The Oregonian: Run a Red Light and Kill 3 Kids? “Just a Tragic Accident”

In February, a pickup truck driver in suburban Eugene, Oregon, ran through a red light at 40 miles an hour, killing three children — 4-year-old Tyler Hudson, 5-year-old McKenzie Hudson, and 8-year-old John Day — and critically injuring their mother. The family was walking with the right-of-way in a crosswalk, returning from getting ice cream.

Image: KMTR 16 Eugene
Image: KMTR 16 Eugene

The response to this horrible loss of life? Law enforcement and the state’s largest paper, The Oregonian, have chalked it up as a “tragic accident.”

The Lane County district attorney recently announced there won’t be any criminal charges for the driver, Larry LaThorpe, 68, formerly a commercial truck driver. LaThorpe’s defense is simple enough: He thought the light was green. And that, it seems, is all you have to say to avoid prosecution for killing three children with your motor vehicle.

LaThorpe got a ticket for running the red and has since had his license stripped for undisclosed and apparently unrelated medical reasons. That’s it.

The Oregonian editorial board was inclined to weigh in last week, defending the prosecutor’s decision in a piece headlined “Sometimes an accident is just a tragic accident.” LaThorpe, they point out, wasn’t drunk, or on his phone, or breaking any other law, besides, you know, running a red light at 40 mph.

“It was just a moment or two of inattention,” they opine, so nothing can be done:

Ultimately, you can’t prosecute away risk or engineer safety in a way that overcomes the inevitable boneheaded mistakes that people make, even when their full attention should be on the deadly weapon they are piloting down the street.

If that’s your response when a driver breaks the law and kills three children, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’ll never get streets engineered and enforced to prevent driver distraction if you think fatal mistakes are inevitable.

Not everyone is so complacent.

In Sweden, “We simply do not accept any deaths or injuries on our roads,” Hans Berg of the national transport agency recently explained to the Economist. In 1997, the country set out to eliminate traffic deaths, and it has made significant progress. In 2012, only one Swedish child under 12 was killed in a traffic collision of any kind.

That means the number of children killed in this single Eugene traffic collision was three times higher than all the children 12 and under killed on Swedish streets in an entire year. That disparity is a failure of political will, not a law of nature.

122 thoughts on The Oregonian: Run a Red Light and Kill 3 Kids? “Just a Tragic Accident”

  1. We don’t know enough just reading this blog to say if he’s guilty or innocent, it seems that the prosecutor though he wasn’t guilty, of course he has ALL the documentation that we and the author doesn’t have. With that being said, I’ll go by what the prosecutor put out for punishment.

  2. the road designer has nothing to do with setting the speed limit for the road, that comes from different engineers, who use the 85 percentile rule.

  3. “Why does he get to keep driving?”
    The bad drivers make the bulk of revenue.

  4. That’s true but the road design can ultimately affect the 85th percentile speed used to set the speed limit. Wide lanes tend to encourage higher speeds, for example.

  5. Again. I disagree. It’s not as if someone thinks: “I would run those kids over except that I might go to prison”.

    I do not believe that prison is a deterrent in the normal sense of the word, because there was no conscious intent or rational decision-making here.

    The driver will lose his license and likely be sued. And he will feel terrible for the rest of his life. Enough?

  6. I didn’t say “absolved”. In fact i specifically said that a driver in an accident can still be blamed and found at fault, via civil lawsuits and insurance claims.

    My point is that if something wasn’t intended, then it is an accident. The word “accident” means “not deliberate” and not “absolved of any blame”

  7. Maybe, but what if the incident or event that suddenly happens prevents you from doing that? Or affects the very judgement that you should do that?

    A disposition might make it dangerous for me to drive but it also might affect my ability to realize that danger

  8. He made a conscious decision to drive recklessly. Prison sentences would deter future reckless driving.

  9. If you have some kind of condition that suddenly makes you unable to control your vehicle (yet somehow allows you to keep your foot firmly on the gas pedal; he was driving 40 mph) you should not have a driver’s license in the first place.

