A Look at the Vehicular Homicide Law

When a case of “vehicular homicide” comes up in the news, odds are it is the story of a community tragedy: an intoxicated driver that has taken the life of another person.

But we’ve learned these past few weeks in Kitsap County that the aforementioned scenario isn’t the only way one can be charged with the “VHom” statute.

There are actually three “prongs” to the law — and Kitsap prosecutors here have used them all, or have at least investigated them all — within a month of each other.

First, here’s the base part of the law:

When the death of any person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury proximately caused by the driving of any vehicle by any person, the driver is guilty of vehicular homicide if the driver was operating a motor vehicle:

1) While under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug, as defined by RCW 46.61.502; or

2) In a reckless manner; or

3) With disregard for the safety of others.

The first “prong” is the one we hear most often. It is the charge that prosecutors are investigating in the death of Jessica Z. Torres, 34, of Port Orchard. Torres was driving home from work when her car collided with one driven by Stephen T. Harvey, of Poulsbo, Jan. 21 on the 22600 block of Clear Creek Road in North Kitsap. Harvey is believed to have been under the influence.

A Port Orchard man was also charged recently with vehicular homicide in the death of his passenger. From our version of the story:

Matthew P. Muir, 19, was driving an Acura Integra on the 33000 block of Eglon Road Sept. 29 when his car left the road, sheared a power pole and struck a group of trees head on, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office reports said.

Muir’s passenger, Ryan T. Braley, of Arizona, died at the scene. Muir was critically injured in the crash and had to be airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with internal injuries.

In that case, the second prong — reckless driving — is perhaps the most pertinent. Muir was found to have a .07 BAC, just below the per-se legal limit of .08.

Finally, prosecutors recently charged a Bremerton woman recently in the death of a bicyclist she’s alleged to have hit. From that story:

Delores J. Magneson, 59, will be summoned to court on one count of vehicular homicide, the documents said.

Magneson was driving a 1992 Buick Century west on the 7300 block of SE Mile Hill Drive when she left the roadway to the right and fatally struck South Kitsap resident Craig Hatt, 41, who was riding a bicycle.

The investigating deputy said in the statement of probable cause for the crime that the woman had been involved in several collisions and that her license was canceled due to poor eyesight. Thus local prosecutors used the third prong of vehicular homicide in this case: “With disregard for the safety of others.”

One thought on “A Look at the Vehicular Homicide Law

  1. “……the woman had been involved in several collisions and that her license was canceled due to poor eyesight….”

    Anyone can drive without a license…but I don’t know of anyone able to drive without a car.
    This woman killed an innocent person…something that might have been avoided had her car been taken at the same time as her license – or before. The car could be sold and the money donated to a good cause….such as Harrison Medical Center’s future Pulmonary Department.

    People would hesitate loaning a car to anyone if they knew their car would be confiscated and sold in the event of a driver caused accident.

    Who has to die from an impaired driver before we say “Enough” and take the car?
    The owner of any car driven by an impaired drunk should also lose their car – unless it was reported stolen..

    As I see it, lives are lost, people killed because our laws are not tough enough the first time a drunk is caught driving.
    Sharon O’Hara

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