Friday, September 15, 2006
Driver Involved in Freeway ‘Gamesmanship’ Required To Stop at Scene of Accident—Court of Appeal
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A driver who cut off another motorist on the highway had an obligation to stop at the accident scene where the other motorist subsequently crashed, even though the two cars never made physical contact, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
In an unpublished opinion, Div. One unanimously affirmed a finding by San Diego Superior Court Judges William McAdam and Carol Isackson that a teen identified as “Bryant Paul C.” violated Vehicle Code Sec. 20001(a) by failing to pull over when the
SUV he twice cut off on the freeway veered out of control and slammed into the guardrail.
Sec. 20001(a) requires the driver of any vehicle “involved” in an accident resulting in injury to any other person to immediately stop the vehicle and fulfill certain disclosure and reporting requirements.
In its petition last June to declare Bryant a ward of the court, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office alleged that he violated Sec. 20001(a) while driving on Interstate 8 on November 22, 2004.
According to testimony, the accident was preceded by a series of events beginning with Derek New, in his Chevy Tahoe, merging onto the freeway directly behind Bryant. Just before merging on the freeway, Bryant applied a “brake-check” by putting his foot on the brakes for no apparent reason, which caused New to slam on his brakes.
As Bryant took his time getting onto the freeway, his passengers repeatedly turned around and looked at New with excited looks, New testified.
Once on the freeway, New attempted to go around Bryant by moving one lane to the right, but Bryant moved in front of New and continued driving slowly. New again changed lanes so that he was in a different lane and behind Bryant, and increased his speed.
When the Tahoe’s front tire was near the Saturn’s driver’s side door, Bryant veered into New’s lane, at which point the cars were only inches apart. Attempting to move out of the way, New quickly lost control of his car and spun to the right. His SUV ultimately went up onto the guardrail and wrapped around a signpost.
The accident caused extensive damages to the Tahoe and injuries to New that included a broken ankle. When New got out of his car, two drivers stopped to help him but Bryant did not.
The California Highway Patrol officer responding to the collision later determined that it was a “noncontact ‘hit-and-run’” in which Bryant had been involved.
At the hearing on the wardship petition, Bryant contended he was not “involved” in New’s single-car accident within the meaning of Sec. 20001(a) because his Saturn and New’s Tahoe never made contact. Therefore, he argued, he was not required to stop and could not have violated the statute.
Additionally, Bryant and his friend testified that it was New who tried to run him off the road prior to the accident, and that he remained in his own lane the entire time.
After weighing all of the testimony, the court entered a true finding of misdemeanor failure to stop at the scene of an accident and sustained the district attorney’s petition. It subsequently adjudged Bryant a ward of the court and placed him on probation in his parents’ custody.
On appeal, the Fourth District rejected Bryant’s argument that evidence was insufficient to support the finding that he was involved in New’s accident.
Writing for the three-justice panel, Justice Cynthia Aaron said:
“The trial court was entitled to give [certain witness] testimony great weight, and to conclude from the gamesmanship that occurred between New and Bryant prior to the accident that Bryant was involved in New’s collision. There is certainly sufficient evidence to establish that Bryant was engaging with New by moving in front of New as New tried to pass. This evidence is sufficient to establish that Bryant’s actions were connected with New’s accident in a logical manner, in that if Bryant had not moved into New’s lane, New would not have had to swerve to avoid hitting Bryant’s car.”
Justices Alex C. McDonald and Joan Irion concurred in the opinion.
The case is In re Bryant C., D047403.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company