Show a little mercy, Myers
With dismay I read the headline story of “CSP, DA to prosecute van driver.” DA Mac Myers us quoted as saying, “You just have to treat everybody the same way when charging. We do that for everybody.” The story related the Colorado State Patrol and Ninth District Attorney’s office plan to move forward with prosecution. Five charges of careless driving resulting in death (one for each person killed) and an “unknown” number of charges of careless driving resulting in serious injury. “Myers explained if his office pressed charges on any other factors, it would be subjective and jeopardize the integrity of the legal system.” Does this now mean Myers (and CSP) are giving up the practice of plea bargains? No, it just means Myers is not going to exercise the leeway the Colorado legislature has built into the justice system and laws and is proceeding ahead to maximize a hard-nose attitude.
If this attitude was applied to Ford Motor Company and it was conjoined in these charges, I might not be so disgusted with Myers. The particular vehicle involved is known for these types of vehicle handling failures. So many failures that they are categorized as to type, results, and percentage of deaths due to factors such as seat belt use. I would bet that there is no safety sticker that says the driver should be specially trained or a vehicle becomes more unstable above the equivalent of 10 passengers and/or equipment carried.
If Myers didn’t have his nose bent so bad by his law books, he might be able to see a larger picture in this situation.
Here are fire crews transporting themselves to an emergency in Colorado from Oregon. Time is important, so they are driving in shifts, and traveling in convoy. These people have chosen to take on a job that puts them in harm’s way. Since the accident occurred in Garfield County on I-70, the speed limit was 75 mph. That stretch of road is laced with old highway integration that gives unexpected roller coaster dips and bumps. The driver, Megan Helm, with six or seven years of driving experience, is said to have reached for a snack and swerved. When she attempted to correct the swerve, she is said to have overcorrected and the vehicle overturned.
What is wrong with this picture is the vehicle gets very, very sensitive if the weight of the vehicle centered back from over the front wheels (Ford says 10 passengers) and even more if the road thrusts the vehicle upward and then drops away. I have been driving over 50 years and have had this effect happen maybe three times in pickups with a load or camper. The weight of your hand on the wheel can cause the wheel to turn slightly, and the vehicle lurches as it comes down. If your hand drops, you have an involuntary reaction to return it to where it was. The times this happened to me, I was not driving a vehicle with power steering and the returning motion was nullified by weight returning to the wheels and increased friction. For this young lady, the hand drop and reaction were probably amplified by power steering.
Now this is not carelessness, not even reaching for a snack, as drivers do reaching in turning on wipers, lights, heaters, or shifting position in the seat. An experienced CSP officer can tell you to watch for wavy roads by reading the oil splatter on pavement (try to find this in a driver’s test book). But it is not carelessness not knowing this. It is not carelessness to have a relative degree of confidence that a vehicle manufacturer doesn’t have a bunch of caveats for driving their product. Just like the firefighting fliers were not guilty of careless flying when the wings fell off their aircraft.
Maybe Myers should also include the Colorado State Patrol and CSP for contributory carelessness in road building and maintenance and not providing an escort for the convoy respectively. I would hope the good people of Rifle, if called for a jury to hear this case, would resist the pomp and circumstance involved and render justice with a resounding not guilty; and throw Myers and the CSP out of the courtroom for their bone- (as in hard) headed attitude. I would also suspect Myers is trying for an easy plea bargain by building such a preposterous case on a heroic person, who at this time would only like to go home and be with family and friends and deal with her grief.
Robert L. Arrington
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