On Tuesday, Boise City Attorney’s office filed one misdemeanor count of reckless driving against Roy Drennon, the Eagle man who allegedly plowed into a crowd of people in his Porsche two months ago, injuring 11.
Many Statesman readers questioned the charges. We spoke with Greg Bower, who retired from the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office in 2014 after 40 years there, to get more context on the legal elements in the case. Bower, who is unaffiliated with Drennon’s case, said he believes the unusual nature of the crash makes it particularly difficult to prosecute.
“This case is sort of unique, where you have a number of people who were injured by conduct that’s very stupid,” Bower said. “There are not a lot of options.”
Had Drennon left the scene, Bower said, that would’ve made a significant difference.
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Why weren’t felony charges filed?
Because Drennon stayed at the scene of the crash, the statute for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury — a felony — does not apply. And because none of the 11 people injured in the crash died, the crash doesn’t constitute vehicular manslaughter, either.
“If somebody doesn’t leave the scene and nobody is killed, it leaves prosecutors with very few options to charge,” Bower said.
Thanks to the nature of Idaho law, that usually leaves only traffic violations, many of which are misdemeanors.
Why was he charged with reckless driving?
Idaho’s statute for reckless driving reads as follows:
“Any person who drives or is in actual physical control of any vehicle upon a highway, or upon public or private property open to public use, carelessly and heedlessly or without due caution and circumspection, and at a speed or in a manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property, or who passes when there is a line in his lane indicating a sight distance restriction, shall be guilty of reckless driving...”
Bower said the burden of proof for reckless driving is “a super-high standard.”
“(Reckless driving) requires doing something purposefully dangerous,” Bower said, adding that juries are instructed to use “absolute disregard” for others’ safety as the benchmark of a reckless driver.
Reckless driving can be downgraded to inattentive driving (which Bower said is easier to prove). Both charges are misdemeanors, though inattentive driving carries lighter sentencing.
What about charges commonly used when someone is physically injured, such as assault or battery?
According to Bower, battery and assault charges “require specific intent to commit the injury.” In this case, the injuries appeared to be the accidental result of allegedly excessive speed, making an assault or battery charge inconsistent with the events of the crash.
What usually happens in these cases?
As Bower mentioned, this instance is unusual. In many cases, bicyclists or pedestrians are killed when struck by vehicles, which significantly alters which Idaho statutes apply.
The reckless driving charge is in line with similar cases, however. Earlier this year, a 19-year-old woman was cited for not exercising due caution around a bicyclist when she hit a man in Eagle. He was hospitalized with serious injuries.
In 2015, a 5-year-old boy was struck by a minivan and seriously injured while bicycling through a crosswalk with his father. The driver in that case was charged with inattentive driving.
But what about the video of the crash?
Video only goes so far as evidence when you consider the way statutes are written and applied. Videos from bystanders would not be able to prove Drennon’s intent, the main element in elevating existing charges or filing others.
What’s the difference between the criminal charges and potential future civil suits?
In October, at least one victim of the crash decided to pursue a civil suit against Drennon. Matt Andrew, an attorney with Skaug Law PC, is representing that victim. Andrew said that while criminal charges are brought as a means of “giving justice to one defendant,” civil cases focus more on the victims.
“You’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole if you’re trying to use the criminal system to get justice for victims,” Andrew said. “(Drennon) will get his day in criminal court, and the victims will get theirs (in civil court).”
The penalties between the two are also different. If a criminal defendant loses, incarceration is a possibility. In civil cases, however, a losing defendant is often on the hook for financial restitution.