Bellevue Police: It’s perfectly legal to crash a car into a home and crush a crib holding a sleeping baby

This is a public safety announcement from the Bellevue Police Department: Reinforce your baby’s room, because there is no law against someone crashing their car into your home and smashing into your baby’s crib.

Someone learning to drive “mistook” the gas pedal for the brake and smashed through the wall of the Hampton Greens Apartments near the Bellevue/Redmond border Tuesday morning.

The person driving continued into a baby’s room and crushed the crib where the nine-month-old boy was sleeping.

His parents rushed into the room and dug him out of the rubble that used to be his bedroom. By some miracle, the baby was not hurt.

But after only a couple hours of investigation, Bellevue Police decided that nothing illegal had transpired.

“It was purely accidental,” BPD spokesperson Seth Tyler told the Seattle Times. “Our past practice is that we don’t cite the driver in that kind of instance.”

No harm, no foul. Cars will be cars.

No charges of endangering a child. No charges of property damage. Not even a token $42 ticket for “unsafe lane change.”

Our culture of absolving people of all responsibility when — and only when — they are behind the wheel of a car is the stuff of dystopian novels. It’s a world gone mad with motor brain. When you are behind the wheel of a car, you are responsible for what happens with that car. So, accident or not, when you drive through the wall of a child’s bedroom and smash his crib around him, you are responsible for that. Nobody else is. That car did not drive itself. A person drove it.

There is no other imaginable scenario where a person could endanger a baby’s life like this and get away without any recourse. But if you are behind the wheel of a car, the law lines up to protect you.

If people cannot be held responsible for what happens to the car they drive, then cars are too dangerous to be allowed in our communities. Because all people have a right to the expectation of safety, as well as the expectation that other people will be held responsible for any harm they cause. This is a basic tenet of society.

I’m not saying we should throw this person in jail. But a ticket? A fine? Traffic school? License suspension? Something — anything — to let your community know it’s not OK to crash a car into a baby’s crib?

I mean, I’m not the crazy one here, right?

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80 Responses to Bellevue Police: It’s perfectly legal to crash a car into a home and crush a crib holding a sleeping baby

  1. Roanoke Rogue says:

    To answer your last question, you are in fact the crazy one as evidenced by you suggesting there might be an alternative to the almighty automobile. How could you suggest such a thing? ;-)

  2. Peri Hartman says:

    This does bring up a general question: when does an accident trump a law? In this case I presume a law exists that states that you shall not destroy someone’s property.

    In general, though, can claiming something is accidental always be used as an argument? Let’s say – on bicycle or by car – you run a stop sign. Why, in that case, can’t you claim it was an accident (unless you did it on purpose :) and avoid a citation?

    • Bruce Nourish says:

      Because destruction of property is a crime that requires a showing of culpability (roughly, recklessness, malicious intent, or a knowledge that one was doing wrong) whereas traffic regulations (like prohibitions against losing control of a car, or rolling through a stop sign) are strict liability offences.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strict_liability

      Both losing control of a car, and rolling through a stop sign on a bike, are equally easy to cite under the law. Our police and prosecutors (and newspapers and TV and so on) choose to treat them differently.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        So, in other words, “recklessness” is pretty subjective and not equivalent to an “accident”.

  3. Andres Salomon says:

    I have pretty mixed feelings about this. I understand that learning to drive is difficult, and I definitely hit a few (stationary) objects while learning to drive.

    That said, parents all over the country are being arrested or charged with endangering children for letting them walk to school alone, or play in playgrounds by themselves or with older siblings. Meanwhile, drivers maiming and killing people (including children) in being let off with a slap on the wrist or worse.

    This incident simply follows that trend, and points to a huge disconnect between how we view traffic “accidents” and other aspects of general safety. I’m guilty of that bias myself, and I barely even drive any more. I’m glad people like Tom (and others) are here to point out how ridiculous that disconnect is.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Sure, learning to drive can be a bumpy process. But you’re still responsible for what you hit. If you dent someone’s bumper while learning to parallel park, you still have to pay for their repairs.

      And, of course, there’s a huge difference between the bumper of someone’s parked car and a child’s crib.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        True, but is it illegal? I’m not sure. I suspect it falls into the same category as smashing someone’s house. Again, that doesn’t alleviate one from civil court.

      • kptrease says:

        The liability here is on us.

