Teen Car Accident Trial Involving a Fatality and Criminal Charges*



Teen Car Accident Case Summary:

In this case the defendant was a driver involved in a teen car accident that left one of his passengers dead and two others seriously injured.

Police at the scene claimed this accident was a direct result of the defendant's reckless behavior and they arrested the defendant, charging him with Criminally Negligent Homicide. The defendant would later plead innocent during a criminal trial.

Statement of Facts...

On December 31st, 2010, nineteen-year-old Jim Breyer was attending a New Year's Eve party. A few minutes after midnight, Breyer decided to go across town to attend another party. As he was leaving, two of his friends, John R. and Tim A., asked if they could catch a ride with him since they wanted to attend the same party. Breyer agreed and the three of them left together.

While on the road, Breyer encountered Jane Tyson who was driving the minivan ahead of him. Breyer felt Tyson was driving too slowly, and he began to drive very close to her bumper, hoping to force her to speed up. When this did not work, he started sounding his horn. Finally, Breyer attempted several times to pass Tyson.

On the last attempt, Breyer's cars clipped Tyson's minivan. Because of the speeds involved and a heavy rain that made the roads slick, neither driver was able to control their car. Tyson's minivan left the road and collided with a tree, while Breyer's car collided with the concrete center divider.

As a result of this teen car accident, Breyer's passenger John R. was killed and his other passenger, Tim A., was seriously injured. The driver of the minivan, Tyson, was also seriously injured.

Breyer was arrested at the scene and charged with one count of Felony Criminally Negligent Homicide. At the arraignment, Breyer's attorney entered a plea of Not Guilty on behalf of his client.

As the case progressed, Breyer's attorney approached the state hoping to enter into a plea bargain. He suggested to the prosecutor that his client would enter in a plea of guilty to the Criminally Negligent Homicide in return for an agreed sentence of 10 years' probation.

The Prosecutor flatly rejected the offer of probation but said she would agree to a sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $7,500. After speaking with Breyer, his attorney contacted the prosecutor and rejected her offer.


Trial...

In her opening statement in this teen car accident trial, the prosecutor addressed the jury, telling them it was her duty to prove every element of the crime of Criminally Negligent Homicide. She told the jury if she proved every element of the crime she would expect them to find the defendant Breyer guilty.

As part of her statement, the prosecutor read to the jury the state's definition of Felony Criminally Negligent Homicide...

Criminally Negligent Homicide occurs when a person fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk in certain circumstances. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. It is blameworthy conduct which created or contributed to a substantial or unjustifiable risk.

The State called as its first witness, Breyer's surviving passenger Tim A. While describing the events that led up to the accident, Tim A. admitted that both he and Breyer had smoked a quantity of marijuana and were fairly intoxicated when they set out.

The prosecutor went on to ask Tim A. what had happened between Breyer and the driver of the minivan, and how the teen car accident happened. Tim A. said Breyer was complaining about how slow the minivan was driving, and that Breyer had started to flash his high beams at the car. When that did not work, he sped up and closed to what seemed to be a few inches away from the rear bumper of the minivan.

Tim A. also testified that Breyer had been arguing with his girlfriend on his cell phone. They were texting each other while Breyer was driving and Breyer wanted to get to the other party quickly because his girlfriend was waiting there for him.

Tim A. continued his testimony, stating that he and the other passenger, John R., were becoming anxious about Breyer's driving and that they repeatedly told Breyer to slow down. Breyer ignored them both. Instead of slowing, Breyer began to sound his car's horn in an attempt to have the minivan speed up or move off the road onto the shoulder.

When asked by the prosecutor, Tim A. said the shoulder of the road was very narrow, probably no more than ten or so feet wide. Tim A. testified that he believed there really wasn't any safe place for the minivan to pull over.

The next thing Tim A. said he remembered was the driver of the minivan apparently slowing down a little. He thought she may have reduced her speed because the rain was so heavy and that it was becoming difficult to see. As the minivan slowed, Breyer failed to react quickly enough and as a result Breyer bumper jolted the minivan.

After the two vehicles collided, the minivan careened to the left and onto the shoulder of the road. As it did, Tim A. testified that he saw the minivan strike a tree and stop abruptly. At the same time he said Breyer lost control of his car and within seconds slid about 30 feet sideways on the rain soaked road, finally careening over the road and slamming into the concrete divider.

