Jim Porter: Leaving the scene of an accident
TAHOE/TRUCKEE and#8212; Today’s column is about what you need to do if you are involved in an automobile accident. I am one of those lucky few who’s never been in an accident, knock on paper, but I am sure I’m in the minority. California law is very clear.
At 3:11 a.m., Kern County firefighters and CHP officers found Pauline Mace in the front seat of a pickup truck smashed against a power pole which had been sheered off at the base, killing the power in the small town of Weldon, California, near Lake Isabella.
Pauline had been drinking heavily with her brother Mace at a local KOA bar. Pauline had slow speech and bloodshot, watery eyes and was pretty much out of it. Pauline, who had a dislocated hip, not that she could stand up, said that her brother Andrew Mace has been driving.
Local police found Andrew at a relative’s house. He blew a .17 percent blood-alcohol concentration, which is about twice the legal limit. Andrew was and#8220;pretty buzzedand#8221; as he put it and could not remember much of the evening. He had two prior DUI convictions.
The officers determined Andrew to be the driver. He was charged with driving under the influence, driving with a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or more and failing to render assistance to an injured person.
The jury could not agree on whether he was driving. Out went the DUI, but they convicted Andrew of leaving the scene of an accident and failing to render assistance to an injured person.
He appealed claiming he wasn’t the driver so had no obligation to stick around and help his sister.
Andrew’s appeal was of his conviction for felony hit-and-run, which albeit wordy, we are going to quote verbatim so everyone reading this column, if any, knows exactly what to do if you are the driver or the owner of a vehicle involved in an accident involving injuries.
Leaving the scene
Vehicle Code section 20001(a)(b)(1): and#8220;Every person who, as a driver of any vehicle, is knowingly involved in an accident resulting in injury to any other person other than himself must, one, immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident.
Two, give his name, current residence address, registration number of the vehicle he is driving, and the name and current address of the owner of the vehicle to the person struck or the driver or occupants of any vehicle collided with and to any traffic or police officer at the scene of the accident and the driver or injured occupant of the driver’s vehicle shall, upon request, if available, exhibit his or her driver’s license to such person and#8212; persons or officer.
and#8220;Three, render reasonable assistance to any person injured in the accident, including the transportation or making arrangements for the transportation of any injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that such treatment is necessary or that transportation is requested by the injured person.and#8221;
But I’m not the driver
Andrew Mace’s defense was that he was not the driver of the vehicle, and indeed, the jury was not sure whether he or his sister Pauline was driving, and both of them were so intoxicated, they didn’t know either.
However, there are court cases that define and#8220;driver of the vehicleand#8221; to include and#8220;the owner of the vehicle who was in the vehicle at the time of the accident with full authority to direct and control the vehicle,and#8221; even though someone else may be doing the actual driving. So in short, it didn’t really matter whether Andrew was the driver or not, he was the owner of the pickup.
The Court of Appeal concluded Andrew was the driver or the owner of the vehicle and either one would suffice for a conviction under section 20001(a)(b)(1). Further, it was obvious his sister was injured and needed assistance, so he should not have left her and the scene of the accident. And last, he had control over the vehicle because he was sitting in the front seat and Pauline was driving with his permission, if she was driving, or he was driving. (Believe me, I am only giving you about one percent of the complex facts of this case.)
Andrew’s conviction of felony hit-and-run, leaving the scene of an accident involving an injury, was upheld. Now you know what to do if you are in an accident and#8212; besides let your insurance company know.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at email@example.com or at the firm’s website http://www.portersimon.com.
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