College Student Held on Bail in Fatal Dedham Pedestrian Accident

A college senior was ordered held on $5,000 cash bail following his arraignment where he was charged with striking and killing a pedestrian with his car in Dedham on Friday night. 

The Boston Globe reported that 21-year-old Nicholas Rivas-Vasquez, who is a student and plays soccer at Mount Ida College, was charged with leaving the scene of death.  According to the Globe, Dedham police learned of the crash shortly before 11 p.m. on Friday.  The victim, a 54-year-old woman, was walking across Washington Street near the intersection with Curve Street when she was struck.

The defendant turned himself into the police today after learning that he was being sought.  His attorney told the Globe that the defendant was driving on Washington Street Friday night during a rain and wind storm.  At some point, something hit the right side of his car.  The defendant believed the wind had blown the object into his car.  When he looked in his rear view mirror, the defendant did not see anything.  According to his attorney, the defendant circled around the block and when he arrived at the area of the collision, he saw debris but did not see the victim, who apparently came to rest between the guardrail and the sidewalk.  The defendant had allowed the police to examine his car, according to his attorney.

The Norfolk District Attorney’s Office requested $10,000 bail, but the judge set bail for the defendant, who reportedly has no criminal record, at $5,000.

Leaving the scene of death is a very serious charge that carries a mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence.  To obtain a conviction, the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant: (1) operated (drove) a motor vehicle; (2) while on a public road; (3) knowingly struck a person, causing his or her death; and (4) failed to stop and provide his or her identification in an effort to evade apprehension or avoid prosecution.  There are typically two ways to defend these cases.

Identification – It is not enough for the Commonwealth to prove that the defendant owns the car.  The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving at the time of the collision.  In a case like this, where the accident occurred late at night in the middle of a rain storm, the Commonwealth might have a hard time proving that the defendant was the driver.  However, given the defense attorney’s comments to the Globe, it doesn’t appear the defendant will make an identification argument.

Knowing Collision with Another Person – The Commonwealth must prove that the defendant knew he hit a person with his car and drove away without providing his identifying information.  This will apparently be the defense in this case.  If the weather conditions were lousy and the defendant did not hit the victim directly, it is reasonable to conclude that he might not have known he struck a person.  If the victim’s body was thrown onto an adjacent sidewalk and was not easily visible to passersby, it is reasonable that the defendant still would not have realized what it was that collided with his car, even if he returned to the scene of the crash to investigate.

These cases are always tragic, given the loss of life.  They are also somewhat unique in criminal law, in that the defendant did not intend to cause the injuries to the victim.  Juries are often sympathetic to these types of defendants, as we can all relate to the difficulties of driving in bad weather late at night.