Suspect in fatal Tahoe crosswalk accident pleads guilty to felony charges
This story has been corrected to reflect the maximum possible prison term for Mr. Smith is 6 years. An earlier version of this story indicated a larger number. The Bonanza regrets the error.
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A Northern California man could face up to 6 years in prison for his role in a fatal pedestrian crosswalk incident on New Year’s Eve weekend 2011 on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe.
On Monday, Christopher Torii Smith of Grass Valley, Calif., pleaded guilty to two felony counts of reckless driving causing death in connection with the Incline Village incident, Michael Bolenbaker, a deputy district attorney with Washoe County, said Friday.
Smith will be sentenced at a hearing Aug. 12 in Washoe County District Court in Reno, Bolenbaker said. Each felony is punishable by 1 to 6 years in prison.
Michael Becker, one of Smith’s attorneys with Las Vegas Defense Group, on Friday said both parties agreed to concurrent sentencing, meaning the maximum possible punishment is 6 years in prison. Smith also is eligible for probation.
As part of a plea agreement, Smith will also plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence later this year at the James V. Mancuso Justice Court in Incline Village.
According to previous reports, Smith, who was 25 at the time of the incident, was driving a black 2006 Chevrolet pickup southbound (east toward Sand Harbor) on Highway 28 east of the Village Boulevard intersection shortly before 8 p.m. on Dec. 30, 2011, when his truck struck Linda S. Mathis and Robert C. Mathis, who were crossing from the east side.
The Mathises, who were Incline residents, both 46, died from injuries suffered. Witness statements and evidence at the scene indicate the Mathises were in or close to the painted crosswalk located near the Tahoe Regional Transit Agency bus stop in front of Radio Shack when they were struck.
According to a portion of the investigation report obtained by the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Robert Mathis had a blood alcohol level of 0.231 at the time of the incident, while Linda Mathis’ BAC was 0.233.
According to a charging document, Smith had marijuana in his system at the time of the incident, and he failed to yield to the right of way of the pedestrians. The amount of marijuana in Smith’s blood was identified as greater than or equal to 5 nanograms per milliliter.
In a Friday conference call, Becker and co-counsel Daniel Young said uncertainty regarding Smith’s toxicology results led to the plea deal.
“We did not believe the evidence would support our client was actually impaired at the time of the incident…” they said, adding that Smith was a medical marijuana patient in California.
Smith was originally charged with two counts of driving under the influence of a prohibited substance causing death. Those felonies were more severe and carried a maximum prison term of 20 years and a fine between $2,000 and $5,000.
In an email later Friday, Becker pointed to Nevada DUI law, which “punishes not only driving under the influence but driving with a prohibited substance, such as marijuana, in your system — even if there is no impairment.”
Another factor, Young and Becker said, was Smith was traveling 41 mph at the time of the incident, according to computer reports from Smith’s truck, which was six miles over the 35 mph speed limit along that section of Highway 28.
“The feeling was that even though a jury might find that negligent and not reckless, they also could have would have found he had been driving while impaired,” they said.
Further, despite evidence suggesting the Mathises were intoxicated, Smith likely felt a need to take accountability for his role, Young and Becker said.
“When people have lost their lives, sometimes a suspect feels a certain responsibility … and that can play a role in the thought process, and I do think that did play a factor with our client who felt the need to take some responsibility for his role,” they said.
In an unrelated incident, Smith also was arrested on Sept. 10, 2012, for allegedly attacking a man at AT&T Park during a San Francisco Giants baseball game. Charges against Smith were never filed, Becker said Friday, and the case was dropped.