Man who hit Angela Burke charged with manslaughter

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 6th, 2011 at 10:23 am

Caleb Pruitt's booking photo
taken on 12/15/10.

After two weeks of testimony, a Multnomah County grand jury has upgraded the charges against Caleb Pruitt, the 28-year old man who struck and killed Angela Burke with his car as she attempted to cross SW Barbur Boulevard on December 15th.

Pruitt was arrested that night and booked on charges of Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants and Criminally Negligent Homicide. According to a witness, Pruitt had been drinking, was driving very fast and was unable to negotiate a sweeping corner on Barbur prior to the collision.

During the Grand Jury process, the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division's Major Crash Team worked to upgrade those charges because they felt like Criminally Negligent Homicide — which could result only in probation — did not adequately reflect the severity of Pruitt's actions.

In large part due to the testimony of the PPB's Major Crash Team, evidence they gleaned from the scene, and their of analysis of what happened that night, Pruitt is now charged with the following:

  • Manslaughter II
  • Criminally Negligent Homicide
  • DUII-alcohol
  • Reckless Driving
  • Recklessly Endangering Another Person (three counts, there were two people in Pruitt's car)

I contacted Sgt. Todd Davis of the Traffic Division after the charges were announced. He said he is "pleased with these charges." He also added, via an email, that,

"The Major Crash team collectively and Officer Barry Busse in particular, worked incredibly hard on this case. It was due to his effort and analysis that we were able to go to Grand Jury and get the charges upgraded to what we have now. I feel a lot better now that we have a Manslaughter charge on the table. This crash and fatality was due solely to Mr. Pruitt's reckless driving and impairment."

Manslaughter 2 is a Measure 11 crime, which means that if Pruitt is convicted, he will receive a minimum prison sentence of 75 months.

— Read our full coverage of this story here.

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  • Ethan January 6, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Good to hear. We're lucky he does not own a ski resort or work for an investment bank.

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    • Elliot January 6, 2011 at 10:43 am

      Exactly. These charges are welcome news... but the inconsistency with which police are able to bring charges at this level is a huge concern. It seems like it's just a roll of the dice whether a driver that kills a bicyclist or pedestrian will serve several years jail time or pay a ticket.

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      • FU April 5, 2011 at 4:51 pm

        That is because of the level of negligence in the case. This guy clearly didn't care, he was drunk and speeding etc. A sober driver that's distracted or whatever is a different situation, drivers are distracted every day by a lot of things and this is why cyclists need to stop blaming drivers and be more diligent. Remember drivers are cyclists too, we don't all just ride around to coffee shops all day long and talk about peak oil. It is not all black and white you know.

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    • Spoonyluv January 6, 2011 at 10:46 am

      Isn't that the sad truth.

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    • Nick V January 6, 2011 at 10:52 am

      I wonder if being both drunk AND reckless ("reckless" as in purposefully speeding and driving like an idiot jerk speed racer wanna-be) carries stiffer consequences than just being drunk......

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    • lucky January 19, 2011 at 7:22 pm

      what is the ski resort owner reference?

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  • Stig January 6, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Criminally Negligent Homicide would have meant just probation? A driver's license really is a license to kill so long as you stay off the sauce.

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    • El Biciclero January 6, 2011 at 11:33 am

      A driver's license really is a license to kill so long as you stay off the sauce.

      Unfortunately, it seems as though more people every day are realizing this. Hit & run drivers are rarely caught (not a high priority), and negligent drivers need only claim the Mr. Magoo defense: "I didn't see him!"

      Is running over someone while drunk really that much more heinous than running over someone while not looking? DUI may increase the odds of a negative vehicular interaction, but should a crash occur, what's the difference? The only difference seems to come from a subtle line of reasoning that goes: "if you were drunk, it must have been your fault, but if you were sober, it must have been the victim's fault."

      Driver's licensing standards need to be raised through the roof--no more Cracker-Jack-box licenses. Penalties for careless driving and above need to be enhanced to reflect the true potential consequences of such carelessness, regardless of whether the careless driver has been drinking.

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  • PomPilot January 6, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Looks like the grand jury felt the authorities had enough evidence to support adding a more severe charge. Let's hope the DA's office isn't willing to let the Man-2 charge get plea bargained out of the picture.

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  • wsbob January 6, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Probably playing no small part in the changing to a more serious charge: his back seat passenger (reported on in an earlier bikeportland story) testifying that Pruitt appeared to deliberately bring the car's acceleration to a point where his ability to control the car was jeopardized, supported by Pruitt actually speaking aloud to that effect, to his passengers in the car.