  10. His license will be restored (they always are) and the civil suit will do nothing to prevent this incompetent moron from driving again.

    This isn’t a game and there aren’t any oopsies anymore. We’re tired of the coddling, of the excuses, of the persistent windshield perspective and sympathies.

    99% of “accidents” are driver error. True accidents are very rare. This was no “Accident”. It was gross negligence. Intent should have nothing to do with anything. It’s insulting to the victims and those of us who give a crap about reducing traffic violence that people excuse this behavior with the old “no intent” canard.

    We are working to have that “get out of jail free card” removed while forcing our often lazy and disinterested DAs and local LEOs to do their jobs and put these incompetent menaces away.

  11. He said he thought the light was green. How much more proof of incompetence do you require to remove this man from the streets?

    In practical terms, there are no such thing as “accidents”. Less than 1% of “accidents” are the result of acts of god, mechanical failures, etc. They are pure negligence. Driver error. The bulk caused by speeding followed closely by distraction.

    When you dropped your glass of milk as a child because your hands were wet, that wasn’t an accident. That was negligence. When the dog barreled into you and you dropped it, that was an accident. This may seem like petty semantics but in the legal system, semantics are very important.

    Some municipalities have realized this and have stopped calling them accidents and more properly are calling them collisions.

    Put this guy away for at least 6 months, forfeit license for life and everything else (civil suit, personal anguish) are well-earned and just desserts.

  12. The contrast with Sweden is striking. Our country is on another planet in terms of caring about well, anything, other than so-called “freedom”. Our government/industry just doesn’t give a crap. We’ll be a second-world backwater in a few generations, outside of the tech and financial sectors.

  13. Are you kidding? Look at how many people drink and drive and the punishment is pretty severe. People think they will never be caught. I live in LA and I see everyday acts of driving that exhibit complete and utter disregard for anyone around them. People just don’t give a crap about anybody else, or at least they think they won’t get caught. Our society is fraught with self-centered morons.

  14. A prosecutor isn’t a judge, and shouldn’t be a judge. If a prosecutor refuses to prosecute in a case where there’s public evidence of guilt, the prosecutor has corruptly prevented the court system from working. Therefore we no longer need to assume that the accused is innocent.

    I tend to assume in such cases, based on the preponderance of the evidence, that the person is guilty and the prosecutor is corrupt.

  15. I’m glad that he’ll lose his license, but it’s apparently for totally unrelated reasons, which means he’ll get it back.

    He needs to *not* get it back.

  16. Agree 100%. The core punishment should be permanent revocation of the drivers’ license, because that deters future reckless driving.

    Now, driving with a revoked license which was revoked for reckless driving — barring extreme extenuating circumstances (“I was trying to escape the hurricane”) — *THAT* should be grounds for imprisonment.

  17. So, driving drunk at 100 miles an hour with no license is an “accident”. I don’t really care, it should still result in prison time.

  18. As a competent driver who has never hit anyone or even any small mammals, I am offended by this “it could have been one of us”.

    Perhaps, Oregonian staff, it could have been one of YOU, if you are INCOMPETENT to drive. It could not, under any circumstances, have been me.

    I have made the occasional dangerous driving error, but I would have to make *multiple* driving errors to actually hit a pedestrian at high speed.

    I have noticed that about 2/3 of the drivers on the road tailgate (illegal and dangerous), at least a third speed by a *lot* (not 1 or 2 mph, 10 mph or more), and a noticeable number do completely insane things like driving on the sidewalk or on the wrong side of the road.

    NOTHING seems to get their licenses revoked. Nothing! Not even repeat behavior! There’s something deeply wrong with this.

  19. I’m fully with you except I see it as profound laziness and apathy from our respected DAs.

    Always hiding behind intent in order to squeeze in another round of friday afternoon golf. Intent should never be applicable to these. Ever.

  20. Again, an accident is simply an incident where there was no intent to cause harm. That is not to say there is no fault or blame – the issue is about intent.

    This guy will be sued, harassed, probably lose his job and his license, and will feel bad forever. What is added by throwing him in prison just to satisfy a thirst for vengeance?

