“This accident was so violent, that even though it was a rear end accident, it injured everyone in the vehicle and also killed a one-year-old,” John Tyler of the California Highway Patrol said.
Tyler was referring to a collision that occurred this past weekend in Lemoore, California where 50-year-old Rodney Klamerus crashed into the back of a family’s Nissan. Three adults were in the Nissan along with one-year-old Liliana Valencia who was in her car seat.
All three adult passengers in the Nissan and Klamerus were transported to nearby hospitals. Valencia was transported to a hospital, but was later pronounced dead.
“We’re not sure exactly why, possibly due to his impairment, but he failed to slow down as this vehicle was ahead of him. And this vehicle turned northbound onto [Highway] 41, established itself in the lane, and was rear-ended shortly thereafter,” Tyler told KFSN.
Although investigators were unable to speak with Klamerus due to the severity of his injuries, he is facing several felony DUI charges which will likely include DUI-related homicide charges.
Homicide merely refers to the killing of another human being and encompasses murder charges, voluntary manslaughter charges, and involuntary manslaughter charges. It is still unclear exactly what homicide charge Klamerus faces.
Prior to 1981, a person who killed someone while driving under the influence could not be charged and convicted of murder. However, the landmark case of People v. Watson changed that.
California Penal Code section 187(a) provides that “Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being…with malice aforethought.” “Malice” refers to the deliberate intention to unlawfully kill someone else. However, malice can be also be “implied” and implied malice exists when a person knowingly engages in an act that is dangerous to human life and they engage the act with a conscious disregard for human life. It is almost as if the court is saying that the drunk driver might as well have intended to kill someone because they knew it was dangerous to drive drunk, yet they did it anyways.
The court in Watson found that if the facts surrounding the DUI support a finding of “implied malice,” second degree murder can be charged when the DUI led to the death of someone else. In other words, if a person engages in driving under the influence when they know that it is dangerous to human life to do so, and they kill someone, they can be charged with murder.
Now the question becomes, “Did the person know it was dangerous to human life to drive drunk?”
While we all know that it’s dangerous to drive drunk, since Watson, courts started expressly advising people who have been convicted of DUI, on the record, that it is, in fact, dangerous to drive drunk. This was not because the court actually thought that the defendant didn’t know it, but rather to ensure that the prosecutor could charge murder instead of manslaughter upon a subsequent DUI causing the death of someone.
Whether Klamerus will be charged with murder or some lesser homicide charge will depend on whether prosecutors can prove that he expressly knew that, by driving drunk, he could kill someone, but decided to drive drunk anyways.