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Archive for Sunday, October 14, 2007

Crash victim’s parents call for change

Tonganoxie couple who lost daughter say vehicular homicide law needs adjusted

October 14, 2007

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Dennis Bixby and his wife, Denise Bixby, hope to see adjustments in the state's vehicular homicide law.

Dennis Bixby and his wife, Denise Bixby, hope to see adjustments in the state's vehicular homicide law.

— Denise and Dennis Bixby say something is wrong.

The Tonganoxie parents of Amanda Bixby, who was killed in a Valentine's Day traffic wreck, say the legal system that allows the man who caused the accident to be able to get his vehicle out of the impound lot "before our child was out of the mortuary" needs to be fixed.

It's the same system that allows that man - Ricardo Flores - to pay $250 in fines and court costs to settle the matter, they said.

But changing this system isn't easy, say prosecutors and the police.

During a hearing last week, law enforcement officials, who usually urge legislators to get tough on crime, were cautioning state House and Senate members to be careful when trying to adjust the state's vehicular homicide law.

In the death of Amanda Bixby, 19, officers initially cited Flores, of Lansing, for vehicular homicide, failure to yield and driving without a license. Flores ran a stop sign and hit Bixby's car and another vehicle on U.S. Highway 24-40 just west of Basehor.

Later, prosecutors refused to pursue the vehicular homicide charge, saying the case didn't fit the definition of the law. Flores then pleaded no contest to failure to yield at a stop sign, speeding and driving without a valid license and was ordered to pay $250 in fines and court costs and spend six months on probation.

The vehicular homicide statute was meant to address fatal accidents that are due to something more than negligence but less than gross or wanton negligence, which are prosecuted under other statutes, such as manslaughter or second-degree murder, authorities said. Conviction of vehicular homicide carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

But what exactly vehicular homicide encompasses is a gray area, according to prosecutors.

"The vehicular homicide statute can hardly be considered clear and gives very little direction to the prosecutor," said Finney County Attorney John Wheeler, who spoke on behalf of the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association.

The statute has been amended several times since first appearing in Kansas law in 1969.

Under state law, 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 Kansas Supreme Court has issued rulings on it in several cases.

In a 2002 case, the court essentially said vehicular homicide cases, if challenged, would have to be settled on a case-by-case basis. "We are unable to set forth a bright line rule as to what conduct amounts to a material deviation as set forth (in the statute)," the court said.

Wheeler said simply: "Accidents happen and not all are criminal. Should we prosecute our wives and daughters for quickly checking their lipstick in the mirror while driving down the road? Should we prosecute the man who grabs an Egg McMuffin on his way to work?"

The Bixbys said the fact that Flores was driving without a license could rise to the level of negligence needed to trigger a vehicular homicide charge.

But Wheeler said "one must ask whether the absence of that license is the proximate cause of death in any accident."

Ed Klumpp, a former Topeka police chief and lobbyist for the Kansas Association of Police Chiefs, said mandatory drug testing of those involved in serious accidents - another proposal by the Bixbys - would have constitutional problems.

"From a practical and from a legal point of view, we are not convinced this would be a good thing," he said.

Today, an officer cannot administer a drug test unless he or she has probable cause to believe that the driver was operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs.

Regardless of the questions, the Bixbys say they are going to continue to try to change the vehicular homicide law so that it can be used against defendants in accidents such as the one that killed Amanda.

"We have put patches on the vehicular homicide law," Dennis Bixby said. "Kansas and Kansans are better than this."

Comments

ASBESTOS 7 years, 2 months ago

"The Bixbys said the fact that Flores was driving without a license could rise to the level of negligence needed to trigger a vehicular homicide charge.

But Wheeler said "one must ask whether the absence of that license is the proximate cause of death in any accident.""

In former cases the answer is YES. Driving without a license AND having a fatality auto accident IS Criminal and has been successfully prosecuted in the pase MANY times. Citizens were once and still are held accountable, however illegal aliens do not have to follow the rules now do they?

It does make me want to do violence, this miscarriage of justice. Our family had the same thing happen, and the guy was charged AND successfully prosecuted.

Why Flores is still drawing breath while AMnada is dead and her family is still gripped in mourning and loss is beyond me. How a Judge and a legislature cannot see that is beyond me, other than the fact that "New Voters" are more important to Politicians than "existing citizens".

50YearResident 7 years, 2 months ago

If the only consequences for driving without a license, running a stop sign and killing an innocent person is only $250 then there is something terribly wrong with the law. Why should anyone bother to spent the $30 to get a license if there is no more penalty than that? I agree with these parents, change the damn law and make it enforceable.

hornhunter 7 years, 2 months ago

If Flores' lost his license for other offenses, they should be able to find out why? If it only costs $250.00, he should not be walking to close to the curb.This law needs to be made to work or what good is it as a law

Frank Smith 7 years, 2 months ago

I'm simply amazed at the treatment of this case. Sounds like incompetence to me. The prosecutor should have tried it and looked for the max. Someone who is going 15 over the limit the first time they ever got a ticket can be fined more than this. If the guy could do a year in jail for it, that's what he should have done, every day of it less good time.

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