A recent report from NPR highlights how social media usage can become a factor in reckless and negligent driving cases. According to a report on the radio network’s website, “an 18-year-old California man stands accused of murder after law enforcement officials upgraded charges against him based on tweets and driving history.”
The accident at the center of this story took place in early June in northern California. The man was allegedly driving at more than 80 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone when he lost control of the car and hit a middle-aged couple who were riding in a marked “bike lane alongside Foothill Road, police say, in an area that is marked by a golf course and by large houses with swimming pools.” In other words: a residential area rather than a highway. The woman in the couple was killed in the accident and her husband was injured.
Citing reporting by the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR reports that the suspect stopped at the scene and “spoke with police” though he declined to give a formal statement. Last month he was arrested “on felony charges of vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving” but this was upgraded to murder, and the suspect’s bail revoked, after police took a closer look at his driving habits.
Of particular concern to police were posts on the suspect’s twitter account celebrating fast and reckless driving, including “Someone come on a death ride with me!!” NPR reports that local prosecutors are considering using the tweets as a “pre-offense statement,” essentially a formal statement of intent to commit a crime. As the NPR story also notes, in legal terms the difficulty here can be proving that the suspect actually posted the tweets. From my perspective as a Portland bicycle accident attorney, however, this case is a reminder of the important role social media can play in establishing legal motivations and helping victims of reckless conduct obtain justice through our courts.
Like stories about ill-considered Facebook posts affecting a job search this incident reminds us that the digital trails we all leave behind every day can have significant, and often unforeseen, consequences. When social media posts can be used to establish a pattern of reckless, negligent or irresponsible behavior they can become significant factors in court cases like this one. Cases like this serve as a reminder that actions have consequences, and that when those actions injure or kill others all of us need to be held accountable for our actions.
NPR: After fatal crash with cyclists, driver’s tweets help spur murder charge