  21. I see dozens of examples of reckless driving every day. Very rarely do they lead to injury but it can happen. And when it happens it is not because that driver was more reckless than the others. It is essentially bad luck – for every 1,000 incidents of dangerous driving, maybe one of them is unlucky enough to cause an injury. Other factors play into the incident e.g. distraction, bad visibility, unpredictable behavior of others and so on.

    To punish the one and let off the other 999 doesn’t seem fair either.

  22. I see that as different because driving while drunk is itself a crime. But I can be involved in an accident even though I break no law.

  23. I didn’t say that. I said that it is a binary thing – either I intend to hit a pedestrian or I do not. If the latter then it is an accident because it was not deliberate.

    How much blame to attach to the parties involved is another matter entirely, and for a court or claim toe stablish.

  24. It is hard to imagine someone doing that without understanding there was a high probability of doing harm. Moreover there is really no reason to do that other than an intent to do harm.

    When I drive (or ride my bike) through a red light, I am not intending harm.

  25. Perhaps so, but what if the condition prevents you from realizing that. Something that affects your judgement may affect your assessment of whether you are safe to drive

  26. You are confusing two different things. Just because I didn’t intend to do X does not mean that I cannot be blamed for X happening.

    You are conflating intent with accountability.

    We don’t solve traffic risk with political correctness any more than we solve the immigration problem by referring to illegals as undocumented aliens

  27. If it was a mandatory five year stretch for reckless driving, then you might have a point

    But it isn’t. It’s mandatory prison for having the misfortune to drive recklessly AND kill someone. And since nobody intends to kill anyone, I do not believe that the deterrent is effective.

  28. Well kudos for you on defending the status quo. I hope that makes you feel better about your conscious decisions to run red lights but don’t mean any harm.

  29. I am not supporting anyone. I have children and one of them was hit by a car and badly injured. I wanted that driver to rot in prison for the rest of his life.

    What I am saying is that I am not sure that would have acted as a deterrent either to him or to anyone else. And my feelings of anger and desire for revenge are not perhaps the soundest basis for deciding how to respond to such incidents.

  30. Almondy, that’s not entirely true. Yes, if it were intentional it would not be an “accident”. However, if this man were drunk, drugged, or participating in some other crime it could not be an “accident”. Drunk drivers intentionally commit a crime, they intentionally put others in danger, they are fully aware that their actions predictably may result in loss of life, injury or damage.

  31. No matter how good a driver you are, this could have happened to you. Not intentionally, perhaps. But claiming that you are immune to being involved in an accident is simply not credible.

    You may be a very good driver. Top one percent, perhaps. But sometimes these things are beyond your control..

    For instance, a child or dog runs out in front of you.

    You have a mechanical failure

    You have a medical emergency

    Unless of course you drive around at 1mph, which probably just means that you cause accidents between other vehicles

  32. “Very rarely” yet 35,000 people are killed and 2.5 million are injured every year.

  33. This is an excellent point. The common use of the word “accident” allows negligent drivers to avoid personal responsibility.

  34. Reckless/negligent driving is a crime according to most state law. Also, running a red light is illegal.

  35. Again, I think you are mixing up two different notions. Even if I am drunk, it is still an accident unless I intend to crash. The difference is that it is an accident for which I will be held criminally liable. And chances are my insurance won’t cover any civil liability.

    AFAIK this driver was not drunk. He went through the light because he didn’t see it. What I am not clear about is why he didn’t see it. He was going above the speed limit but not dramatically so.

    I have missed a few red lights in my 30 years of driving. I probably wouldnt be human if I hadnt. I was just luckier than this guy and no harm came from it

  36. I agree. My point was more that I could be involved in an accident even if I broke no law.

  37. Sure, but none of those things happened in this case and we wouldn’t be debating it if they had. The driver stopped looking where he was going and didn’t see that the light had changed and that people had walked out into the intersection. That doesn’t happen instantaneously. I’m not saying he’s history’s greatest monster. I’m saying you have a responsibility to keep control of your car because it is obvious that it is dangerous. If you don’t do that, there should be some consequences.

