From his hospital bed a Portland man gave a statement to police this week in which he acknowledged drinking, drag racing and a fatal crash that killed a cyclist in Gresham, according to The Oregonian.
The man “told police he had two alcoholic drinks before racing a random driver in Gresham early Sunday (October 8), crashing into another car, then hitting and killing another man riding his bike” the paper reported, citing court records. It notes that despite the 23-year-old man’s claim to have had only two drinks “his blood alcohol content was still above the legal limit when his blood was tested 17 hours after the crash.”
While drag racing another vehicle the man also wound up driving on the wrong side of Southeast Stark Street. According to a witness cited by the paper, the fatal crash involving the cyclist took place when the driver “went into oncoming traffic, hit a Ford Escape, spun around” and struck the bike rider.
Assuming the media accounts of this incident are correct, we seem to be faced here with a textbook case of reckless and negligent driving. The driver admitted to police that he had been drinking (his claim to have had only two drinks being significantly at odds with his reported blood alcohol content), acknowledged that he was drag racing another car and, as a result, involved himself in a head-on crash with another vehicle as well as leaving a cyclist dead. The Oregonian notes that criminal charges are likely, as they should be in a case like this. The newspaper reports that the driver “was booked into the Multnomah County jail… on suspicion of second-degree manslaughter, driving under the influence of intoxicants and reckless driving. He is accused of causing the death” of the bike rider.
As we watch this case unfold it will be important to consider two legal issues from a civil, as opposed to a criminal, perspective. The first is the basic question of liability. The family of the cyclist may have a strong case for an Oregon wrongful death action against the driver, and the driver of the vehicle he struck head-on as the accident unfolded definitely has grounds for a civil case for reckless driving. Looking deeper, however, we also have to ask how a 23-year-old with no prior criminal record, came to be driving drunk and engaging in a reckless activity like drag racing (an act for which he probably has no coverage since insurance policies routinely exclude drag racing and other reckless and negligent activities). In this regard, it is important to ask where he got the alcohol that was found in his system. Oregon’s Dram Shop and Social Host regulations clearly shift some of the responsibility to a party host, restaurant or liquor store in certain circumstances. In particular, investigators need to consider whether the driver was already showing signs of intoxication and yet continued to be served or sold liquor.
As a Portland lawyer who has helped many victims of negligent and drunk driving I will be paying close attention to this case as it proceeds through the legal system. As outlined above, responsibility for accidents like these – both legally and morally – does not necessarily stop with the vehicle’s driver. We owe it to ourselves as a community and to the families of the victims, to insist on all of the accountability allowed by law, especially in flagrant cases such as this.
ORS 813.010: Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants
ORS 811.140: Reckless Driving