On Dec. 8, 2013, a police car struck and killed 65-year-old cyclist Milton Olin, Jr. who was traveling in the bike lane on Mulholland Highway in Calif. Yesterday it was announced that Deputy Andrew Francis Wood would not be prosecuted in the death because he was distracted by typing into his computer on a work-related message.
Wood was returning from Calabasas High School where he had responded to a fire call. Wood was reportedly responding to a message asking whether he had completed the call. Prosecutors said that, although distracted, the officer was not acting unlawfully at the time of the accident because he was acting within the course of his duties while typing into his computer.
Investigators confirmed that Olin was in the bike lane at the time he was struck, traveling the same direction as the patrol car. Initially Wood said that Olin had swerved out of the bike lane and into the path of the patrol car, but the district attorney’s office determined that the accident happened because Wood crossed into the bike lane. Witnesses in the vehicle behind the deputy’s car told investigators that the police car failed to make a curve to the left and went into the bike lane. The witnesses saw no brake lights on the officer’s car until they saw Olin in the air.
Olin was a prominent entertainment industry attorney who was a former Napster executive from Woodland Hills. He was thrown from his bicycle and struck the patrol car’s windshield. Olin was pronounced dead at the scene with severe head injuries. Wood stated that he did not see the cyclist until he “flew into the air” after being struck.
Police officers and other emergency responders are exempted from a California state law that prohibits drivers from using wireless electronic devices while driving. Russell A. Townsley, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Detective, was quoted in the affidavit that requested Wood’s cell phone records that it appeared the deputy may have been distracted by using either the Mobile Digital Computer (MDC) in his car or using his cellular telephone.
Records subpoenaed from Wood’s cellphone service showed that he used his personal cell phone to send six text message to his wife’s number, including the final one at 1:04 p.m. which was the approximate time the accident occurred. However, Wood’s statement indicated that he was texting to his wife only while stopped at traffic signals. An incomplete message on his MDC was said to be consistent with him utilizing that device at the time of the collision.
The conclusion in the L.A. Count District Attorney Charge Evaluation Worksheet was that the investigation would need to prove that Wood was criminally negligent in the accident, but was unable to do so. It stated that it could not be determined beyond a reasonable doubt that Wood being distracted while performing his duties constituted failure to use reasonable care to prevent “foreseeable harm.” The conclusion was that there was insufficient evidence to prove the crime of vehicular manslaughter in the death of the cyclist even though the deputy was distracted by his computer, and that the file was being closed and no prosecution of the police officer would take place. Olin’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department accusing Wood of negligence.
By Beth A. Balen