After a fatal auto accident involving a drunk driver, the family of the deceased can usually count on police to closely investigate the circumstances of the crash. The criminal investigation of a fatal DUI accident can also bolster a wrongful death claim brought by the family of the deceased.
However, in a fatal motorcycle accident case playing out in Louisville right now, unusual circumstances have derailed the criminal process.
In 2012, a woman on a motorcycle was killed when she was hit by a driver who was allegedly intoxicated at the time. An officer on the scene conducted a field sobriety test on the driver, and a subsequent test showed that his blood-alcohol level was only slightly above the legal limit. The man, a teacher, was charged with DUI and manslaughter.
However, the police officer who conducted the field sobriety test has since run into legal trouble for allegedly making false overtime claims. In February he was charged with defrauding the police department of at least $10,000.
Facing the prospect of a long prison sentence, the officer has decided to invoke the Fifth Amendment and not incriminate himself in court. Last month he said that he won’t testify in any pending cases that he investigated, including the motorcycle accident that took the woman’s life.
Because the accused driver’s blood-alcohol level was so close to the legal limit, the case depends on the officer’s testimony about the field sobriety test. That testimony is not forthcoming, however, and the criminal charges against the driver have been dismissed.
The family members of the deceased woman are now looking for answers.
The case is a reminder that legal options are available beyond the criminal justice system. Grieving families often have to bring a civil claim of wrongful death to hold wrongdoers accountable.
Source: The Courier-Journal, “Charges dropped in fatal crash in wake of cop’s arrest,” Claire Galofaro, March 20, 2014