The City of Kenmore is looking into using the state’s Vulnerable User Law to levy Negligent Driving in the Second Degree charges against the person who struck and killed Caleb Shoop in a crosswalk in March. He was 19.
As we reported last week, Caleb’s family was shocked and disappointed when they learned that the person who killed Caleb only received a $175 ticket for failure to yield at a crosswalk. As his mother Tammy said in an interview with Bothell/Kenmore Reporter:
“While we recognize that there is nothing that can be done to bring our son back to life, a ticket does not seem to be enough of a penalty to deter a distracted driver from taking another life,” said Tammy Shoop, Caleb’s mother. “We are disappointed that the state considers our son’s life and violent death to be worth only $175.”
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Indeed, the State of Washington passed the Vulnerable User Law in 2011 to help with situations like this, but there was no sign that any prosecutor was pursuing the negligent driving charges outlined in the law.
We asked the King County Sheriff’s Office, which issued the ticket, why negligent driving charges were not pursued. They sent us to the King County Prosecutor, whose office said once they decided against felony vehicular homicide charges, they referred the case to the City of Kenmore. So we asked Kenmore if they had plans to pursue the charges and received this answer today from spokesperson Leslie Harris:
The City Manager has requested the City’s prosecutor to further review this case in relation to the Vulnerable User Law. I’ll follow up with you once more information is available.
Meanwhile, Caleb’s parents Tammy and Ben have been active in Kenmore, urging more action to make streets safer. They have also been asking why the negligent driving charge was not brought up earlier. In fact, she says it was not mentioned by any of the detectives or lawyers she spoke with.
This is a common problem with the law. It’s one thing to pass the law, but it’s another thing to make sure all law enforcement and public attorneys know about it and how to use it.
In essence, the law fills a gap in the law where people who seriously injure or kill people while driving but did not commit a felony-level criminal offense used to only receive a simple traffic ticket.
The negligent driving charge does not aim to criminalize negligence, but it does try to make sure the penalty more closely matches the severity of the incident. The person responsible could face a 90-day license suspension and thousands in fines. It also provides chances for the person responsible to begin to make amends through driver education courses and community service.
As was shown by Heather Barnett’s case in Seattle, even years after going into effect, there is a lot of confusion and lack of familiarity with the negligent driving charge in Washington. Seattle bike lawyer John Duggan (a Seattle Bike Blog advertiser) pursued that case until the law was successfully used. But he also issued a memo to the city outlining the struggles he and his client faced just trying to get the city to use the law.
Other municipalities, like Everett following the death of Trent Graham, have used it successfully with seemingly few issues.
But there are certainly many cases where the law could have been used, but it was not. When news broke of the insulting $175 ticket, it seemed like Caleb’s case was going to be one of them. That could be changing as Kenmore reviews the case.
But this only further highlights the need for more education about the law among police and prosecutors around the state. We’re not sure what that education effort should look like, but it’s not reasonable to make another family like the Shoop’s face the insult of knowing the only penalty for killing their loved one is $175 (or $42) in the form of a traffic ticket.