According to police accounts, the incident occurred just before 4am on Saturday morning as the LAPD officers were pursuing a Chevy Camaro in their patrol car. As they pursued the vehicle on Anaheim Street in Rolling Hills, the driver of the Camaro made a sudden U-turn. The officer attempted to make the same maneuver, and the patrol car was broadsided by a Chevrolet Tahoe. The LAPD officer who was driving the patrol car suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. His partner suffered a broken jaw in the accident.
A 20-year-old man identified as the driver of the Tahoe was arrested on Tuesday and is scheduled for arraignment on Wednesday afternoon. According to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, he faces one felony count each of: murder, vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, leaving the scene of an accident, assault on a peace officer and second-degree murder of a police officer. The defendant faces up to life in prison without parole if convicted.
According to information from the LAPD Robbery Homicide Division, the defendant and the driver of the Camaro knew each other. Prosecutors have alleged that the defendant "knew or should have known" that the victim was a LAPD officer engaged in the line of duty and either intended to inflict great bodily injury in the accident or used a deadly weapon (in this case, the Chevrolet Tahoe) in the commission of a crime.
Officials have said that the investigation is still underway, as the exact sequence of events leading to the collision are identified.
Why murder charges after an auto accident?
A situation where a defendant is facing murder charges after an auto accident is certainly rare. If this were a typical hit-and-run accident, the defendant's charges would not be so severe. Leaving the scene of an accident causing serious bodily injury or death may be charged as a felony in California, but in most circumstances a defendant would not face murder charges. Murder denotes an intentional killing, preplanned and/or with malice aforethought.
It appears that the prosecution in this case has moved forward with murder charges on the belief that the defendant knew the driver of the vehicle being pursued by the law enforcement officers and intentionally either tried to injure the police officers or used a deadly weapon in trying to intervene with the pursuit. The prosecution will face the difficult task of proving beyond all doubt that the defendant intentionally intervened. Intent can be one of the most challenging things to prove in a criminal case, as it pertains to a defendant's thoughts and ideas through his or her actions.
If you are interested in learning more about murder, vehicular manslaughter and other criminal charges that may be associated with motor vehicle accidents, we can help. Lessem & Newstat offers experienced legal representation to clients throughout Southern California in the face of the most serious allegations and charges, both formal and informal. Even if charges have not yet been filed, there is much that a skilled criminal attorney can do to protect your interests. Whether you are looking for information or would like to discuss a specific case with a knowledgeable professional, you can find helpful insight on our website or by calling our offices.
When your future is on the line, work with a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at a firm that has handled more than 200 jury trials and secured hundreds of case dismissals. Call today for a confidential consultation and review of your case.