Archive for Friday, October 12, 2007

Victim’s parents demand ‘justice’

Stricter law urged after driver who killed daughter received probation and fine

October 12, 2007

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Family of slain teen want legislators to tighten vehicular homicide laws

Tragedy altered the lives of a Tonganoxie couple. The man who caused a Valentine's Day accident that killed Amanda Bixby paid a fine and served only a probation for his actions. Bixby's parents want the state's vehicular homicide laws changed. Enlarge video

— Dennis and Denise Bixby, of Tonganoxie, are on a mission.

But it's not for them, they said. It's so someone in the future doesn't see a loved one killed in a traffic accident, and the person responsible walk away with a $170 fine.

"Dads aren't supposed to retire from being dads. I unfortunately had to. My wife had to retire from being a mom. We've got nothing better to do but to hang around the Statehouse and get this thing changed," Dennis Bixby said.

The Bixbys and others testified Thursday to a House-Senate committee, urging legislators to tighten laws concerning vehicular homicide.

Their 19-year-old daughter, Amanda Bixby, was killed by Ricardo Flores on Feb. 14 when Flores ran a stop sign and hit Bixby's car and another vehicle on U.S. Highway 24-40 just west of Basehor. Amanda Bixby died at the scene, and 16-year-old Katlynn Witt was seriously injured in the other vehicle hit by Flores.

Officers initially cited Flores, of Lansing, for vehicular homicide, failure to yield and driving without a license. Under law, vehicular homicide is a Class A misdemeanor carrying a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

But shortly afterward, Leavenworth County Attorney Frank Kohl refused to pursue vehicular homicide charges against Flores.

Kohl said a 2002 Kansas Supreme Court ruling in State of Kansas v. Bala Krovvidi held that the mere fact that a driver ran a red light or a stop sign did not satisfy the legal elements required for a vehicular homicide conviction.

Flores pleaded no contest to failure to yield at a stop sign, speeding and driving without a valid license. Last month, Flores was ordered to pay $250 in fines and court costs and spend six months on probation.

"It's senseless," Dennis Bixby said.

"The frustration is just out the roof," Denise Bixby said.

Robin Jones, a family friend and Sunday school teacher to Amanda, said, "There hasn't been any justice in this case."

The Bixbys said the threshold should be lowered to charge someone with vehicular homicide, and they say the state should require that people involved in serious accidents get tested for drugs and alcohol. Flores was apparently tested only for alcohol.

But the family got some pushback from prosecutors.

John Wheeler, who serves as Finney County prosecutor, testified that as tragic as some traffic deaths are, they don't always involve negligence that is out of the ordinary.

And, he said, in the eyes of the law, the fact that Amanda was a beloved member of the community and Flores was an illegal immigrant, has no bearing on the case.

"Who you are matters to the community, but not to us," Wheeler said.

Karen Whittman, a senior assistant district attorney in Shawnee County, said it is difficult to win a vehicular homicide conviction from juries because at some point everyone has driven negligently - exceeding the speed limit, running a stop sign or drifting into another lane.

"I can't sell it to them," Whittman said.

Vehicular homicide is the unintentional killing of a person in the operation of a motor vehicle in a way that "constitutes a material deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would observe under the same circumstances."

The Bixbys said the fact that Flores didn't have a driver's license could have triggered a vehicular homicide charge but prosecutors who testified to the committee said not having a license didn't cause the wreck.

And in response to the call for more drug testing at accident scenes, Whittman said sometimes more training of law enforcement is needed rather than a new law.

Ed Klumpp, speaking on behalf of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, said his "gut reaction" would be to support mandatory drug testing at accident scenes, but he said there were constitutional questions about such seizures of evidence without probable cause.

State Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, and state Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, said they hoped to work with the committee to introduce legislation for the session that starts in January.

State Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked legislative staff for a complete review of court decisions on the vehicular homicide law.

"We need to determine the facts before we can form any judgment on this issue. It is a very complex issue, it is a very emotional issue but we have to be careful to avoid allowing emotions to cloud our good judgment," Vratil said.

Comments

jmadison 7 years, 6 months ago

The Kansas Supreme Court once again disrespects the rights of victims. What a bunch of worthless individuals.

bd 7 years, 6 months ago

The ACLU most likely will help him????

EYE FOR AN EYE!

Larry Bauerle Jr. 7 years, 6 months ago

I guess those of you responding so far have always been perfectly attentive drivers. Heaven forbid any of you are ever involved in a crash crash. Sometimes bad things happen. It no, it shouldn't matter who you are. Now as to his status here, that is a different question.

DBAWalt 7 years, 6 months ago

I guess those of you responding so far have always been perfectly attentive drivers. Heaven forbid any of you are ever involved in a crash crash[sic]. Sometimes bad things happen. It no[sic], it shouldn't matter who you are. Now as to his status here, that is a different question.

I am sorry, but you have it backward.