        If I wanted to learn how to use a handgun, there would undoubtedly be a learning curve. We would rightly say, hey don’t involve the rest of us in your learning curve – take it to a safe firing range, get some expert instruction, etc. But, don’t fire it on the street until you get it right, expecting a few accidents along the way.

        When the operation of a car fails, the failure can be catastrophic. The very fact that it’s so dangerous should tell us something about whether we should allow people to learn how to use one in just any context.

    • kazan says:

      You hit stuff while learning to drive? And you think this is normal?!

      Reality check: learning to drive in countries where that isn’t simply a fee you pay at the DMV starts with not driving at all. Theres mandatory lecture hours on the rules, the tech and the general operation. Then you have mandatory hours of driving with a professional, not your dad that thinks cyclists are faggots that need to be smoked. In a car with dual controls, to make sure you do not hit things even when you make a mistake. Because having a coke slip from your fingers is an accident, hitting someone or something with a 4 ton machine with power to satisfy the electricity needs of a neighborhood is criminal.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        In the US? Yes, I think hitting things while learning to drive is normal. I also think hitting things after you’ve learned to drive is normal, because of the way we’ve designed our roads.

        I’m not saying that’s a good thing.

    • Irvin Dawid says:

      You expressed yourself beautifully, Andres. In a strange way, I’m sympathetic to the student driver. But Tom’s point is not to prosecute here, but to hold her accountable in some way.

      I too am glad that “people like Tom (and others) are here to point out how ridiculous that disconnect [between how we view traffic “accidents” and other aspects of general safety] is.”

  4. Gary Yngve says:

    The baby wasn’t wearing a helmet.

  5. Hans Gerwitz says:

    My European friends simply do not believe me when I describe the American idea that drivers are not responsible for the actions of their cars.

    This story is perfect.

    Also, Gary Yngve is very funny.

    • Clark in Vancouver says:

      The other difference between this continent and Europe is that over here, a building’s wall isn’t strong enough to even stop a car.

  6. Tad says:

    That is one of the foundational concepts in our society. Accidents happen with cars. It’s nobody’s fault – just part of life. We’ve all heard the saying “I could get hit by a bus and die tomorrow.”

    Thanks, Seattle Bike Blog, for shining a light on this lunacy.

    I recall from childhood folks joking about hitting pedestrians with cars. You know, you’re in a car and the driver guns the accelerator a bit and pretends to swerve toward the pedestrian, maybe saying something like “pedestrians are worth 10 points today!” Yes, sitting down behind the wheel does terrible things to people.

    You posed the question: In what other way could someone endanger the life of a child and receive no legal consequence? Well, it’s legal to smoke around kids, isn’t it?

    • Jenny says:

      Not in the UK, or at least not in any enclosed public space. You can still smoke in your own home next to your kids, but most smokers don’t (they take their fags outside)

  7. AW says:

    This is probably the least surprising thing I’ve heard all day. That part of Bellevue has a huge number of adults learning to drive a car. Hopefully the driver will have to deal with expensive insurance claims and learn a lesson that way.

  8. Joel S. says:

    Self driving cars + appropriate insurance rate and justice for crashes by manually driven cars = no more babies endangered in cribs while sleeping.

    Soon (15-20 years) – manually driving a motor vehicle will require CDL levels of training, responsibility, and liability unless done on a private track.

    OR? Cars keep crashing while everyone thinks it’s just the price we need to pay for modern connivence.

  9. Scott says:

    This article on seattlebikeblog.com entitled “Bellevue Police: It’s perfectly legal…” is a massive misinterpretation of what actually happened. It is also a misinterpretation of what laws are and are not at play in this scenario.

    If you decided to remove this article from the site, I wouldn’t blame you.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      So you’re saying it’s not legal to crash a car into a crib? That’s music to my ears. What laws should have been applied?

    • Joel S. says:

      Why is what happened any different than if the driver had employed any other object to cause such mayhem and child endangerment? I absolutely guarantee that if this had happened because of anything besides an automobile, it would be national news. The responsible party or parties would now be at the mercy of a pitchfork wielding mob even if it was an accident.

      I cannot think of one other thing that could cause such damage and get a free pass from the public in a case like this. It is a miracle the baby survived unharmed.

    • Patrick says:

      To finish your ellipses… “to crash a car into a home and crush a crib holding a sleeping baby.” What part of that was misinterpreted or untrue?

