Teen Convicted of Murder for Texting While Driving Crash
An 18-year-old in Massachusetts is sentenced to one year in prison after being convicted of vehicular homicide in a texting-while-driving accident.
- One in four car accidents caused by phone use
- Illegal to text and drive in Massachusetts
- Distracted driving laws vary by state
Aaron Deveau was driving in Haverhill, Massachusetts in February 2011 when he crossed over the center line and struck a car driven by Donald Bowley. Bowley died in the hospital 18 days later, while his girlfriend sustained serious injuries.
Deveau initially said he was distracted and thinking about homework when he suddenly swerved to dodge a braking car in front of him, but prosecutors convinced the jury that he was texting, showing records that he sent 193 texts the day of the crash, including in the minutes before it occurred.
Massachusetts has laws against distracted driving, with penalties against texting for all drivers and phone use in general for minors. There are additional consequences for causing injury while texting and driving written into the 2010 law. Deveau was ultimately convicted of vehicular homicide, texting while driving and negligent operation of a motor vehicle. He was given 24 and 30 month sentences to be served concurrently, with a chance to have the balance suspended after he completes one year in prison. He will also have his driver’s license suspended for the next 15 years.
“The case is a landmark case, the first of its kind,” says Boston criminal defense attorney Jason Chan. “After the new law passed this was the first instance in which a person was prosecuted with this theory.”
Deveau’s trial and sentence could be a wake-up call to other would-be text-happy drivers who might think twice after a high-profile accident that saw one person killed, another injured for life, and an 18-year-old sent to prison. “It seems the judge’s sentence of one year in jail was done not only to punish the defendant, but [was] also an attempt to deter any future texting while driving,” Chan says. “It will need to be seen what type of effect the conviction or the sentence will have in deterring this dangerous and deadly habit.”
Across the Board Ban
Get the free Criminal Law Newsletter. Subscribe Today
The National Transportation Safety Board last year called for a nationwide ban on phone use while driving, with sobering statistics to back it up.
The National Safety Council estimates that 1.26 million, or nearly a quarter of all crashes, are caused by talking on the phone or texting. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that texters are 23 times more likely to get in an accident, and that 3,092 people were killed in distracted driver crashes in 2010.
Despite the evidence, not every state has laws against texting or other phone use while driving. According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, 10 states plus Washington D.C. ban all phone use while driving, while another 29 ban only texting.
In some instances, victims can seek compensation in civil court against distracted drivers who injure them even in states that have no laws against texting while driving. In any event, a civil judgement, prison sentence or the death of another on the conscience is a steep price to pay for that text message that just can’t wait.