Because this ..um ..person is allowed to 'get away with' killing someone, then I should not have to be a perfectly attentive driver. Why should I not talk on my cell phone, or just ignore the stop signs, as this case shows that there are no penalties if someone dies from my negligence. You posting says that you think people should be ok with that. I vehemently disagree.

I don't know what the answer IS, but a fine of $170 when someone dies as a result of the commission of a crime is stupidly inappropriate.

I do not know the specific laws, but if someone dies (even from natural causes) during the commission of a felony, it is murder. I think there should be (or maybe already is) something similar for misdemeanors

costello 7 years, 6 months ago

I agree with Nick and ThatGirl. I would venture to guess that anyone who has driven for more than a few years has been negligent in driving to some degree. Usually we're are lucky enough to avoid an accident. And if we do have an accident, usually no one is killed or injured.

Under the current vehicular homicide statute there must be "a material deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would observe under the same circumstances."

The Court decided in State v. Krovvidi that "[t]he 'material deviation' element for a conviction of vehicular homicide under K.S.A. 21-3405 requires something more than ordinary or simple negligence yet something less than gross and wanton negligence. It is determined on a case by case basis based upon the totality of the circumstances." (http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/supct/2002/20021206/88030.htm)

I think the current legislation is sensible and the Court reached a sensible interpretation. I don't see how making people criminally liable for deaths caused by simple negligence - of which we're all guilty by virtue of the fact that we're human and therefore fallible - can make us safer.

If the man had been drunk or speeding or operating his vehicle in disregard for the lives and safety of others, then I would say he should be prosecuted. But apparently there was no evidence that he did anything more than fail to stop at a stop sign.

To my mind, this is the reason laws should be passed and enforced by impartial third parties, rather than by grieving parents.

And I certainly hope the legislature doesn't decide to pass DBAWait's proposed "misdemeanor murder" law. ;-)

kneejerkreaction 7 years, 6 months ago

Under the current vehicular homicide statute there must be "a material deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would observe under the same circumstances."


He didn't have a license. Was he able to drive a car? Does he have a license to drive a car in some other country? Does he know the US traffic laws? I'd say not having a license in this case is a bigger deal than the prosecutors say. Not having a license may be exactly why the wreck happened. This is just not right. There is no justice here.

And the fact that this guy was an illegal immigrant could have also led to the wreck. Illegal immigrants have already shown a propensity to break our laws just by being here. What's a little traffic stop when one has broken bigger laws.

Dust off your lawbooks prosecutors and revisit this one.

kneejerkreaction 7 years, 6 months ago

Flores deviated from the standard of care of a reasonable person when he got behind the wheel of a car without the knowledge or ability to drive that car.

feeble 7 years, 6 months ago

The answer isn't in expanding the criteria for vehicular homicide, but perhaps they might have more luck lobbying for something where driving with out a license functions as an attendant circumstance, and adds an "aggravating" charge to any other concurrent offense, similar to the difference between battery and aggravated battery.

kneejerkreaction 7 years, 6 months ago

If this happened to a US citizen in Mexico, they'd never see the light of day again.

booze_buds_03 7 years, 6 months ago

I guess I agree with everyone. There should be some 'material deviation' from the laws that requires a vehicular homicide charge, such as not having a drivers license. Also I think it is a great idea to have it on a "case by case basis". I do not think that the simple act of not having a current valid drivers license warrants a vehicular homicide charge in every circumstance. In this case it should have however.

yellowhouse 7 years, 6 months ago

The wheels of justice are slow and sometimes even a little retarded....whoever said life is fair...LIED!

kneejerkreaction 7 years, 6 months ago

Maybe if the county prosecutors made as much money as private defenders they would have been a little more tenacious in trying to bring something to this case that resembled justice instead of summarily dismissing what a lot of people seem to think was at the crux of the issue - driving without a license.

kneejerkreaction 7 years, 6 months ago

Niles, don't turn this into a prejudice thing. Should we hate fat women with no neck because of the woman who killed the two workers?

Kam_Fong_as_Chin_Ho 7 years, 6 months ago

Value of a laptop computer: $2,400 Value of a Trek bicycle: $1,200 Value of a high-definition TV: $1,400 Value of a human life: $170

Value of the Kansas justice system: Priceless

kneejerkreaction 7 years, 6 months ago

Niles:

European idea of an Amerian: Loud, Rude, No Culture, Dress in Bad Taste, Obnoxious. You agree?

The Mexicans you describe are the Mexicans that have immigrated illegally to this country. HIgh criminal-community immigration 'cause they can't find jobs in Mexico, among other reasons. You did not describe the typical Mexican in Mexico. You described the Mexican you know.

feeble 7 years, 6 months ago

Niles says... perhaps stop signs should be bilingual so the dirty mexicans can read them. =========================== You do realize that a red octagon with white text, regardless of language, is an international standard, meaning "Stop" in many, many countries?

chchcherrybomb 7 years, 6 months ago

I am a prosecutor and have wrestled with the Kroviddi opinion for a few years now. I think the misdemeanor vehicular homcide statute should be changed so that all the State should have to prove is that (1) the defendant committed a traffic infraction (speeding, failure to yield, etc., but probably not driver's license violations) and (2) someone died as a result of the violation.