      If your “what laws are and are not at play” part is contending that it’s misleading because reckless driving requires intent above and beyond negligence in Washington, well, that’s the point. If it is legal, the law should be changed.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        My guess is that part of the issue is that it happened on private property, not a roadway (that’s why even the token ticket for “unsafe lane change” likely wouldn’t be applicable). Of course, that doesn’t make the lack of charges any less crazy.

        Do we really need to pass a law making it illegal to drive a car into a building? I’m not convinced that’s the case, but I’m no lawyer. If that is the case, then let’s change that law. If you are so bad at driving that you crash your car into a building, then you lose your license. Ability to not drive into buildings is an extremely low bar for keeping your driving privileges. I can’t imagine it would face much opposition, right?

      • Anandakos says:

        Tom,

        “I can’t imagine…”. Oh ye of a ridiculously high level of faith. The autoistas WOULD be “out with pitchforks”, but not about the crash, about your proposal.

        In their minds, the 2.5th Amendment to the Constitution is “A well-developed method by which the illusion of personal freedom can be curtailed being necessary to the maintenance of order in society, Congress shall make no law restricting the right to drive cars anywhere and any when a citizen so desires.”

    • kommish says:

      Sooooo, Scott, got any *actual* information you want to share? Any substantive corrections to Tom’s “massive misinterpretation” of the facts and the law? Because otherwise you’re not being very helpful.

      The application of laws is really complicated (I should know, I’m a lawyer). And the facts are almost never exactly what they seem. But right now, the facts seem to be that a person who should have known better crashed their car into a building and narrowly avoided causing serious harm to another person. Bellevue PD seems to have determined that no crime occurred (ultimately, that decision is up to a prosecutor, then a jury, but the PD takes the first stab at answering that question). There are myriad possible civil remedies the baby’s family could seek, but that’s a very different legal process, and will involve the driver’s insurance company and probably not too much the driver themselves.

      But the question it seems like we’re asking is – if it’s not a crime, why not? So, Scott, if you’ve got thoughts about that, they’d be interesting to the group, I’m sure.

    • Richard says:

      The event described in the headline occurred. The police stated that no law had been broken. Both of those are indisputable facts. Tom’s headline is an entirely accurate portrayal of what the police stated.

      I think perhaps you missed the point of the headline. You know this is illegal. I know this is illegal. But the police state than no law was broken (logical equivalent to, “what happened was not illegal”). The point of the headline is to highlight the absurdity of the police response in this case.

      • Josh says:

        To be fair to Bellevue PD, the words “nothing illegal” weren’t in their quote, that’s the Seattle Times interpretation of Bellevue PD saying that “It was purely accidental. Our past practice is that we don’t cite the driver in that kind of instance.”

        Bellevue PD didn’t say that it was legal, they said that it was accidental, and that they have a practice of not pressing charges for accidental violations of the law.

        A police decision not to bring charges doesn’t mean an action was legal, it means the police have decided for some reason not to seek prosecution. Sometimes that’s because of police bias (how common were lynching prosecutions in the 1930s?), sometimes it reflects a belief there isn’t enough evidence that a jury would convict, sometimes it reflects a misunderstanding of the law (when a cyclist gets hit riding in the middle of a narrow lane, and the police assign fault to the cyclist for being there rather than to the driver for hitting them, because they believe the cyclist shouldn’t have been there.)

        Bellevue PD didn’t say why they have a practice of allowing negligent drivers to avoid defending themselves in court. They didn’t say it was legal, just that they’re not going to attempt enforcement.

  10. Tom Fucoloro says:

    The person learning is 34.

    • jay says:

      Earlier you wrote: ” you still have to pay for their repairs” I’m sure that will be a lot more than any conceivable ticket, sure there is insurance, but there is likely some deductible, plus the rates for the owner of the car will probably go up.
      When I started reading I was thinking, what does Tom want? jail time? (that was before I got to where you said you didn’t) if this had been a kid I’d expect them to be grounded till they are 18 or leave the house which ever comes last, after trashing the (presumably) parents car.
      Since the driver was an adult, it could be more interesting, I can imagine the embarrassment of wrecking a friends car (or worse yet, a spouse’s car, in which case one may never hear the end of it) is far worse than getting an anonymous traffic ticket.
      Sure, this is only one individual who is embarrassed, the population on the whole isn’t going to change their attitude because of it, but a ticket wouldn’t change things either, maybe public flogging? But remember, it is not too uncommon for bad drivers to DIE, if capitol punishment (albeit administered by karma not man) is not a determent, I figure we’ll have to wait for either self driving cars or $10 gasoline increasing the demand for alternatives to driving.
      Did you hear about the huge air bag recall? seems some of those air bags can actually kill drivers, I imagine we’ll see a lot better behavior from drivers for at least a little while until they get their replacements installed. . . Or not.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I want police to make it clear that this isn’t OK, that nobody should have to live in fear that at any moment their child’s crib could be crushed by a car.

