2012-04-05 / News

Attorney general doesn’t file criminal charges in reckless-driving case

KENNETH PRIOR KENNETH PRIOR The investigation by the Rhode Island State Police into the driving fatality, which occurred on October 21, 2011, on the Newport Bridge, recently concluded. The crash resulted in the deaths of Kenneth Prior and Kathleen Meunier.

At approximately 10:43 p.m. on October 21, 2011, two cars collided on the Newport Bridge two miles east of the Toll Plaza. A black Chevrolet Malibu, driven by Prior, with Meunier as the passenger, was headed west towards Jamestown. The other vehicle, a silver Honda traveling east, was operated by a 16-year-old, with his twin brother as the passenger. The vehicle driven by the juvenile veered across the center double line and into westbound lane, striking the Malibu.

Based on the evidence obtained through the course of the investigation, it was determined that criminal charges will not be filed against the juvenile driver. The investigation concluded that neither alcohol nor texting were factors in the accident. The investigation concluded that the juvenile driver was speeding at approximately 63 mph at the time of the accident; several eyewitness accounts indicate he was traveling with the flow of traffic. Video footage leading up to the accident does not indicate that the juvenile was driving erratically or appeared distracted.

On Tuesday, March 26, in front of the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal, the juvenile driver pled to speeding and a lane roadway violation – operating the vehicle left of center. The juvenile received a suspended license for six months, which is the maximum time allowed, ordered to pay the statutorily mandatory fines, and must attend and complete the Reducing Youthful Dangerous Driving program. The program is an educational program that was created to reduce high-risk driving and prevent motor-vehicle crashes among young drivers in Rhode Island.

The office thoroughly reviewed the evidence and met with the families several times to answer questions about the matter. Despite this terrible tragedy, the evidence in this case does not warrant bringing criminal charges. When a loved one is taken in such an untimely manner, it is understandable to want to hold someone criminally accountable. The attorney general extends his condolences to the families of Kenneth Prior and Kathleen Meunier.

Based on Rhode Island Supreme Court decision (State v. Dionne), in order to charge an individual with reckless driving, death resulting, it requires a “course of conduct showing an extreme indifference to the consequences of his actions,” a “heedless indifference,” and a “wanton disregard for the safety of others. The Supreme Court has also ruled that a “mere error in judgment is not enough.”

In State v. Bettencourt, the Supreme Court ruled that “recklessness, like negligence, must be related to a time, place, persons and surrounding circumstances and be measured by them. Excessive speed under some circumstances may amount to mere negligence and under other circumstances may constitute a willful or wanton disregard of the safety of others.”

The court stated that to sustain a conviction for reckless homicide, the “accused must have known or should have known that his manner or driving created an unreasonable risk of harm by the need not have intended to cause such harm.”

Based upon a thorough review of the crash investigation conducted by the Rhode Island State Police, as well as a review of applicable case law, no criminal charges will be filed in this matter.

Editor’s note: The above press release was sent to the Jamestown Press from the attorney general’s office on March 30.

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