision that ultimately resulted in his car going off the road.

        That surely is not how courts have interpreted the law over time. The point is that the courts are wrong. Judges and juries are just people, and they don’t want to think about the raw facts and responsibilities behind driving any more than anyone else does. They find it easy to throw the book at non-violent drug offenders because they don’t do drugs themselves (and don’t recognize caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine as drugs in the same way). But they won’t throw the book at reckless drivers because they somehow identify more with reckless drivers than their innocent victims. That is a cultural problem, and to me, about the second most urgent problem our transportation system has (the biggest having to do with its role in climate change).

  6. Anthony says:

    Yeah, I see your point. But you have failed to show how he wantonly disregarded his driving. People make mistakes all the time, are you saying every one of them is a wanton act? If so, I find it highly improbable that you, myself. or any other person who has ever rode a bike or driven an automobile is guilty of such a charge. Some things are small mistakes on the drivers part, with large consequences for someone else if they happen to be on the wrong end.

    • Al Dimond says:

      Driving off the road and into someone else is a pretty huge mistake — a driver actively paying attention to his surroundings would be hard-pressed to make it. It’s impossible to know what was going on in this kid’s car, but one thing is obvious: he wasn’t paying attention to the road. If you aren’t doing that, for any reason, you’re almost certainly being reckless. If you fall asleep at the wheel, for example, your decision to drive in that state was inherently reckless.

      We need to have penalties for this sort of behavior that make people think twice before doing things that put others’ lives at risk.

    • Nickbob says:

      Penalties are meant to deter bad behavior, after all. A significant portion of the reaction to this and similar events is that ‘it was an accident!’ as if to say ‘it was god’s will!’ and that such things will happen in the normal course of things. Driving cars is dangerous, but the danger is manageable if drivers stay alert and in control. Obviously this often doesn’t happen. Guns are designed to kill, yet how often are people killed at shooting ranges? The culture in most such venues places a high value on safe behavior, so accidents are minimized. It’s unlikely to have that same mindset on the roads, but there’s a great deal of room for improvement. As long as lives are valued at $42 that’s unlikely to happen.

      • Ian Cooper says:

        I agree. I think any car accident that stems from inattention and costs a life should result in at least a $10,000 fine and a lifetime driving ban. Driving is a privilege, not a right, and mistakes that cost lives should have meaningful repercussions.

  7. Steve A says:

    I’m not sure incarceration accomplishes anything here. A $10mil civil judgement seems more appropriate, perhaps along with lifetime loss of driving privileges. Either way, the fine is a minor factor at most, whether $42 or $4200.

    • Seager says:

      It serves the purpose of being a deterrent. If drivers are scared of hitting a cyclist because they’ll get 10 years in jail, they’ll drive more carefully. There are no “accidents.” All crashes can be prevented.

  8. Steve A says:

    One point not explored. Should those responsible for approving that drivers such as this are safe and competent be shielded or exposed to liability as well? Some driving examiner signed off on the perp. Someone agreed to continue insurance. Some auto company markets their cars to such drivers and install distracting items to sell more.

    • Nickbob says:

      He was driving a company truck at the time.
      I find it interesting that neither the driver nor the company have been named in a media environment that routinely splashes names on front pages for crime suspects just arrested or sometimes simply awaiting arrest. Sure, he’s young, but also old enough to be drafted, drive and kill.

  9. Brian H. says:

    So I have found the police comments bizarre. Consider that WSDOT has gotten away from using the term accident to describe collisions. Trying to pass a cyclist where you can’t see oncoming traffic is not an accident. That plus the cops saying how we should feel sorry for the teen (who is an adult).

    I assumed that the kid has some politically connected parents.

    Seattle Times gave his name today, Nick Natale. Spending about 45 seconds finds his facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/people/Nick-Natale/100001433659913) and one of his interests is “I hate Kirkland police.”

    He should probably love them.

  10. Seager says:

    If the fear of living with the death of a person is not enough to convince people to drive safely, then they need to face the fear of jail time. If he knew that he’d jail time just for touching a person on a bike with this car, he would have been paying more attention.

    • jeanne says:

      how much time have you spent in jail? I’ve done some time. I can sleep until noon, read or watch tv all day, someone else does my laundry, someone cooks my food and cleans up after me and you get to pay for it. I would way rather do time than live the rest of my life with the knowledge I hurt or killed another person. I also know I am not a perfect driver. I have swerved before, I have been distracted by something before. The only difference between him and me was timing.

  11. esther clark says:

    Staying in your lane while driving is not really asking too much of someone, is it. Isn’t it wanton recklessness to just swerve all over the road without regard for whomever might happen to be in the path of your vehicle.

    An accident would be if your tire blew out and caused you to suddenly swerve through no fault of your own. Or if a small child ran out in front of your car and you were distracted by it and you swerved to avoid hitting them. Not you just weren’t paying attention, were fiddling with your radio, talking on your cell phone, texting or whatever.

  12. merlin says:

    Thanks for your comment, Al, about the cultural problem surrounding responsible driving. We in the US are very casual about issuing and especially about renewing drivers licenses; driver training tells drivers how to avoid getting themselves killed, but puts very little emphasis on the responsibility involved in piloting a deadly weapon on public streets. Our laws also treat driving as if it were no more dangerous than walking (or riding a bike). Part of what Tom is doing with this blog, and what I’m doing as a follower of his blog and a committed Transportation Nag, is contributing to a cultural shift that recognizes the huge costs of our national driving obsession (addiction is also an appropriate term here). It all goes together – creating the infrastructure to protect bikes from cars; getting lots of people from all walks of life out onto bikes; passing vulnerable user laws; educating drivers to their responsibilities – and gradually the culture shifts, making it possible to create more infrastructure, get more people on bikes, make more significant changes to the laws, etc. etc.

  13. Brian W. says:

    I realize this thread is a bit stale, but I wanted to add my two cents to the debate on the lack of criminal charges in this case. Someone earlier referenced the RCW for reckless driving, which requires the driver’s conduct rise to the level of “willful” or “wanton” disregard for the safety of others. Clearly that can’t be established in this case.

    However, the vehicular homicide statute does apply. RCW 46.61.520 states that someone is guilty of vehicular homicide when they drive a vehicle with “disregard for the safety of others” and a death results. I’ve ridden that section of Juanite numerous times, and I know that drivers constantly cut the inside corners, despite the fact that the curves aren’t all that sharp.

    The real miscarriage of justice here is that the county prosecutor’s office decided not to charge the driver. Obviously someone looked at the case and decided that they didn’t want to burden the driver with the consequences of such a conviction – it is a class A felony after all. But why have laws like this on the books if the prosecutor has the discretion to simply look the other way?

  14. Daniel C says:

    If someone leaves a loaded gun unattended and a toddler shoots and kills someone the gun owner is responsible for the accident. Why aren’t drivers responsible for the deadly weapon they are driving?

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