      The fact that the baby survived may be a miracle, but this wasn’t a tornado or bolt of lightning. It was an adult behind the wheel of a car.

      I want the police to say to the press, “Driving is a privilege, and you are responsible for what happens when you’re behind the wheel.” Then I want BPD and prosecutors to at least try to find a citation or way to make sure she doesn’t drive again without professional driver’s ed training (maybe as part of a negligent driving charge? I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know all the possible citations or charges).

      It’s not about being vindictive. I’m sure it’s not fun to be her right now. But the actions of the police and prosecutor represent the people’s best interest, and dismissing any intention of citation or charge after a couple hours of investigation sends a message that they will not take seriously any harm you cause, so long as you do it with a car. (And citing that as department policy is even worse)

      I mean, come on. We give out tickets for having your dog off leash, riding a bicycle without a helmet or even having grass in your planting strip that’s too tall. I think we can find a ticket for driving a car into a crib.

      Actions have consequences, accident or not. And your car is your responsibility whether you suck at driving or not.

    • Richard says:

      jay, I don’t speak for Tom, but I’d be happy with license restrictions/limitations as a standard course of action when someone fails in their responsibilities so egregiously. Currently, almost nothing about how driving is treated by law really establishes it as a serious responsibility. The initial 16yo driving test is pretty much it, and it’s treated more as a rite of passage than an actual assumption of responsibility, and then forgotten within a year or two. You could argue tickets establish driving as a responsibility, but ask the average individual and most people think of tickets as a government mechanism for generating funds (despite the fact that in all honesty, traffic safety is the one way a police department has the absolute most potential to save lives).
      We need to treat this as a responsibility – and when someone proves incapable of handling it, don’t allow them that responsibility any further. That’s simple common sense.

  11. Jan says:

    The fact that someone is not cited under criminal law doesn’t mean that society endorses this behavior. I would be very surprised if the parents are not right now consulting with attorneys to bring a civil complaint against the driver: under general negligence principles, I expect that the driver is liable for all of the physical damages he/she caused plus emotional distress/pain and suffering and what not. He’s on the hook for big bucks here. That said, I certainly would not object if we modified criminal statutes to say that an “accident” that arises from negligence (as opposed to, say, something truly out of your control, i.e., a rock flying into your window and hitting you in the face) results in criminal penalties.

    • William Wilcock says:

      I am afraid that the author seems to have totally lost it. In my life have been in a running race where I accidentally tripped somebody from behind (my carelessness) who broke their arm and I once knocked over a pedestrian on my bike when a brake cable broke (my fault for not replacing it) and in neither case was I cited by the police. The liability for these sort of things comes in the civil courts and more effectively for motorists by escalated insurance rates. There are plenty of things wrong with driving in the US relative to other countries (allowing people to drive to young, feeble drivers ed, overly easy driving tests, poorly designed roads, unclear signage etc) but criminalizing all accidents is not sensible path.

      • Brian T says:

        The important differences between your examples and this case is that you don’t need a state-issued license to engage in running or bicycling, largely because those activities aren’t anywhere near as likely to cause serious damage to people or property. Our society — ostensibly — puts a greater responsibility on motor vehicle operators. So, one of the primary points Tom and some commenters are making here is that surely there must be some sort of citation that could be issued for this. The wide gulf between the police’s reaction to this instance in which the baby was somehow not harmed and what we would hope the reaction would be if the baby were harmed is jarring and inexplicable. I agree that jail time is inappropriate. But nothing? Not a word? Wow.

  12. onshay says:

    Funny how people serve prison time for leaving a baby in a car but not for hitting a baby with one…

  13. RDPence says:

    Just because this driver may not be subject to a criminal citation doesn’t mean she won’t be held “responsible.” She is directly responsible for all the damage done to the home, inside and out, not to mention the emotional and psychological damage she inflicted on the family. Just because it’s an accident doesn’t mean she’s off the hook.

