As a driver you must be aware of your surroundings; whether that is the car in the adjacent lane or a pedestrian walking across the street. Looking down for one second is all it takes for the unforeseen to become a reality.
A New Jersey Appeals Court in State v. Sene stated that an automobile is not required to have actually struck a pedestrian for the driver to be convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal accident. The court stated that if the driver has a reasonable belief that he/she was “involved” in an accident, then the driver is guilty of leaving the scene if he/she does not stay.
The case involves a December 2011 death of a pedestrian who was run over by a jitney on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City. The defendant was driving his cab in the same direction as the jitney. The pedestrian stepped onto the road, fell backward, was run over by the jitney and was pronounced dead. The jitney driver stopped immediately. There was no conclusive evidence that the defendant’s cab had struck the pedestrian and the defendant had left the scene. The defendant parked around the corner, returned to the scene, but left again without speaking to anyone.
The defendant’s cab was later identified after police viewed videotape from the jitney and from surrounding security cameras.
The defendant was convicted by a jury of leaving the scene of a fatal accident in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5.1. A trial judge sentenced the defendant to five years in prison and ordered him to pay $5,000.00 in restitution.
The defendant appealed alleging that contact between his vehicle and the victim was a necessary element of the crime. The appeals court disagreed.
The applicable statute states in pertinent part that, “a motor vehicle operator who knows he [or she] is involved in an accident and knowingly leaves the scene of that accident” is guilty of a second degree crime if there is a fatality.
The defendant argued that he was never involved in an accident as there was no contact between his vehicle and the victim.
The court rejected the defendant’s argument. In this case, the defendant saw the pedestrian fall backward and be run over by the jitney. The court stated that under those facts, a reasonable person would know that he had been involved in an accident. The court stated that a driver whose actions contribute to an accident, and who knew of a causal relationship, must not leave the scene of the accident.
The court’s ruling is a statement to all drivers to be aware of their surroundings and, if applicable, to stop if they “reasonably” know they have been involved in an accident. On a different note, the wrongful death of the pedestrian cannot be overlooked. The attorneys at Gale & Laughlin have handled numerous matters involving traffic violations as well as personal injury/wrongful death claims. Contact us today for help.