    Without the back seat passenger's testimony, I wonder if the Grand Jury could have brought the more serious charge.

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  • jocko January 6, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Classic case where this guy should never legally drive again.

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  • Jackattak January 6, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Nothing will bring Ms. Burke back but I hope she can rest peacefully knowing that this disgusting excuse for a human being will rot in FFYITA prison for at least six years (if convicted, of course).

    If I were granted one wish today it would be for a maximum Man-2 conviction and sentence for this deplorable waste of oxygen.

    Actually scratch that. It would be for five minutes alone with the guy in a locked room. I have faith in the jury to get their job done.

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  • Schrauf January 6, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Good news, but why, in so many instances where vulnerable road users are assaulted by drivers and initially no charges are pursued, are we told by the police they are waiting to cite the driver until they complete their investigation? In the past we have been told a premature lesser citation may jeopardize subsequent charges - obviously not, based on this incident. And unfortunately the media only reports that someone was hit, the driver was not cited, and the public assumes the bike rider or pedestrian was at fault. And then the media never revisit the case when the driver is later cited for infractions or crimes.

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  • Waltzing Matilda January 6, 2011 at 11:42 am

    People who kill someone while driving drunk should be charged with MURDER. He made choices. He first made the choice to get drunk. Then, he made the choice to drive - knowing someone could get killed. North Carolina and California have both successfully gotten murder charges against drunk drivers. Why not Oregon?

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    • esther c January 6, 2011 at 11:25 pm

      yes, they should. because they're killing someone in the commission of another crime.

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  • Vladislav Davidzon January 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Sigh. What exactly is the result of this punishment? We've just effectively created another victim to this incident, without any benefit to public safety.

    Numerous studies have shown that not only does punishment have very little impact on other people's actions, the average re-incarceration rates generally do not speak well of the impact on the offender's behavior.

    The people with primary responsibility for this accident are the ones who designed the road and the vehicle involved; the people involved are all ultimately victims of horrible, bad design. All of them are not only not being punished, they've still got their cushy jobs.

    We need laws that punish engineers who design bad roads and bad cars. Bad design shouldn't just be not tolerated, it needs to be punished criminally when the designer has knowledge that the result of their work is liable to kill people.

    We obviously can't just let guys like this walk after killing an innocent by-stander, but the truth of the matter is that we're not solving the long-term problem until we go after people who design products that maim and injure people -- namely badly designed roads and cars.

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    • Jackattak January 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm

      Your similar post in the other thread about the hit-&-run on Division was more apt there.

      Here, sir...you are so far off-track you've just fallen into the abyss.

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      • Vladislav Davidzon January 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm

        @Jackttak - note that I clearly stated above that we obviously cannot just let people walk after killing someone. I am not suggesting this guy shouldn't have to compensate for the tremendous harm he unintentionally caused. I am however doubtful that throwing people behind bars -- and a multitude of studies support that doubt.

        There is no doubt that there must be consequences for the driver in cases like this. However the consequences need to be productive in nature -- and throwing people behind bars does nothing for either public safety or the long-term behavior individual involved.

        There have to be better ways to handle situations like this, but we absolutely and certainly must be pointing the blame where it belongs -- with the people who were actually truly responsible for this incident.

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        • Jackattak January 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm

          This accident didn't have much to do with either infrastructure or the car. It had to do with this pile's intoxication level.

          Go blame the alcohol purveyors all you like but they're in Capitol Hill's pockets and you will get nowhere. Alcohol has made its filthy little way into the hearts and minds of this country and its military and if you think you can do anything about it, you're dead wrong. Not you and not a million of us can have any affect.

          And that saddens me, believe me. I hate alcohol.

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        • toby January 6, 2011 at 8:02 pm

          @Vlad - Like what? It's one thing to say there must be something else that can be done, but it's rather empty if you can't provide alternatives. You say there must be consequences for actions such as this, and since you've ruled out doing time, just how should he be held accountable? Do you want to be the one to explain to Ms. Burke's family why he is not being locked up? Maybe she would understand, I wouldn't.

          I don't believe that just locking someone up is the answer in every case. Depending on the crime, rehabilitation for substance abuse, therapy for psychological problems, and these sorts of treatments should be used. But in the end, he killed someone because of a series of very bad decisions and poor judgments and there should be no escaping hard time. He knew that what he was doing was wrong yet did it anyway. It wasn't the road, it wasn't the car, it wasn't the engineers of either, it was all him. Incidentally, him driving a powerful car that is popular in rally racing is sort of a red herring, people do amazingly stupid things in all sorts of cars, regardless of power output. I won't bother with examples.

