The criminal phase of a trial in Maryland of a former Bishop who struck and killed a bike rider while she was driving drunk is over, but the legal system may not be finished with the case. The driver, an Episcopalian Bishop at the time of the accident, “pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter, drunken driving and leaving the scene,” according to an Associated Press report posted on the ABC News website.
According to AP “her blood-alcohol was 0.22, and prosecutors said she was texting when she struck the 41-year-old cyclist… on December 27. The impact threw (him) onto (the car’s) hood and into the windshield of her car. He died of severe head trauma, leaving behind a wife and two young children.” The drunk driver left the scene of the accident for approximately 30 minutes, though she later returned, according to the AP.
Rarely does one see a case that raises so many legal issues in a single moment of irresponsibility: drunk driving, distracted driving, failing to share the road with cyclists, leaving the scene of an accident and, as a result of all that, a tragic fatality that may leave the driver open to a wrongful death action. Though the driver, who has been dismissed from her clerical position by the church, pled guilty, that acknowledgement of responsibility does little to ease the pain of the family she has torn apart. The AP quotes the victim’s sister-in-law describing the seven-year prison sentence (technically a 20-year sentence with all but seven years suspended by the judge) as “lukewarm.” It would also be interesting from a legal perspective to learn more about where the driver was drinking before the accident. Here in Oregon our Social Host and Dram Shop laws would place some liability for the accident on a host or a liquor store owner who served or sold the alcohol if the driver had appeared to be drunk at the time.
As a Portland personal injury lawyer whose practice focuses on many of the issues raised by this case I am glad to see that the criminal justice system has done its job, but will watch keenly to see whether the justice system takes the matter further. There are a number of issues here that may be best addressed in a civil proceeding. Only the victim’s family, however, can ultimately decide whether their own need for justice is best served by more time in court.
AP via ABC News: Bishop Who Killed Cyclist While Driving Drunk Gets 7 Years