Unclear Whether Charges Will Be Filed in Fatal Lexington Car Accident

A freak car accident on Route 128 in Lexington yesterday afternoon left a 26-year-old man dead.  It has not yet been decided whether the driver of the other vehicle will be charged with motor vehicle homicide.

Multiple media outlets are reporting that Charles Hu of Lexington was driving his Toyota Camry northbound on 128 at approximately 1:15 in the afternoon.  A Dodge Ram pickup truck, driven by a 19-year-old Amesbury woman, was traveling on the other side of the highway when its rear left tire detached from its axle.  The tire bounced over the Jersey barrier into the traffic driving in a northbound direction.  The tire hit at least one other vehicle before colliding with Mr. Hu’s Camry, crushing the driver’s side of car.  Although it took less than two minutes for an ambulance to arrive, Mr. Hu was unable to be saved.  The driver of the pickup truck stopped and was cooperating with the police.  The State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section was summonsed to the scene to investigate.  It took several hours for the police to clear the vehicles from the accident scene.  Criminal charges have not been filed against the truck driver as the police investigation continues.

The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office will be responsible for deciding whether to charge the truck driver with motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation.  Negligent motor vehicle homicide is one of the few crimes in Massachusetts that does not require a defendant to purposefully commit an act.  Instead, a defendant is guilty of negligent motor vehicle homicide if she was driving a car on a public road way in a negligent manner, causing the death of another person.  Negligence simply means the driver did not act as a reasonably prudent person would have acted under the circumstances.  Negligence is the standard ordinarily used in civil lawsuits involving car accidents.

In negligent motor vehicle homicide cases, it is almost always alleged that something about the manner of operation constituted negligence.  For example, a person failed to stop, failed to yield, or was speeding, and these rule infractions led to the accident that killed the decedent.  If the truck driver here is charged with negligent motor vehicle homicide, the Commonwealth’s theory will be different.  The Commonwealth will be forced to argue not that the driver operated her truck negligently, but that something she did (such as failing to properly maintain the truck) led to the wheel separating from the axle.  It will be a much more difficult case for the Commonwealth to prosecute.

These cases are hard to prosecute.  Jurors are often reluctant to convict people of criminal conduct based on simple negligence.  Unlike many other crimes, most of us have sped or otherwise driven our cars in ways that could potentially constitute negligence, and jurors tend to be sympathetic to defendants charged with negligence motor vehicle homicide.  Defendants who are convicted of this crime face serious consequences.  It carries a potential jail sentence, but perhaps even more devastating is the license loss.  A conviction for negligent motor vehicle homicide carries a 15-year license suspension.