A Sheriff’s Department deputy who fatally struck a cyclist in Calabasas will not face criminal charges in the death because his actions cannot be proved negligent, according to a Los Angeles County prosecutor’s report.
The Dec. 8, 2013, collision that killed prominent entertainment attorney Milton Olin of Woodland Hills has generated widespread attention among cyclists and prompted a civil lawsuit from his family.
The Woodland Hills lawyer, who was a former executive at music-sharing service Napster with an extensive career in the music industry, was riding in a bike lane on Mulholland Highway when he was struck. A frequent bicyclist, Olin was 65.
Deputy Andrew Wood did not brake before hitting Olin, according to court documents. He was texting with his wife prior to the collision and was communicating with another deputy via his in-car work laptop at the time of the crash, according to the prosecutor’s report, which was dated Wednesday.
Prosecutors would not be able to prove that Wood was criminally negligent to gain a conviction on a vehicular manslaughter charge, Deputy District Attorney Rosa Alarcon wrote.
“The People cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Wood’s momentary distraction in the performance of his duties constituted a failure to use reasonable care to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm,” Alarcon wrote.
Because Wood was communicating with another deputy in course of his duties, his actions were legal, Alarcon wrote.
California’s prohibition on texting or making calls on handheld cellphones while driving does not apply to emergency services personnel “operating an authorized emergency vehicle … in the course and scope of his or her duties,” according to state law.
Records for Wood’s personnel cellphone indicated he exchanged multiple text messages with his wife in the 14 minutes before the crash, including one sent at 1:04 p.m., one minute before the collision, Alarcon’s report stated.
Those texts were sent only when the patrol vehicle was stopped, the evidence indicates, according to Alarcon.
Then, between 23 and 33 seconds before the 1:05 p.m. collision, a fellow deputy messaged Wood on his in-car laptop computer to confirm that Wood’s response to a fire at nearby Calabasas High School was completed, the report stated.
“U C4 Bro,” the message read, referring to “code 4,” meaning the response was over.
Wood began to type “YES I” but at the same time failed to negotiate a curve in the roadway and drove into the bike lane, hitting Olin, who struck the windshield and was thrown over the patrol vehicle and onto the road surface.
An emergency medical technician who happened to be driving behind the patrol car came to Olin’s aid. The cyclist had no pulse and a severe head injury, the prosecutor’s report stated.
He was declared dead at the site of the collision.
At the scene, Wood said Olin had veered into the main lane of travel from the bicycle lane, then swerved right as Wood tried to do the same to avoid hitting him.
About a week later, Wood said he had not seen Olin in the bike lane prior to the collision.
The EMT traveling about 60 feet behind Wood also stated he failed to see Olin, who was clad in black pants, a black jacket and a black-and-red bicycle helmet, according to the report. The passenger in the EMT’s vehicle said she did see Olin, the report stated.
“Wood entered the bicycle lane as a result of inattention caused by typing into his (laptop computer),” Alarcon wrote. “Wood briefly took his eyes away from the road precisely when the narrow roadway curved slightly to the left without prior warning, causing him to inadvertently travel straight into the bike lane, immediately striking Olin.”
Evidence was not sufficient to prove a crime of vehicular manslaughter, the prosecutor wrote. The DA’s office was closing the file, she said.
The civil lawsuit filed in July by Olin’s two sons and his wife alleges negligence and wrongful death names the Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County, and Wood.
The lawsuit will go forward, family’s attorney said Thursday in a statement in response to the prosecutor’s decision.
“Once again we see the government protecting its own despite its behavior. That is why it is so important that we have an independent civil jury that demands public entities answer to incidents of wrongdoing,” the family’s attorney Bruce Broillet said in a statement Thursday.
The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition planned a ride and vigil near the crash site next week to call on the DA’s office to reverse its decision, the Daily News reported.
Meanwhile, Olin’s wife Louise has launched the Milt Olin Foundation, which is “dedicated to eliminating cycling-related fatalities and serious injuries,” according to the organization’s website.