Our criminal justice system has allowed a young woman to needlessly die without consequence against the individual responsible for her death. As we all know, Kristin Arbuckle ran the red light on U.S. 1, striking, and killing freshman Ashley Kelly. The Coral Gables police department’s decision not to file vehicular homicide charges against Arbuckle has nothing to do with her relation to chairman of the Board of Trustees, Dean Colson, or to the great remorse she showed after the accident occurred. Instead, the wording of Florida’s Vehicular Homicide Statute (782.071) and supporting case law would have made a successful prosecution of Arbuckle impossible. In the eyes of Florida law, she acted “carelessly” but not “recklessly” in running the red light and thus bears no criminal culpability for the death.
Florida Statute 782.071 defines vehicular homicide as, “the killing of a human being caused by the operation of a motor vehicle by another in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another.” As per Florida Statute 316.192, reckless driving must meet the standard of a, “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” The Coral Gables police department conducted an investigation into the accident and, as reported by The Miami Herald, found no evidence of intoxication, speeding, cell phone use or a dangerous driving pattern preceding the incident. Based on a Florida Appellate Court decision in the very similar case of State v. Del Rio (2D02-7806), the prosecution could prove “careless” but not “willful, wanton or reckless” driving required by statute for conviction without any of the preceding elements present.
The Florida Legislature must change the unjustly worded Vehicular Homicide Statute to include not just “reckless” but also “careless” driving. In its present form, the statute effectively places blame on the homicide victim legally crossing in a crosswalk at a red light instead of the driver who breaks the law by “carelessly” running a red light. Sure, we can build an overpass at the intersection and makecrossing there safer, but at every other intersection across the state drivers will have no incentive to operate their deadly vehicles “carefully” if no criminal penalties exist for the “careless” taking of human life.
Pete Trombadore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.