    • Nathanael says:

      Unfortunately, it does seem to mean that she’s off the hook. *Specifically* she’s going to be allowed to keep driving. Really?!?

      It’s like practicing with your handgun in someone else’s back yard and accidentally shooting up their house. We *would* file criminal charges and we *would not* issue a handgun permit.

      • Russ R says:

        Actually, I’ll bet in that scenario you could also plead “it was an accident” and probably get off with zero repercussions.

  14. jn says:

    “There is no other imaginable scenario where a person could endanger a baby’s life like this and get away without any recourse.”

    Not true. Remember, you can throw an explosive device into a crib and severely injure a child without repercussions. As long as you’re a cop.

  15. 1) Driving a car is a privilege, licensed by society to competent individuals
    2) Crashing your car into other people (in cribs or otherwise) displays incompetence
    3) These people should not have licenses to drive.

    The End

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  17. Joe Biel says:

    I find the greatest malicious omission in this story to be that it doesn’t answer the question on everyone’s mind: IS THE CAR GOING TO BE OKAY?

  18. Pingback: Driver Smashes Through House, Hits Baby in Crib. Police: No Biggie! | Streetsblog.net

  19. Kimberly Kinchen says:

    I’d be very interested to know if the adult driving student had a learner’s permit. I’m fairly certain you have to have at least passed the written test and have that permit before you can start behind the wheel instruction, and in a case where the “student driver” had no learner’s permit, would the “instructor”, i.e., the spouse, in fact be legally liable in this case? IANAL, just wondering. And frankly wondering if the police even asked that question.

  20. Pingback: Driver Smashes Through House, Hits Baby in Crib. Police: No Biggie! | Stocktonguy234

  21. Jon Webb says:

    Suppose you are operating a piece of heavy machinery in a factory or at a construction site and you accidentally seriously injure or kill another worker. There will be an investigation, and if you are found not to have acted either intentionally or recklessly, you will face no criminal charges.
    This is the way the law works. People who make mistakes are not criminals.
    In the case of this crash, the driver’s insurance company will pay for damages to the house, and if there had been an injury to the baby, hospitalization, pain and suffering, and, if necessary, a death benefit would have been paid, too.
    In other words, the law treats damages caused by a person as a civil matter, not a criminal matter. This does not mean there is no law against it. It just means that it is not a criminal matter.
    As a regular cyclist, I think this should change. Requiring drivers who cause an accident to attend a training course makes sense to me. But I don’t think juries would go along with criminalizing unintentional behavior that is not demonstrably reckless.
    And I wish my fellow cyclists would recognize the difference between criminal and civil penalties, and realize that just because the law does not prescribe a criminal punishment for a behavior does not mean “there is no law against it.”

    • Nathanael says:

      This was inherently reckless. Going out on a public road near other people’s houses with such a low level of competence that the driver could “mistake the gas for the brake” is reckless.

      By the time I first started driving on public roads, I’d been practicing in large, empty parking lots long enough to know the difference between the brake and the gas.

      • Brian T says:

        I practiced in a cemetery. [Insert joke about dead people here.]

      • Josh says:

        Pedal misapplication accidents are surprisingly common, even among experienced drivers.

        Auto makers have made various engineering changes in cars to make them less common, such as interlocks that won’t let an automatic out of Park unless you’re stepping on the brake, but they still happen with depressing frequency. (For example, NHTSA studied “2,411 pedal misapplication crashes between 2004 and 2008 contained in the North Carolina State crash database” – that’s over 400/year just in NC.)

        The truth is, human beings really are not designed to drive cars.

        http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/nti/pdf/811597.pdf

  22. Russ R says:

    Thank goodness the baby was okay… but it really makes you wonder- what would the Bellevue Police Dept have done if the baby was killed?
    Still “no harm, no foul”??
    Just let them fight it out in civil court?

    Seems hard to believe… yet, if there was some process to file/press/ticket/reprimand them with in that scenario, it follows that it might also apply in this situation.

  23. Hello Seattle Bike Blog and followers. My name is Officer Seth Tyler, and I’m the Public Information Officer for the Bellevue Police Department. I’d like to take a moment to respond to some of the comments that were made here and elsewhere regarding our decision to not cite or arrest the driver in this case. Any comments made to media about the decision not to arrest or cite the driver in this incident were made by me after consulting with the investigating officer, so allow me to provide some context in this decision.

