Gwinnett County Charges Vehicular Homicide in Texting Case
"Obviously, this is a case in which they are pushing the envelope and trying to establish a test case," said Larry Delan, the lawyer representing the first Gwinnett County woman to be charged with vehicular homicide for texting while driving.
Someone like Lori Reineke, forty-eight, might not be the first person that comes to mind when we picture someone endangering others by texting on the road. Normally when stories about the dangers of texting while driving come up, the focus is on younger drivers, those in their teens or early twenties. However, if the scene police describe is accurate, Reineke serves as a reminder that dangerously distracted driving knows no one age.
According to police, Reineke was texting when she hit James Eaton III, also forty-eight, in a crosswalk last October. She behaved responsibly, in most respects. She had a green light. The crossing signal was red. Reineke was not speeding when she hit and killed Eaton. The only mistake Reineke made in this version of events was texting while driving.
And had she not been texting, the police feel the outcome of this incident may have been different. Reineke might have seen Eaton in time to stop, had her attention not been divided between the road and her cell phone.
Cpl. David Schiralli, police spokesman, explained, "Investigators saw this as a contributing factor. He was crossing against the light, which would be another contributing factor. There may be more than one."
Reineke's arrest follows months of investigation by Gwinnett county police. Schiralli did not disclose what prompted investigators to believe texting was an issue in this case, but the result of that lead was a warrant claiming that Reineke caused Eaton's death as a result of texting while driving. She is charged with vehicular homicide, reckless driving, failure to exercise due care and engaging in actions which distract from the safe operation of a motor vehicle. The day after her arrest was released, having posted the $34,900 bond.
Delan, Reineke’s attorney, maintains that the charges against his client are entirely baseless. He tells Reineke's version of the story, in which the woman was not texting at all when this accident occurred. She was not distracted, and could not have been distracted by texting since she was not engaging in it - Delan maintains that it was poor driving conditions that caused the accident.
"It was dark, it was rainy and she just didn't see him in time," Delan said.
Whether or not Reineke was texting when the crash occurred is certainly something which needs to be established to fully understand whether or not these charges are founded. Not being involved in the case, it isn't for me to judge who is right and who is wrong. Pedestrians who cross against traffic, especially when visibility is poor, are putting themselves in a situation of increased risk. On the other hand, drivers are always responsible for being aware of their surroundings and doing all they are capable of to avoid collisions with pedestrians. In either event, this represents an interesting step in terms of how distracted driving accidents are charged here in Georgia. I will be following this case and will report back as soon as new developments emerge.