LAPD Searches For Three Drivers in Successive Hit-And-Runs Involving Same Victim

A deeply disturbing case in Los Angeles could raise some difficult legal questions. The police have released a video of three vehicles hitting that same man in the middle of a road and then fleeing the scene. The question is how to charge the drivers once they are apprehended.

The 50-year-old man was first hit by a motorcyclist and then by a car and then by a third vehicle. All three drivers drove away.  [This video contains disturbing elements]

The video suggests that the drivers knew that they hit a person. The question is which driver could be charged with murder or vehicular homicide of the man (later identified as Jose Fuentes).  He may have survived the first hit by the motorcycle but the second hit was devastating. Yet, it is possible that he could have still be alive by the time of the third hit, though it seems unlikely. This will clearly be a question for the pathologist but it may be difficult to determine given the closeness of the impacts.

Of course, the first hit left Fuentes in the helpless condition that led to his being run over by the second vehicle.

One charge would be California Penal Code 192(c) for vehicular manslaughter:

Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of three kinds:

(a) Voluntary—upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.

(b) Involuntary—in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection. This subdivision shall not apply to acts committed in the driving of a vehicle.

(c) Vehicular—

(1) Except as provided in subdivision (a) of Section 191.5, driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.

(2) Driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, but without gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.

(3) Driving a vehicle in connection with a violation of paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 550, where the vehicular collision or vehicular accident was knowingly caused for financial gain and proximately resulted in the death of any person. This paragraph does not prevent prosecution of a defendant for the crime of murder.

This would appear a case for gross negligence but there would be defenses due to the limited lighting and time to react for the drivers.  Drivers are expected however to take such conditions into account in reducing their speed.

Then there are the obvious hit-and-run charges. There appears to be two options under California law.  Under Vehicle Code § 20002, you can be charged with a misdemeanor for leaving any accident that causes property damage without providing your name and other information. This can result in up to six months in jail and three years of probation (as well as up to $1,000,000 in damages.   There is also the possibility of a felony hit and run charge under California Penal Code §20001 where someone other than the driver was injured or killed. 

20001 (a) The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person, other than himself or herself, or in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall fulfill the requirements of Sections 20003 and 20004.

That can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The first and second drivers would seem to meet the definition under the felony provision.

Notably, the California jury instruction requires that the driver caused death or serious bodily injury. That raises the possible defense of the second and third drivers that Fuentes was already dead at the time of their contact.  There is no question that they illegally fled the scene but the more serious felony charge can lead to three years in prison.

The prosecutors could fudge the difference, particularly for the first two drivers.  Even if the jury did not find that first hit caused the death of Fuentes, both drivers clearly caused serious bodily injury. In addition, the first driver could face vehicular manslaughter, though again the forensics and pathology will be key to such a case. It is the third driver who could present the most difficult issues if defense could argue that he or she struck a dead body rather than a living person. That would still leave the misdemeanor charge but the criminal exposure is much less in terms of jail time.

The second and third drivers would have been in a more defensible position if they stopped at the scene. In such a case, they could argue a lack of negligence due to the limited space and time to react. Instead, they have triggered the hit-and-run provisions, including possible felony charges.

17 thoughts on “LAPD Searches For Three Drivers in Successive Hit-And-Runs Involving Same Victim”

  1. When I was 18 I came over the top of a hill on a relatively busy surface street and narrowly avoided hitting a motorcyclist who had lost control and laid his bike down in the middle of the road. I immediately stopped the car about 50 yards past him and jumped out to go assist him just as 2 more cars came over the top of the hill and hit and killed him.

    Both cars stopped after hitting him, and the drivers were emotionally devastated, and he was dead. All I could think was that I should have done a fast u turn and put my car between him and the top of the blind hill, instead of stopping and getting out of my car.

    But the cops told me I did the right thing, and had I placed my car between the motorcyclist and the top of the hill it would have caused more damage.

  2. Something similar happened in Miami a number of years ago. A man walked onto the Dolphin Expressway [836] in the dark morning rush hour and was run over scores of times or more. The traffic is so heavy the Highway Patrol had trouble getting to the guy before he looked like a squirrel in heavy traffic. Nobody charged, of course. In Miami stopping can get you in an accident.

  3. Nothing about the supremes’ midnight ruling — legislating from the bench!?

    A state action; States’ Rights!

  4. This deadly accident was entirely due to the man who died. It’s dark, he’s wearing dark clothing, he jaywalks in dangerous conditions and then reverses 2 1/2 steps directly into the path of an oncoming motorcycle. Then he gets run over twice because the drivers don’t see his dark figure lying prone in the middle of a dark road. It was an accident and the deceased’s estate should pay for whatever damages he caused. Did the drivers leave the scene? I don’t know.

  5. Through-fares in L.A. are generally much wider than those in New York and Chicago. For that reason Jay-Walking is highly discouraged. Yet certain fools will not only Jay-Walk, but they’ll take their good sweet time in crossing while paying no attention to traffic. The enclosed video suggests that could be the case with this victim.

    If you ‘have to’ Jay-Walk, wait for a long break in traffic, then promptly sprint across.

    1. I once crossed from the sidewalk to the Arc de Triomphe on the big roundabout in Paris, dodging trucks, taxis, cars and motorcycles racing around in their many lanes. I took the safe, underground tunnel on the way back to the sidewalk. I highly recommend not doing this, crossing the Arc de Triomphe traffic circle, if you should ever be tempted.

      [reposted because a partly bad word seems to have blocked the original].

    1. That’s what the always compassionate leftists did to priests and ordinary folk they didn’t agree with during the French Revolution. Locked them in boats with holes and shoved them into a deep river. Leftist mobs somehow cry for humanity and yet end up doing things like that.

  6. Yes let’s discuss what the legal implications of this event are rather than focusing on what this says about America’s self centered, it’s all about me, mentality and lack of any civic responsibility.

    1. rather than focusing on what this says about America’s self centered, it’s all about me, mentality and lack of any civic responsibility.

      It’s an oddball event. It doesn’t say much about anyone but the drivers in question.

      1. There was a similar incident which happened in Los Angeles in November 2019, right around Thanksgiving.

    2. I agree! I said some similar things earlier this year on a neighborhood comment thread. I was pilloried.

      1. It’s OK when Art Deco trolls these pages with “this is not going to end well” but you don’t dare steal her thunder.

        yes, the incident adds to an ever growing list of incidents demonstrating how self-absorbed, entitled, indifferent we are today in America. Abortion, is after all, the mother of self-absorbed actions that any human can commit. to listen to the Left, it’s an event to celebrate

        1. Does any one care? Where is the pope? Where have geeko0?

          He solved the great mystery….lets pray.

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