    First, there is a big difference between criminal liability and civil liability. Someone may not be criminally liable in a certain case, but can still be held civilly liable. Our job as law enforcement is not to determine fault, that is the job of the various insurance companies that will undoubtedly be involved in this case. The accident investigator that responded to this incident, who has over 20 years of experience, is responsible for completing a thorough crash investigation, and determining if there is probably cause that any criminal offense has occurred. Criminal liability often times requires a mental state, or an intent to commit the crime. For example, in order for someone to be convicted of reckless driving, the prosecutor would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the driver involved displayed a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. In laymen’s terms for this particular case, that means that the driver intended to drive her vehicle into the building. The facts of this case simply do not support that charge. So the investigating Officer would then move on to the next lesser crime of negligent driving in the first degree and see if that would apply. Negligent driving first degree is when a driver operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property, and exhibits the effects of having consumed liquor or marijuana or any drug. The driver in this case was not impaired by drugs or alcohol, so that charge wouldn’t apply. Moving to the lowest offense of Negligent Driving in the second degree, an infraction, a person is guilty of negligent driving in the second degree if, under circumstances not constituting negligent driving in the first degree, he or she operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property. It is an affirmative defense to negligent driving in the second degree, however, that the involved driver was operating the motor vehicle on private property with the consent of the owner. The parking lot of this apartment complex was indeed private property, and as there were no signs prohibiting entry it can be assumed that she had permission to be there. Other charges that were suggested by commenters, such as improper lane change or inattention to driving, are only enforceable on a public roadway or highway, so those wouldn’t apply here either.

    What we are ultimately left with in this case, then, is a driver who, through their insurance provider, and likely personally, will be civilly liable to pay for all damages caused as a result of this incident. Our investigator has assisted in this process by completing a thorough accident investigation, which will appear on the driver’s state accident record, and will also be made available to insurers for use in determination of fault and liability.

    In closing, we do not condone driving through buildings.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Thanks for responding.

      “The parking lot of this apartment complex was indeed private property, and as there were no signs prohibiting entry it can be assumed that she had permission to be there.”

      But surely you don’t need a sign prohibiting someone from driving in your baby’s room, correct? I mean, she didn’t have permission to be there. I’m confused and simply cannot believe there’s no law against this.

    • William C. says:

      Thanks for explaining.

      If I understand correctly, you’re saying that because the driver had permission to be in the parking lot of the apartment complex, he had (as far as the Negligent Driving ordinance is concerned) permission to drive anywhere in the complex, including into an apartment. Wouldn’t tenant protection laws (at least) apply here? If the landlord gave someone permission to walk into a complex, he couldn’t be charged with trespassing for being in the parking lot, but he still couldn’t enter a tenant’s home. Why would someone driving a car be more protected?

      • Seth Tyler says:

        It’s not that the driver was more or less protected by the law than someone on foot in this case, it is that the circumstances were such that there was no criminal liability but a great deal of potential civil liability. Tenant protection laws are civil, and trespassing wouldn’t apply as that would require a mental state. While it may be frustrating that the driver in this case didn’t end up in handcuffs, we did a thorough investigation, and this crash will appear on the driver’s record and be used by the insurance companies.

      • William C. says:

        So someone who breaks into an apartment would not be criminally charged, unless the landlord had not put up “no trespassing” signs around his parking lot (i.e. “as there were no signs prohibiting entry it can be assumed that she had permission to be there”)? If that’s the case, I’m very surprised.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        William, he’s saying that it would depend upon intent. If you entered an apartment that you knew was not yours without permission, you could be criminally charged with trespassing. If you were honestly mistaken because all of the (unlocked) apartment doors look the same (and maybe you’d had a few drinks), you would not be charged with trespassing if you ended up in the wrong apartment.

        The analogy isn’t really relevant, though, because we’re talking about negligence. The driver only intended to be in the parking lot, where they had (implicit) permission to be. As far as the apartment, I don’t think “negligent trespass with property damage” is a thing.

        The (criminal) question is whether you think this is a case of negligence or not. If she wasn’t a good enough driver to be able to tell the difference between the gas and the brake, should she have been behind the wheel next to an apartment building? She was in charge of a multi-ton vehicle; would a reasonable person with her lack of driving experience foreseen creating such drastic property damage and the potential for injury by starting up her car? Should she be learning to drive in close proximity to other people? Perhaps her driving teacher should have driven her out to an empty parking lot, where the only thing she could damage was light poles or other (empty) cars. Clearly the Bellevue PD feels that it’s not negligent, and given our blasé attitude towards driving, that’s unsurprising.
        :(

      • Josh says:

        If a pedestrian is hit by a car and thrown through an apartment window, there’s no intent to enter the apartment, so they won’t be charged with trespassing.

