Careless or Reckless? Difference Between Misdemeanor and Felony

On Sunday morning, at approximately 10:00, an 83 year old man, driving an SUV, collided head on with a Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy who was on a motorcycle, causing fatal injuries to the deputy.  While neither drugs nor alcohol appear to have played a role in the accident, the driver of the SUV could be charged with a felony.  The level of any potential charges likely hinges on whether the driver’s actions were careless or reckless.

The deputy was traveling northbound on Colorado 93 near West 64th Parkway.  The driver was traveling southbound when he decided to attempt to pass the car in front of him.  The driver crossed a double yellow line, moving into the northbound lane.  It appears as though this may have occurred at a curve.

Colorado has specific legal definitions for careless driving as compared to reckless driving.  Careless is defined as driving without due regard for the width, grade, curves and other attendant circumstances.  Reckless is defined as driving with a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.  Ultimately, especially in light of the fact that a Sheriff’s deputy died as a result of the accident, the prosecutor’s office will likely make the decision as to whether the driver was acting in a careless or reckless manner.  If the prosecution believes the driver was careless, then he will likely be charged with careless driving causing death.  Careless driving is punishable by up to one year in jail and is a traffic offense.  If, however, the prosecution believes his actions were reckless, then he will likely be charged with vehicular homicide, which is a felony punishable by prison time.

In theory, the prosecution could decide not to charge the SUV driver with anything, but, if the facts described above are accurate, the prosecution will likely charge the driver with something.  Crossing a double line to pass another car is illegal in and of itself and doing so near a curve in the road aggravates the facts.  On the other hand, part of the investigation should include gathering information regarding whether there were any intervening facts that may break the causal link between the SUV driver’s conduct and the deputy’s death, meaning whether anything occurred that may have caused or contributed to the accident besides the SUV driver’s conduct.  If there is some other cause for the accident, that may result in the prosecution not filing charges.