Over the past few months, I have written about the increase in pedestrian deaths in Fairfax County and surrounding areas. In September, I highlighted one tragic case in Loudoun County. A driver struck a stroller in a crosswalk, killing 5-month old Tristan Schulz and severely injuring his mother, Mindy Schulz. Now, the driver, John Miller IV, age 45, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless driving and failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.
The human cost here is unimaginable. The legal issues are both straightforward and complex. Straightforward because a pedestrian in a crosswalk has the right-of-way, period. Virginia law is clear about this, and as drivers we all need to be mindful of it, all the time. Never try to “beat” a pedestrian through the crosswalk; it is illegal as well as extremely dangerous. The pedestrian has the right of way.
This case, however, is also complex – cases that involve a manslaughter charge always are. There is eye witness testimony to consider, as well as the design of the roadway, intersection, and crosswalk, the driving conditions, and more. If the case is not settled by a plea bargain, it will go to trial, and the defense will try to prove that there were mitigating circumstances that make this case more complicated than it seems in a headline. That’s the attorney’s job.
Two things to consider here. The first is that nothing could possibly have been more important than this child’s life and the health of his mother. Imagine you are making that choice every time you drive. Slow down, yield, put the phone away. And second, consider that even if no one is injured, if you hit a pedestrian your own life will be complicated in ways you don’t want to know about. The investigation, the indictment, the trial…even if you are ultimately acquitted, you will wish you had avoided the entire situation in the first place. You will wish you had added an extra few minutes to your drive by slowing down, yielding, putting your phone away. That would be nothing compared to the emotional and financial drain that inevitably comes with an accident.
To be clear, when I say “you,” I mean me…and all of us here at BenGlassLaw…and our families and associates…and everyone who drives. We can’t remind ourselves often enough because the stakes are so high. Slow down. Yield. Put the phone away. That’s always the right choice – nothing complicated about it.