        If a skydiver’s chute fails and he falls through the roof, there’s no intent to enter the apartment, no charges of trespassing.

        If you can suggest some way in which someone could break into an apartment without any intent to enter the apartment, then yes, there would be no basis for trespassing charges.

        That doesn’t mean any of these things is OK, just that there isn’t the intent required for a criminal charge.

        The problem is with laws that require bad intent, rather than merely the absence of due care, for negligence in inherently dangerous activities like driving heavy motorized vehicles around people.

      • JRF says:

        Well I guess I know how to avoid those pesky Bellevue parking tickets in the future – next time I will park for free inside of a child’s room.

    • Matthew says:

      Your key error is assuming that someone’s first floor residence was part of the apartment’s private parking lot.

      If even this is not inattentive driving, your investigator has set a gravely dangerous precedent. I’ll play along and presume there was no intent. But the car operator affirmatively lacked the capability to safely operate their car. By declining criminal charges (and the subsequent license revocation that would surely follow), you’ve enabled him or her to do this again.

      • Josh says:

        I doubt the defense attorney would have any difficulty convincing the jury that the negligent act, hitting the gas instead of the brake, took place in the parking lot, where the driver was allowed by the property owner. Slamming through the apartment was the consequence of that negligent act, but the act itself happened when the driver was covered by the private property/allowed use defense.

        We might not like it that this defense would work, but our legal system operates under generations of intentional choices to reduce the legal liability of driving.

      • Irvin Dawid says:

        I agree. Why can’t the cops suspend this person’s license until they show they have the ability to know the difference between brake and accelerator pedals? Well stated, Matt.

  24. Herbie says:

    RCW 46.61.525
    Negligent driving — Second degree.

    (1)(a) A person is guilty of negligent driving in the second degree if, under circumstances not constituting negligent driving in the first degree, he or she operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property.

    (b) It is an affirmative defense to negligent driving in the second degree that must be proved by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence, that the driver was operating the motor vehicle on private property with the consent of the owner in a manner consistent with the owner’s consent.

    (c) Negligent driving in the second degree is a traffic infraction and is subject to a penalty of two hundred fifty dollars.

    (2) For the purposes of this section, “negligent” means the failure to exercise ordinary care, and is the doing of some act that a reasonably careful person would not do under the same or similar circumstances or the failure to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under the same or similar circumstances.

    (3) Any act prohibited by this section that also constitutes a crime under any other law of this state may be the basis of prosecution under such other law notwithstanding that it may also be the basis for prosecution under this section.

    • Lulea says:

      Based on this it seems clear that negligent 2nd degree driving did occur. Having permission to drive in a parking lot is very different than having permission to drive the building next to the lot. Also the reasonably careful person portion was not met by the driver.

  25. jay says:

    “It is an affirmative defense …. in a manner consistent with the owner’s consent”

    Well, I guess that defense is out the window, but…

    “Negligent driving in the second degree is a traffic infraction and is subject to a penalty of two hundred fifty dollars.”

    The damage to that car (presumably belonging to the husband of the driver) is many times that, and by the time the lawsuits are over I’d imagine they’ll be looking at a couple* orders of magnitude more, so how much difference would a ticket really make?
    Of course since nobody drives with a suspended license, suspending her learners permit might be a good idea. On the other hand if she made it 34 years without learning how to drive, I wouldn’t be any too surprised if this incident discouragers her from ever driving. Clearly this is not some teenager who thinks driving is the most important thing in the world, this is a woman of child bearing age who came within a hairs breadth of killing an infant, is there anything the state (city, county, whoever) could do to her that would be worse?
    People already know that it is not ok to drive cars into babies cribs (even if they don’t act like it, they do know), but they all think “I’d never do that” so even making an example of this driver won’t accomplish anything. A better use of the police’s time would probably be ticketing speeders, the people who do receive a ticket will then personally know there are consequences to something they could, and indeed did, willfully do themselves.