Tim A. said that this was the last thing he remembered until he awoke in the hospital two days later.

After Breyer's attorney cross examined Tim A. the State called Tyson to the witness stand to testify in the teen car accident case against Breyer.

Tyson testified she and her husband had been attending a party at a different location. She said because her husband had a few beers she was acting as the designated driver. She testified she had not consumed any alcohol on the evening of the collision.

To corroborate this, the prosecutor introduced the results of a blood test taken when Tyson was admitted to the hospital the night of the car accident. The results of the test showed a BAC of .04, well below the 0.8 legal limit of intoxication in the State of Texas.

Tyson went on to testify that the speed limit of the road on which she was travelling was 40 miles per hour. She said that because it was raining so heavily that night, she had to slow down to about 30 miles per hour. She said she felt unsafe going any faster.

She further testified that she had become very nervous because the car behind her, later confirmed to be that of Breyer, kept flashing its bright lights and sounding its horn. She knew the driver wanted her to speed up, but she thought it was unsafe because of the weather conditions.

After the car had flashed its lights, Tyson suddenly felt a jolt in the rear of her minivan. The next thing she knew her vehicle slid off the road and onto the shoulder, running headlong into the base of an oak tree.

The next thing she remembered was waking up in the hospital. Her husband had miraculously survived with only minor contusions and lacerations. Tyson's face and nose were bruised and reddened from the impact of the airbag. She also suffered a compound fracture of her right wrist.

When asked to confirm the reason she believed she was propelled headlong into the tree, she stated angrily and unequivocally that it was a result of the vehicle behind her striking her, and for no other reason. She stated the teen car accident was caused soley by Breyer's reckless actions.

The State then called the parents of John R, the youth who died in the accident. The prosecutor handed them a photo of their son and asked them to identify it. They identified the photo as that of their son. The testimony was moving, as both parents had great difficulty speaking, often breaking into tears.

Finally, the prosecutor called the doctor who was on call in the emergency room the early morning of January 1st, 2011. She asked the doctor to testify about the wounds John R. had suffered, and if those wounds were the cause of John R.'s death.

He testified with a "high degree of medical certainty" that the injuries John R. sustained in the accident in the early hours of January 1st, 2011 were the direct and proximate cause of his death. With that the prosecution rested it's case.

Breyer's attorney began his defense by reviewing with the jury the same elements of the crime as had the prosecutor in her opening statement.

He told the jury that although Breyer was involved in the teen car accident, his behavior did not rise to the level of Criminally Negligent Homicide. He went on to say the accident didn't amount to:

"...a gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person would have exercised under similar circumstances."

After making his opening statement, Breyer's attorney rested his case without calling any witnesses to the stand. During his closing argument, Breyer's attorney elaborated on his original point and also added that the teen car accident was caused by a number of factors including the bad weather, chance, and even Tyson's stubbornness.

He further argued that Tim A. should not be considered a reliable witness since he was facing a possible drug charge if he did not cooperate with the prosecution.


Outcome...

After hearing both sides' arguments, the jury deliberated for 11 hours. When the jury returned, they delivered a verdict of guilty on the one count of Criminally Negligent Homicide.

In Texas the Defendant has the option, before the trial begins, and in the event of a conviction, to elect to have either the Judge or Jury assess punishment. The defendant had earlier elected to have the jury assess punishment.

After finding Breyer guilty of the 2nd degree felony offense of Criminally Negligent Homicide in this teen car accident case, the jury assessed a punishment of 20 years in the Texas State Penitentiary, and a fine of $10,000.

Important Points...

  • According to the American Automobile Association, since 2005 the number of teen car accidents in the United States has risen by over 50%.

    They found that the introduction of cell phones and texting has contributed to the substantial increase in road accidents resulting in serious injuries and deaths.

    There is today legislation pending in over 25 states to make texting while driving a misdemeanor criminal offense punishable by between a $500 - $1500 fine, and up to 30 days in jail. The second offense would result in a loss of license for 6 months to a year, a fine of up to $5000, and a jail sentence of up to 1 year.

  • There are thousands of young men and women under the age of 21 who are serving prison sentences of 20 years to life. Many of these young people had never committed a crime in their lives aside from the one that landed them a life sentence.

    It's important for young people to think through the consequences of their actions because it only takes one foolish or reckless act to cause a death.


*This case example is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.

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