Last week, the Charleston Police Department determined that Gregory Rupley drove an AT&T utility van onto the shoulder of the James Island Connector and killed popular area cyclist Dr. Mitchell Hollon. (See Analysis of the Mitchell Hollon Bicycle Crash for details.)
Look at what the police announced this week: “After careful consideration of all the evidence and facts gathered concerning this collision, investigators with the Charleston Police Department’s Traffic Division have charged Gregory E. Rupley with Improper Lane Usage. “
Yes, you read that right. Rupley is due in court on September 1st to face charges of committing a traffic violation. The same press report that provided the quoted paragraph above also indicated the Charleston Police Department consulted with the Charleston County Solicitor’s Office to determine the charges. Apparently, the prosecution is going to let Rupley off the hook for the deadly consequences of his inattentive driving. That, or someone forgot to mention that Rupley killed Dr. Hollon last week in the process of using the lane improperly.
The State reports that Police Lt. Chip Searson, of the Charleston Traffic Division, said Rupley’s actions displayed no “willful or wanton disregard for public safety”. The police, in other words, claim they are powerless, for lack of evidence that Rupley did anything wrong.
I looked up the laws of South Carolina, and found the legal definitions of “negligence”, “wanton”, and “manslaughter” in a legal dictionary. The language used to describe these things stands out rather compellingly: Omission of a known obligation with reckless indifference to potential harmful consequences. Failure to foresee and so allow otherwise avoidable dangers to manifest.
The police and prosecutor are displaying all the symptoms of “Just An Accident Syndrome,” an affliction where some in the legal system (who are motorists themselves) identify with motorists so strongly, they refuse to enforce the law against them. Thus, Rupley is excused for taking Dr. Hollon’s life, and “criminal negligence” becomes “just an accident”, with the subtext that Dr. Hollon’s violent death was the result of random chance that was beyond Rupley’s control.
This skewed perspective ignores several important truths, most notably that the AT&T utility van has brakes and a steering wheel, the roadway has lane markings, and the rules of the road obligate Rupley to use and pay attention to these things, which he clearly was not doing when he killed Dr. Hollon. Rupley’s omission of his obligations caused a motor vehicle, traveling at 55 miles per hour, to veer off a clearly marked roadway, and kill a human being. If that doesn’t fit the legal definition of negligence, I can’t imagine what else does.
Scarlett A. Wilson is the Solicitor for the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Berkeley and Charleston Counties. The police would have consulted Wilson or a prosecutor on Wilson’s staff. I encourage everyone to contact Scarlett A. Wilson and Gregory Mullen, the Charleston Chief of Police, and remind them respectfully that Dr. Mitchell Hollon, now silenced forever, deserves a better measure of justice than a traffic ticket.
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South Carolina Code: Section 16-3-60. With regard to the crime of involuntary manslaughter, criminal negligence is defined as the reckless disregard of the safety of others. A person charged with the crime of involuntary manslaughter may be convicted only upon a showing of criminal negligence as defined in this section. A person convicted of involuntary manslaughter must be imprisoned not more than five years.
Legal definition of Negligence: “Conduct that falls below the standards of behavior established by law for the protection of others against unreasonable risk of harm. A person has acted negligently if he or she has departed from the conduct expected of a reasonably prudent person acting under similar circumstances.”
Legal definition of Wanton: “Grossly careless or negligent; reckless; malicious. The term wanton implies a reckless disregard for the consequences of one’s behavior. A wanton act is one done in heedless disregard for the life, limbs, health, safety, reputation, or property rights of another individual. Such an act is more than Negligence or gross negligence; it is equivalent in its results to an act of willful misconduct. A wanton injury is one precipitated by a conscious and intentional wrongful act or by an omission of a known obligation with reckless indifference to potential harmful consequences.”
Legal definition of Criminal Negligence: “Careless, inattentive, neglectful, willfully blind, or in the case of gross negligence what would have been reckless in any other defendant. [...] The distinction between recklessness and criminal negligence lies in the presence or absence of foresight as to the prohibited consequences. Recklessness is usually described as a ‘malfeasance’ where the defendant knowingly exposes another to the risk of injury. The fault lies in being willing to run the risk. But criminal negligence is a ‘misfeasance or ‘nonfeasance’ (see omission), where the fault lies in the failure to foresee and so allow otherwise avoidable dangers to manifest.”
Legal definition of Vehicular homicide: “([A]lso known as vehicular manslaughter) [...] [D]eath that results from the negligent operation of a vehicle, or more so a result from driving while committing an unlawful act that does not amount to a felony. In the Model Penal Code there is no separate category of vehicular homicide, and vehicular homicides that involve negligence. Both are included in the overall category of negligent homicide. It can be compared to the offense of dangerous driving causing death in other countries. All states except Alaska, Montana, and Arizona have vehicular homicide statutes. The laws have the effect of making a vehicle a potentially deadly weapon, to allow for easier conviction and more severe penalties. In states without such statutes, defendants can still be charged with manslaughter or murder in some situations. The victim may be either a person not in the car with the offending motorist, such as a pedestrian, cyclist, another motorist, or a passenger in the vehicle with the offender.”