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    • Thomas Le Ngo January 6, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      He drove under the influence and made very bad choices. He must deal with the consequences.

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    • esther c January 6, 2011 at 11:22 pm

      The driver was drunk. There is no road or car design that can compensate for that. He chose to get behind the wheel while drunk and doing so caused the death of an innocent. The road and car aren't the problem here. The problem is the driver and his choice to drive drunk and fast.

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    • El Biciclero January 7, 2011 at 9:44 am

      Well, this road was obviously designed for traffic to flow at less than 70mph, otherwise Pruitt would have been able "to negotiate a sweeping corner on Barbur prior to the collision."

      A sober person would likely have realized that the roadway design did not support driving at 70+mph. Likewise with any roadway design--those with the sober wherewithal to judge what behaviors the roadway will handle will drive accordingly. Those who are drunk or otherwise lacking in judgment will not be influenced much by narrow lanes, speed humps, squared corners, flashing lights, stop signs, painted stripes, chicanes, bollards, barricades, trees, bioswales, curbs/sidewalks, spike strips, median strips, guard rails, ditches, ravines, other vehicles--they will plow through any "design" you want to come up with.

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    • Pete January 8, 2011 at 10:21 pm

      I've done automotive engineering work and believe me, nothing about the job (or the industry) is cushy. That auto companies get sued for personal irresponsibility like this is abhorable to me. Whether it's effective or not, jail time is what they've got to work with, and I commend the prosecuting team for the upgraded charges. Best scenario I could see is prevent him from ever driving again (maybe he'd have to ride a bicycle everywhere, gasp) and let us have Angela back.

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  • adam January 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    the more I think about this, the more I hope Mr Pruitt is released on his own and that I know about the details of his "release" he will likely be safer in the state pen.

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    • rigormrtis January 6, 2011 at 3:31 pm

      settle down, cowboy.

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  • adam January 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    stop killing my friends, homie

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  • PoPo January 6, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    The situation you describe involves the police holding off on issuing citations for INFRACTIONS that the driver may have committed, such as speeding or fail to obey a traffic control device. Infractions are only punishable by a fine--no jail time is possible. The charges listed in this article are all CRIMES, which are punishable by fines AND/OR jail time. The DA may add additional CRIME charges if additional, supporting evidence is found. That appears to be what has happened here.

    The police hesitate to issue citations for INFRACTIONS until after the prosecution has adjudicated any CRIMES to be charged, as there is a concern that an argument might be made by the defense that if a driver pleas guilty to traffic INFRACTION that results from his/her poor driving and quickly pays the fine, he/she may be immune from future prosecution of CRIMES committed at the same time via the constitutional prohibition of being tried twice for the same crime (AKA double jeopardy).

    Indeed, it is frustrating that the media often does not follow up on these events.

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    • adam January 9, 2011 at 11:12 am

      its is also "frustrating" that some idiot can kill me while not paying attention and only get a ticket - IF the popo bothers finding them.

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  • 9watts January 6, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    There is no doubt that there must be consequences for the driver in cases like this. However the consequences need to be productive in nature -- and throwing people behind bars does nothing for either public safety or the long-term behavior individual involved.
    Agreed. There are some really interesting & promising alternatives out there.

    Victim-Offender Mediation Programs (VOMP), also known as Victim-Offender Reconciliation Programs (VORP) is a restorative justice approach that bring offenders face-to-face with the victims of their crimes with the assistance of a trained mediator, usually a community volunteer. Crime is personalized as offenders learn the human consequences of their actions, and victims (who may be ignored by the criminal justice system) have the opportunity to speak their minds and their feelings to the one who most ought to hear them, contributing to the healing process of the victim.

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  • Tonyt January 6, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Okay, that was a bit harsh, but seriously, we're not talking about a driver who was driving cautiously and hit a pedestrian at an ill-lit crosswalk. This guy was plastered and hauling a**. He is in NO WAY a victim. This is utterly insulting to the actual victim.

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    • Tonyt January 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm

      Oops, I intended to reply to my previous comment further up.

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  • 9watts January 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Tonyt - I'm not sure if you were referring to the post which appears above yours (this new system of organizing comments is not terribly intuitive), but if you were, then I encourage you to read a bit more carefully. The reconciliation process above is intended to occur between the VICTIM and the OFFENDER. In this case, the victim(s) would of course be understood to be Angela's family, first and foremost.
    Nowhere is it stated or implied that the drunk driver in this case is or would be considered a victim.

