On January 28, 2014 at about 3:15PM on Route 95 South, near Burlington, MA, a mattress flew off of the roof of a truck, ultimately causing the death of a 56 year old woman from Framingham, MA. While it is far too early to speculate about what happened and why, this fact pattern does raise some interesting legal issues. As of the time of this blog, it does not appear as though the truck driver has come forward or the police have found the identity of truck driver.
The first issue to consider is with what criminal charges the truck driver can potentially be charged. The first charge that comes to mind is leaving the scene of personal injury. One element, however, of this crime that the prosecutor must prove is that the operator knew that there was an accident. This may prove to be a very difficult task for the prosecutor to prove because the incident occurred behind the truck driver. While the driver may certainly have seen what happened, it is up to the Commonwealth to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew there was an accident. Perhaps only statements that the operator made either to a passenger or on a cell phone may help the prosecution in this regard.
The second potential crime that the operator can be charged with is negligent homicide. All the prosecution needs to prove here is that the operator in tying the mattress to the roof did so in a negligent manner. This may be quite easy to prove, because a mattress that is securely and appropriately tied to the roof, should not fall off. The prosecutor must also prove, however, who the operator of the vehicle was. While there may be circumstantial proof of this, only time will tell what evidence the Commonwealth could muster to prove who was operating the vehicle at the time of the collision.
Depending on how the mattress was tied on, who tied it on, and why it was tied on, there can even be potential charges that this person was recklessly indifference to the safety and lives of others and potential manslaughter charges could be brought. While this is unlikely, where a person has unnecessarily died, nothing is officially off the table as far as potential charges that may be brought. So to answer the question of the title of this essay, “was it murder?”, the answer is almost certainly in the negative. Murder calls for a malicious state of mind and a far worse fact scenario than what appears to be involved in this case. Manslaughter, however, is certainly a possible charge in this case. If the Commonwealth were to prove, among other things, that the operator’s conduct was wanton and reckless, the operator could be found guilty of manslaughter. Because the operator was using a dangerous weapon (a motor vehicle), this is a further reason why a manslaughter charge can be brought. While, again, it is a bit early to speculate about the facts, the truth is that the charge will likely be negligent homicide. Manslaughter, however, is certainly a viable charge which can be brought in this case. Murder is a very unlikely charge which would arise from this case.
As a criminal defense attorney, it has often dawned on me how very fragile life really is. For most of us that are not predators and violent and who are not in the military, the only real way we can cause serious physical harm and even death to others is when we are behind the wheel of an automobile. When we drive our car, we generally do so robotically, as we have been accustomed to do for many years. It seldom passes our minds that one wrong turn, one too many drinks, one read email, one loosely tied mattress or bicycle, or one fleeting second of inattention, can forever change our lives and the lives of others.
Perhaps a good lesson to be learned is that when operating a motor vehicle or when tying something to a motor vehicle, do not settle for passive attentiveness, demand perfect focus and attention. These are, again, likely the only instances when you can seriously injure yourself, a passenger or another person.
These types of driving offenses are the rare instances when you can be charged with a serious crime for doing something merely in a negligent fashion. Normally committing a crime entails a devious heart or mind. In these cases, it only calls for careless behavior.
If convicted, or even merely charged with these types of crimes, not only could you face jail, but you will certainly face potential license suspension or revocation.
If you have been charged with a traffic-related crime or have received notification from the DMV that your license may be suspended or revoked, please call Altman & Altman, LLP at any time at (617) 492-3000 to speak, at no charge, with one of our attorneys. It is critical that you call an attorney as soon as possible as many cases are won or lost in the very early stages after the event.