  38. Yes, but the problem is how can that happen in practice? Sure if a doctor notices it or you are stopped by the cops, it might come out.

    But if you wake up tomorrow with a medical condition that entails that you cannot use your judgement correctly, then that condition may prevent you realizing the limitation.

  39. The result we are looking for is removing dangerous, incompetent drivers from the streets. Civil suits, 6 month license suspensions and personal anguish don’t accomplish that in our opinion.

    I will not lie and say that I do not feel angry and sickened by this perpetual cycle of violence. You have to understand, this is not an isolated incident. This happens every day and the result is ALWAYS the same. No prosecution, no license forfeitures (unreasonable hardship, etc.).

    I follow traffic violence cases daily because I’m a bicycle commuter that is personally invested in creating safer streets.

    I understand what you are saying and that is how we have traditionally treated these incidents but we are saying we will no longer accept this as the cost of doing business.

    We are saying that intent is not applicable in these cases and that the law must be reworked to reflect that.

    It’s negligence and needs to be criminally prosecuted as such in our opinion.

  40. The term “accident” really needs to be clarified so that media use it correctly.

    Lack of intent is not the only test for whether a crash is an “accident”.

    People who knowingly and intentionally commit crimes (DIU, excessive speeding, distraction) do so with the full knowledge that they are endangering others. They are fully aware that they are committing a crime and should be held responsible for the result of those crimes.

    When crimes predictably result in death, injury or damage, they are not “accidents”.

  41. Speed is the primary cause of nearly all “accidents”. Speeding is negligence. It’s also reckless, selfish and completely avoidable.

    Again, 99% of traffic “accidents” are human error. Which means they are preventable. Completely preventable. This is not a made up figure. Do some research.

    Slow down, focus intently. This isn’t an unreasonable request.

    Public safety > personal convenience.

  42. The prosecutor decided that it was sufficient for the driver not to be legally impaired or exceeding the speed limit on the road. Never mind that the speed limit at a red light is zero mph.

    The implication is that reckless driving is solely defined by other laws, and that “mistaking” a red light for green is sufficient to exonerate a driver of reckless driving. Do you think that’s appropriate? Do you think that sets a dangerous precedent for “oh, I thought the light was green” defenses?

    Never mind that the driver is going to face a civil suit that will take every penny he has. The civil courts shouldn’t be the primary venue here.

  43. This is where there should be clarity about the difference between an “accident” and a crash. Mechanical, medical and some circumstances (child/dog) can and should be called “accidents”.

    The problem is that “accident” has become default term for all crashes.

    Road Rage – Not an “accident” but still called that by media.

    Staged Insurance Fraud – Intentional crashes still called “accident” by media.

    Murder – Suge Knight vehicular homicide called “accident” by media.

    Wrong Way – Often vehicular suicides, commonly called “accident” by media.

    Drunk/Drugged Driving Crimes – The damage from criminal actions called “accidents”.

    The default term should not be “accident”. The default term should be crash, collision or wreck. When it’s clear that it’s an “accident” then call it an “accident”.

  44. Physically and permanently removing an incompetent driver from the streets doesn’t seem like a wise preventative measure to you?

  45. My son knows that he isn’t supposed to play football and rough house in the living room. If he’s messing around and knocks over a lamp, it’s not accurate for him to say “it was an ‘accident'”. He knew the rules, he knew the predictable outcome of breaking the rules, he knowingly broke the rules, he broke my wife’s lamp (and man, is she pissed). It was NOT an “accident”.

    Do we all have moments of inattention? Yes. I’ve had them too. I’ve made mistakes driving, misjudged distance and the speed of other drivers. I’m not saying there are no “accidents”. I’m saying that we should recognize that MANY crashes are not, in fact, accidents and that we should not default to the only word in the common parlance that assumes lack of fault and intent.

    Crash, collision, and wreck all accurately describe the event, but do not by definition remove blame. Nor do they implicate guilt or state intent. They are neutral.

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