Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 15th, 2008 at 12:10 pm
On July 31st, a high-speed collision between a car and a bike on Stark Street in outer southeast Portland struck a nerve with readers and the incident left many with questions about how the law was applied.
The collision itself was horrific. The man driving the car, 23 year-old Lance Waddy, was going an estimated 40 mph (consistent with speed limit) when he struck Steve Volz from behind,
launching throwing him 138 feet in the air.
According to the Police, Waddy was momentarily distracted when he reached down to grab something off the floor of his car. He was cited at the scene for reckless driving, driving without insurance, and driving with a suspended license. His car, which was totaled from the impact — was then towed and impounded.
Miraculously, Volz was out of the hospital less than a week later. He suffered 12 broken ribs, a broken collarbone, and a broken shoulder.
The graphic result of the collision, combined with those serious charges (reckless driving is a Class A Misdemeanor traffic crime), left some wondering why Mr. Waddy was not taken to jail for his actions.
Commenter “Susan” wrote:
“It’s hard to understand how someone can injure someone else so much and the cops know that he has no insurance and a suspended license and they let him go!”
Commenter “Andy” wrote:
“Why was the guy driving the car released at the scene? Isn’t driving without a license/insurance a jailable offense?… What kind of message is being sent to the drivers/cyclists of Portland?”
According to Officer Robert Pickett, Reckless Driving is considered a “traffic crime”, that comes with penalties that could potentially include fines and jail time. He adds that the vast majority of offenses for which officers stop road users are “traffic violations, for which penalties include fines and possibly license suspension, but not arrest and jail.”
In this case, the driver was arrested at the scene because the officer decided that there was probable cause to arrest him for the crime. Pickett also explained that “arrest” doesn’t necessarily always mean the person is put in handcuffs and taken to jail.
If an officer can identify the suspect and he feels comfortable they will be able to track them down if necessary, they have the option to just issue a citation and then require that person to show up at court at a later date.
In this case, with Mr. Waddy being cooperative as well as being a staff member of the Portland Police Activities League (a non-profit that helps youth connect with law enforcement), the officer at the scene decided that his identity was not in question and that he would likely show up for arraignment (and could be quickly found if he didn’t). Therefore, the decision was made to not take him to jail to take a photo, and get ID verification via fingerprints (if Waddy was taken into jail, he would likely have been released in 4-6 hours).
There are many crimes that, while technically someone can be arrested and jailed for, much of what happens to them is up to the responding officer’s discretion. Reckless Driving is one of those crimes where officers can make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
An issue that likely weighed into the officer’s decision in this case was jail overcrowding. I spoke to Traffic Division Lieutenant Bryan Parman about this case at recent event.
“If we booked everyone for Reckless Driving,” said Lt. Parman, “It would reach a point where we couldn’t bring anyone in.”
He made it clear that, if it were to him and other officers, they would be able to lock up everyone who committed a crime. But, the reality of the system is that they try and reserve precious jail space for those suspects whom the officers cannot identify and who are most serious offenders.
I hope this information helps answer some of the questions and concerns surrounding this collision.
What this situation brings to light, is that how laws are enforced and how alleged offenders are treated, sometimes has as much to do with policy and the realities of the system, as the actual crime committed.
If there are other things you’d like to know, please ask in the comments and I’ll try and get the answer for you (or maybe a fellow commenter will help).