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DA will not file criminal charges in Sparling case

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I just spoke with Multnomah County District Attorney Chuck Sparks. Sparks has completed his investigation into the collision that took the life of Tracey Sparling at W. Burnside and 14th in downtown Portland on October 11.

Sparks said he will not file any criminal charges in the case.

Here is the conclusion from the full report and memo made public by the DA’s office today:

“Wiles [the driver of the cement truck that hit Sparling] arrived at the intersection before Ms. Sparling and came to a stop, waiting to turn right. Wiles did not see Ms. Sparling as she approached his stopped truck, nor did he see her as he went into his turn. Ms. Sparling stopped in the bike lane near Wiles’ right front wheel, and was, due to her location and diminutive stature, not visible to Wiles; she was, through no fault of her own, in the driver’s blind spot.

Once the light changed, both Mr. Wiles and Ms. Sparling moved forward. Ms. Sparling’s position and movement near the front of the truck put her in front of the truck’s right front wheel as it entered its turn.

Mr. Wiles reports using his mirrors to check the side of the truck while waiting to turn and before starting his turn. It is unclear whether he had his turn signal on before his turn. Mr. Wiles claims he did. It is possible he did not. It is also possible that he did, but activated his hazards when he stopped in response to Biehl’s [a witness] shout, and switched back to the turn signal when he realized what he had done.

The relevant standard is criminal negligence. Criminal negligence is the failure to be aware of “a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or the circumstance exists,” with the risk being “of such nature and degree that the failure to be aware of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that areasonable person would observe in the situation.”

The evidence must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Wiles acted with criminal negligence for the state to prosecute. After reviewing all witness statements, the scene evidence, and the toxicology reports I conclude that Wiles’ failure to perceive Ms. Sparling prior to his turn was not sufficient to charge him with criminally negligent homicide.”

Now that the criminal investigation is complete, the Portland Police Bureau can decide whether or not to issue a traffic citation to the truck driver for “failure to yield to a bicycle in a bike lane”.

The man who will make that decision is the bureau’s lead fatal investigator, Peter Kurronen.

Sparks told me today that, “They [the PPB] did everything I asked of them, which was to not give any citations until this investigation was complete. Now that decision is entirely in their hands.”

For the entire report and memo from Sparks, download this PDF (520KB).