Reporters at the Center for Investigative Reporting looked at five years of accident reports from five Bay Area counties, including San Mateo, to learn what official consequences befall motorists who kill pedestrians.
According to their research, 60 percent of the 238 drivers who authorities found to be at fault or were suspected to be at fault for pedestrian deaths between 2007 and 2011 faced no criminal charges.
CIR found a number of reasons explaining why drivers responsible for pedestrian fatalities avoid punishment.
For one, prosecutors believe juries are often sympathetic to drivers. Prosecutors also think proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt is hard to do in traffic accident cases.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe explained his reasoning to CIR, saying jurors see the cases as tragic accidents with no guilty party: “They’re all thinking, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ ”
One deadly crash CIR focused on was a 6-year-old girl who was hit and killed while walking to school in East Palo Alto in 2011. The driver was a school teacher on her way to work who ran from her car screaming "I'm sorry" after the crash, according to accounts from the girl's relatives.
But the teacher was never arrested or charged with a crime, a reality that still haunts the child's family.
“If this is a law school exam, the answer is guilty. The elements were there, but we all agreed that no jury was going to convict on that," Wagstaffe told CIR, explaining why the case wasn't prosecuted.
An arrest for driving while intoxicated also does not guarantee a motorist will also be charged with killing a pedestrian. The CIR article highlighted a fatality in San Jose that involved a driver who had marijuana in his system.
Steven Omstead, then 28, was arrested for driving his Cadillac under the influence of marijuana when he hit and killed Rosa Vasquez De Mazuelos, 75, in San Jose on Dec. 27, 2009, according to the CIR article. An assistant district attorney in Santa Clara County said lab experts wouldn't back criminal charges in the case.
Earlier this spring, Patch readers along the Peninsula and Coastside identified their worst intersections, roads and freeway spots. The input led to this map of the most problematic areas in the region.
According to the state Office of Traffic Safety, San Mateo with 42 pedestrian injuries in 2010 rated the 14th most dangerous place for walkers out of 103 similar-sized California cities.
Do you feel San Mateo intersections are too dangerous for pedestrians? Tell us the most perilous intersections in the comment section below.