Wonk Night (10/26) will focus on Oregon’s negligence gap

“There ought to be some higher level of consequence when you use a deadly weapon to kill someone, even if you didn’t do it on purpose.”
— Ray Thomas, lawyer at Swanson Thomas Coon & Newton

There’s a gap in Oregon law that has outraged citizens and hamstrung prosecutors for many years. It’s a gap that makes it all too common for someone to receive a mere traffic citation when their actions while operating a vehicle lead directly to a serious injury or fatality.

This maddening situation first made major headlines here on BikePortland following our tragic October of 2007 when Tracey Sparling and Brett Jarolimek where killed in traffic collisions. In both cases the person behind the wheel of a large truck turned across a bicycle lane that was already occupied and two people died as a result. Despite those actions, the District Attorney declined to pursue criminal charges in either case.

The problem here isn’t with the DA’s office. The DA is constrained by Oregon law which currently has a yawning gap between the culpability threshold of a traffic ticket and a more serious criminal charge.

“There ought to be some higher level of consequence when you use a deadly weapon to kill someone, even if you didn’t do it on purpose.” That’s how noted lawyer Ray Thomas described the problem to us when we published a story about this gap in 2010.


And we were all unfortunately reminded once again about this problem less than a month ago when the DA declined to pursue criminal charges in the Alistair Corkett collision.

The first step toward change is learning; so at Wonk Night this coming Monday October 26th we’ll educate ourselves this issue and begin the process of bridging this frustrating gap.

To help unravel this complicated issue, we’ll be joined by three of Multnomah County’s top prosecutors: District Attorney Rod Underhill, Chief Deputy District Attorney Chuck Sparks, and Deputy District Attorney Glen Banfield. I’ve worked with DA Sparks on several cases over the years and I think you’ll find his approach, candor, and depth of knowledge very helpful. As an elected official, DA Underhill is the person who could take the lead on addressing this issue system. DA Banfield was the County’s lead on the Corkett case.

Also joining us will be advocates who helped craft and then pass Oregon’s landmark Vulnerable Roadway Users law in 2007.

As always at Wonk Night we’ll provide the snacks and drinks. All you need to bring is an open mind and a willingness to share what’s in it. If you’re new to Wonk Night, check recaps from past events here.

Please consider joining us!

Wonk Night: Closing the Negligence Gap
Monday October 26th at 6:00 – 9:00 pm
Lancaster Engineering (321 SW 4th Ave, 4th Floor)
RSVP on Facebook

— Jonathan Maus
(503) 706-8804

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