For more serious traffic deaths where the State can prove actual reckless or wanton conduct, the felony crime of involuntary manslaughter would apply.

In any event, the fact that the suspect was an illegal immigrant should have no bearing on the criminal prosecution.

sourpuss 7 years, 6 months ago

Victims don't have "rights" only the accused have rights. That is the system, sorry.

domino 7 years, 6 months ago

I'd be interested to know if Flores was actually deported. I know of a time 16-20 illegals were found in the back of a pickup truck with a topper - stopped for a routine traffic violation. Local law enforcement took them in and called immigration to find out what they wanted done with them. They were told to let them go - they didn't have time to mess with them!!

bd 7 years, 6 months ago

Don't forget that he most likely did not have insurance! Insurance we don neeed no stinkin insurance!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

chchcherrybomb 7 years, 6 months ago

DotsLines: I was unclear: there would have to be a causal link between the traffic infraction and the death. As for the type of infraction, I had "moving violations" in mind, but I suppose some equipment violations could arguably cause a fatality accident. I'm not sure whether or not I would want to include those in the revised statute.

The bottle-thrown-out-the-window example probably wouldn't come up as a vehicular homicide charge: the statute (the one as it exists now and the one I am proposing) requires that the killing occur by the operation of an automobile, airplane, motor boat, etc.

As to your second inquiry supposing that the victim had made it: no, it would not have changed what Flores had done. But criminal liability is often outcome-driven. For example: I punch you in the face. If you suffer a black eye, I'm probably guilty of misdemeanor battery. If your nose is broken, I am probably guilty of some degree of aggravated battery, a felony. If you die, I am probably guilty of involuntary manslaughter or even second degree reckless murder (more serious felonies). In all instances, my conduct was the same-- the punch. It was what happended to you, the victim, that determined the severity level of the crime.

imastinker 7 years, 6 months ago

The guy was doing an illegal activity that got someone killed. How is that vague?

Logicsound - you really scare me.

Ceallach 7 years, 6 months ago

The events should not be separated and analyzed as if each one was the only contributing factor. Together the illegalities form a chain of events. That chain shows a blatant disregard for laws and human life. A reasoning person would think that if someone is illegally in a country they would try to fly below the radar as much as possible. Unfortunately, they do not have to do so. This man violated our national border, violated multiple state driving laws and killed a young woman. Why wouldn't someone think that doing all of the above could cause harm to another person? Traffic control and speed control laws are set in place to keep events such as this from happening. Those of you who think the man's being "illegal" has nothing to do with the law just amaze me. How can it not? Why aren't people such as Ricardo Flores punished for what is done to a another person and then promptly returned to their motherland?

A person who illegally enters this country is not entitled to any "rights" other than basic civil rights while they are being sent back. No one, legal or illegal has the "right" to drive without a license, break the speed limit and run a stop sign, kill someone who is "legally" in the intersection, and have it categorized an ACCIDENT!! The inmates have taken over the asylum! Flee for your lives, just hope you don't meet Mr. Flores at an intersection.

Staci Dark Simpson 7 years, 6 months ago

Mr FLores has not been deported. His immigration hearing is sometime in 2008. As for having a license, you are not supposed to be driving period. As someone said a stop sign is a pretty universal sign, he should have known what that meant. I used to live on that road 158th and if you can't see that stop sign you must not even be looking out your windshield. Also wouldn't you notice the crosstraffic? 24 is a busy highway. Somethings not adding up here, this guy made several bad choices and is walking away with a slap on the hand. If we are negligent with our pets, our children, our property we are punished more than this guy was for taking a life and seriously injuring others. Yes we all make mistakes but that still doesn't make it ok that he killed Amanda.

chchcherrybomb 7 years, 6 months ago

DotsLines:

Sure, those facts could have been used to make a case for recklessness to support a charge of involuntary manslaughter, or to make a case for a "material deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would observe under the same circumstances" necessary for a vehicular homicide charge. Apparently, the Leavenworth County Attorney's Office did not think they had enough evidence to justify either of those charges. As a fellow prosecutor, I'm loathe to second guess their decision, especially based upon the "facts" presented in a newspaper article (no disrespect intended, LJW).

chchcherrybomb 7 years, 6 months ago

Because I think that when someone commits a traffic infraction that causes someone to die, they should at least be guilty of a class A misdemeanor. Keep in mind that the crime of theft of an item having a value of less than $1000 is also a class A misdemeanor in Kansas.

I totally agree that the (semi) serious felony crime of involuntary manslaughter should require much more: reckless conduct.

FSG_Castleman 7 years, 6 months ago

An eye for an eye, A tooth for a tooth, Blood for blood!!!!!

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