Texting And Driving Got A Teen A Year In Jail

Illustration for article titled Texting And Driving Got A Teen A Year In Jail

When 18-year-old Aaron Deveau was texting while driving last year, having to spend a year in jail for it was probably the last thing on his mind. But when he crashed into another car, fatally injuring its driver, that's exactly the sentence a Massachusetts judge handed down.

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Convicted Wednesday of vehicular homicide, texting while driving and negligent operation of a motor vehicle in the Feb. 2011 crash that took the life of 55-year-old New Hampshire resident Donald Bowley less than a month later, Deveau apologized to the victim's family in court before being taken away in handcuffs.

The state prosecutor set a legal precedent by charging a traffic offense typically punished with fines as a felony crime. Although Deveau admitted to being tired and distracted, he told prosecutors that he had not been texting at the time of the accident. But cell phone records showed that he had received a text at the time the crash is reported to have happened.

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Bowley's girlfriend, 59-year-old Luz Roman, was also in the car during the crash, and told the court that she is in constant pain from the injuries and cannot work. Both Roman and Bowley's sister said in court that they were deeply affected by the accident, but Deveau's family was also visibly shaken that the teen will be going to jail. Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett issued a statement highlighting the all around awfulness of the situation.

"There are no winners today. A beloved grandfather is dead. A once active woman can no longer work and is still racked with pain from her injuries and a young man is going to jail. When we get behind the wheel of a car, we are obligated to drive with care. ... As we saw in this case, in a split second, many lives are forever changed."

Texting while driving is a burgeoning problem in the U.S. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Public Health by the University of North Texas Health Science Center found that 16,000 people were killed by texting motorists between 2001 and 2007. The report combined Federal Communications Commission cell phone ownership numbers with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration motor vehicle death data.

After his release, Deveaux will still have another couple of years of suspended jail time hanging over his head for the next five years and will have to perform 40 hours of community service. The court also took away his driving privileges for 15 years. Judge Stephen Abany said that by delivering the maximum sentence for the texting and causing injury charge, he hoped to deliver a strong message to Massachusetts drivers.

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Ironically, for teens to get that message it'll probably have to come in the form of a text. (Hat tip to Kiwi_Commander!)

Photo credit: Vidriera/Shutterstock

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DISCUSSION

Sir_Halffast
Sir Halffast

I'm curious to hear from some of the Attorney-Jalops, because this seems like the sort of sentence that will almost certainly be overturned or reduced to time served on appeal. For one, traffic offenses are violations by definition and only subject to fines, not prison. It's an unheard of precedent to elevate a violation all the way to a felony. Second, they could not prove that he was texting while driving, only that he received one. Receiving a text is not a crime NOR a violation. Third, it seems that the judge issued the sentence to send a general message, not based on establishing sentencing guidelines. Seems to me that if I were this kid's attorney, I'd be all over this.

Texting while driving is a major deal. It's totally not cool, and I'm 100% okay with fining the hell out of anyone who does it. Including myself, should I have such a lapse in judgment. But this is way, way over the top. Criminal acts require intent of some sort, and homicide requires at least reckless disregard. I'm sorry, but whatever your feelings or sympathies, this does not rise to the LEGAL definition of reckless disregard. This is a case tailor made for the civil courts and a suit in tort for wrongful death. The kid was stupid yes, negligent perhaps, but criminal? Not really, no.