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    • Tonyt January 6, 2011 at 5:06 pm

      I was referring to Vlad's post.

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  • random rider January 6, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    While I am pleased by the severity of the charges brought against him, I have to admit that I am pessimistic that he will be convicted of them. Charging him with a Measure 11 crime will make his lawyer a lot more willing to plead guilty to a lesser charge, possibly much lesser. The prosecutor is happy because they get a conviction without leaving it up to the uncertainty of a jury trial and the offender is happy because he avoids a more serious conviction and sentence.

    I hate to be so pessimistic, but I will be extremely surprised if he winds up with manslaughter II on his record.

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  • soggy January 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Just curious, does anyone remember what his BAC was?

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  • Rebecca January 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Thanks to Officer Busse for working to give this case the weight it deserves. It would have been an insult to see this horrible crime go with just a slap on the wrist to such a reckless, selfish man. He robbed a young woman of the rest of her life.

    If it is true that fines and incarceration have little effect on recidivism rates, then in the interest of public safety it seems wise to prohibit a convicted drunk driver who injures, maims, or kills from ever driving again.

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  • Barney January 6, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I don't see this specific event as connected to infrastructure, but drunk driving as a whole could be lessened if Trimet stayed open later than the bars. If alcohol consumption is such a boon to this city's economy, then the city should find the money to give the drunks cheap rides home. Every jerk who drives drunk is responsible for their own actions, but clearly the drunk-driving-jerk phenomenon isn't going away easily, so we need to create alternatives.

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    • Spiffy January 7, 2011 at 10:46 am

      I agree about transit needing to be available later, especially on Friday and Saturday nights... many times I have ended up not taking transit to the bar because I'd have no way to get home after...

      even if the just the major lines ran I would put up with having to walk an extra mile...

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  • Hart Noecker January 6, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    I kinda agree with some of the anti-incarceration comments. Best punishment possible: he spends the rest of his life without a drivers license.

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    • Jackattak January 6, 2011 at 6:22 pm

      I can totally get behind that.

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  • BURR January 6, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    yeah, no murderer deserves jail time.

    how about jail time plus a lifetime of not driving?

    BTW, it's pretty easy to drive without a license, as the saying goes, just do it

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    • Hart Noecker January 7, 2011 at 12:35 am

      You gotta have intent to be a murderer. This wreckless driver obviously thought nothing of anybody outside of his car, as most drivers do, but that does not make the guy a murderer, it makes him a manslaughter-er, as the charges claim. There has got to be a better punishment than institutionalized incarceration for a crime like this. Get creative, Judge. Force him to be a crossing guard on this nightmare freeway for the next ten years or something.

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  • drew January 6, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    I also think this man who kills people with his car should never drive again. And spend time trying to compensate the victims family; which could take the place of jail time perhaps.

    But we live in a social construct that allows people to slaughter each other with an automobile, usually with little consequence. Some day far into the future people will be slack-jawed amazed at the brutality on our roads that we live with. I hope I live to see that day.

    Meanwhile, high gas prices will return eventually. This will save many thousands of people in the US from getting smashed by cars each year, although causing major economic hardship.

    Please resist calling this tragedy an "accident". there is nothing accidental about getting drunk and/or driving recklessly.

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  • esther c January 6, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    I think anyone that wants to drive again after doing something like this is demonstrating that they don't understand the horror of what they have done.

    This was a horrid drunken driving preventable inexcusable words fail me type of homicide.

    I think if I killed someone even less heinously with my car, stone cold sober but made a mistake I would never be able to drive again.

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    • BURR January 7, 2011 at 11:44 am

      the thing about doing something like this when you are drunk off your ass, is that you don't actually remember what you did the next morning when you wake up in jail.

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  • JR January 6, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Unfortunately, nothing will bring Angela back..

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    • Hart Noecker January 7, 2011 at 12:41 am

      And unfortunately, we do not live in totally safe world. The very reason we live today is because ten thousand generations of humans developed reflexes to avoid constant danger. This death was tragic, and avoidable, and needs to be a reminder of why cars need to die so that humans don't have to. But do consider that there is no such thing as a total safe environment, for any living thing. There is much to cherish about every life, and there is much to celebrate from learning and growing from a death.

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  • kww January 10, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    As usual the police did their job, I am just worried about the DA accepting another plea bargain and this guy ends up serving weeks in jail, instead of years.

    Jonathan, will we soon find out WHO the DA is on the case, so we can let them know the bicycle community's interest in the case?

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