Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Column  |  Howard Troxler

What constitutes 'careless' driving vs. homicide?

How can a man with 21 previous traffic citations in Pinellas County drive onto a sidewalk in St. Pete Beach, kill a 33-year-old mother of three and be cited for nothing more than careless driving?

Easy to ask. Hard to answer.

The case is heartbreaking and maddening. Seth and Heather Whalley were visiting family here April 10, walking down Blind Pass Road.

Aaron Scott Rimar, 35, was driving a van down the road when he veered onto the sidewalk and hit them both. Seth lived. Heather died of head injuries two days later.

As my colleague Leonora LaPeter Anton reports, Rimar had a long history that included, among other things, speeding, running a stop sign and driving on the wrong side of a divided highway.

Yet the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office concluded that Rimar could not be charged. St. Pete Beach police could cite Rimar only for careless driving, with a maximum fine of $500 and 120 hours of community service.

I talked to lawyers and spent some time poring over the statutes. I can see how the prosecutors reached this decision. I don't like it, but I see it.

Consider what seems to be the logical charge of vehicular homicide, a second-degree felony with a maximum sentence of 15 years. The crime is defined as a death caused by:

operation of a motor vehicle … in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another.

But "reckless" means more than just being "careless." Dropping your cell phone and having a wreck is "careless." Driving 75 mph in a posted school zone is "reckless."

"You have to show a willful, wanton, reckless disregard for the safety of others on the road," explains Denis de Vlaming, a well-known Pinellas defense attorney unconnected to the case.

Rimar's statement was that he looked down at the briefcase on his seat, and the next thing he was on the sidewalk. By itself, this is a careless act. There was no evidence that he was speeding, driving wildly or recklessly.

There was a complicating factor — Rimar had at least four prescription drugs in his system. But the evidence must show he was impaired, and doctors consulted by prosecutors said the drugs were within acceptable levels.

I talked to Tom Carey, another well-known Pinellas lawyer, who is representing the Whalley family. Carey argues that jurors could infer recklessness from the very nature of the accident.

"My argument is, if he had drugs in his system, he goes up on the sidewalk, goes on the sidewalk for some distance — why is that not circumstantial evidence for reckless driving?" Carey asked.

But prosecutors concluded that, no matter Rimar's record, they could not prove recklessness in this case. I talked to them as well. They don't like it either.

I've tried in my mind to make a case for a new law — a law saying that habitually dangerous drivers who kill or injure someone, even in an accident, should go to prison. After all, we have "three strikes" rules for felons.

But the three-strikes felon has unquestionably committed another crime. My law would criminalize what otherwise would be a pure accident if it happened to a "good" driver. It probably wouldn't stand up in court.

So, tell me, what's the way out? I understand how they got to this decision. But it is morally unsatisfying.

What constitutes 'careless' driving vs. homicide? 11/12/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 15, 2008 7:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Shakeup on Adam Putnam campaign


    In a sign of unsteadiness for what  had  looked like a strong-out-of-the-gate Adam Putnam campaign, the Republican frontrunner suddenly fired his campaign manager and political director. Hard-charging Campaign manager Kristin Davis and political director Jared Small were two of the three outsiders to join …

    Putnam campaigning in Destin the other day as part of his 22-city bus tour
  2. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  3. Tampa man arrested for killing man in his USF-area home


    TAMPA — A Tampa man was arrested Monday in the death of man found killed at a home in the University of South Florida area last week, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Kadeem Dareem Archibald, 26, was arrested Monday on a  second degree murder charge in the University Area killing of Khando Kerr. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Report: Trump asked intel chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence


    President Donald Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former officials.

    From  left, CIA Director Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers take their seats on Capitol Hill on May 11 before  testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. [Associated Press]
  5. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”