    Now if one really want’s to be incensed, take a look at the state driver’s guide, it is just a guide and I don’t know the applicable code, but still…
    “Juvenile Alcohol/ Drug/ Firearms Violations
    If you are age 13 through 17 and convicted of a first alcohol or firearm violation, or age 13 through 20 and convicted of a first drug violation, your driving privilege will be revoked for one year or until age 17, whichever is longer.
    For a second offense your driving privilege will be revoked for two years, or until age 18, whichever is longer.”

    Wouldn’t you think that the very first violation would mean no driving at all until say, 21, and then an intermediate license until 30 or so? but no, one can have TWO violations and still drive at 18!

    * https://xkcd.com/1070/ five seems unlikely, but three is maybe possible

  26. Jon Webb says:

    Here’s an idea. Instead of distorting what the police did, or expecting them to enforce a law that doesn’t exist, why not work on changing the law? Imagine a law that required that drivers who, intentionally or not, significantly injured or killed a pedestrian or cyclist, or who caused significant property damage, would have to take a driver retraining course and not allowed to drive until they had been retested. That law would make a huge difference in ensuring that in cases like this there was some consequence, and it might have a chance of passage in sympathetic state legislatures.

    • William C. says:

      That is a great idea, which I would wholeheartedly support.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      We did pass that law! The 2nd degree negligent driving charge mentioned above was created thanks to the Vulnerable User Law, passed a few years ago (thanks to lots of hard work by advocates and legislators).

      It’s specifically not criminal, but allows the justice system to suspend licenses, issue fines or mandate traffic school or community service in the case where someone driving causes great damage or injury but wasn’t criminally negligent. It seems like a great law to use here.

      • Jon Webb says:

        Except that, as Ofc. Tyler explains above, the 2nd degree negligent driving charge requires proof of negligence on the part of the driver.
        I’m not going to argue whether or not the fact of the accident proves negligence (though I know that’s what people want to argue about); I’m not a lawyer. What I’m saying is, why not have a law that doesn’t require proof of negligence at all? You significantly injure or kill a pedestrian or cyclist, or cause significant property damage, you get traffic school and a retest. Period.

      • Richard says:

        Proof of negligence is distorted by society, and that distortion is greatly enhanced by decisions like this by law enforcement and prosecutors. The law defines negligence as simply failing to take precautions that a reasonable person would take. A reasonable person would take the necessary precautions to prevent driving their car through a house.

        Yes, that’s going to be a hard sell to a jury that is *accustomed* to thinking in the ‘accidents happen’ frame of mind – but declining to prosecute because it’s hard actually REINFORCES that twisted perspective, turning the whole societal perspective into a self-propagating downward spiral.

        Not to mention, if I tried to tell my boss I didn’t want to do something because it was hard, I wouldn’t last very long.

      • Jon Webb says:

        As a sympathetic (fellow cyclist) assistant D.A. once told me, they are sworn to not prosecute a case if they don’t think they can get a conviction. So if the defendant’s lawyer could cite case law where negligence had been interpreted in the way Ofc. Tyler interpreted it, and I’m pretty much certain they could, then the D.A. would be required not to prosecute the case.
        The solution is to stop requiring proof of negligence. It’s not necessary. If you hit someone who was just riding their bike or walking along the road, or run your car into a house, you shouldn’t have done that. Most drivers don’t. Even if you were otherwise doing everything right, you need retraining.

  27. E.S. says:

    This ridiculous idea that every bad thing that could happen should be criminalized is the reason we pay more for prisons than we do for schools. It is a very privileged view.

    It was an crazy accident and a mistake, nothing more, nothing less. Just because assholes intentionally run over bikes on the roadway with the same kind of equipment, does not mean this situation is completely analogous to that.

    “The solution is to stop requiring proof of negligence.”

    Insane. I mean, if you’re actually sane, you know that proof of negligence is should most definitely required. Otherwise, someone who had a unexpected stroke on the highway would be culpable for their car’s actions after loss of consciousness.

    • JRF says:

      Ticketing the driver under the Negligent Driving 2nd Degree would be a non-criminal citation. Seems entirely appropriate.

      I don’t think “proof of negligence” would be required here – I find it unlikely that this person would have attempted to contest their ticket.

  28. Allan says:

    This event shows drivers what they can get away with. If you can run into a house, surly you can hit a bicycle, how could you help it if the bike is right there in the road. It is time for a massive protest, and soon. We need to overhaul thinking in this country,

  29. Allen says:

    Your article has endangered me emotionally. I need some “recourse”.

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