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Safety driver in 2018 Uber crash is charged with negligent homicide

Enlarge / The Uber vehicle after it struck Elaine Herzberg. (credit: Tempe Police Department)

An Arizona grand jury has indicted Rafaela Vasquez, a former safety driver in Uber’s self-driving car project, for the 2018 death of pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona. Prosecutors decided not to charge Uber criminally last year.

The crash occurred after dark on a well-lit stretch of Mill Avenue. Herzberg was crossing the multilane road with her a bicycle when the Uber SUV struck her at 38 miles per hour. Footage from a driver-facing camera shows Vasquez looking down at her lap for more than five seconds just prior to the crash. Officials found that Vasquez had been streaming a reality show called The Voice to her phone just before the crash.

Vasquez is being charged with negligent homicide, a charge similar to manslaughter that carries a recommended sentence of 2.5 years. However, the grand jury also charged that the crime was committed with a “dangerous instrument”—namely the car. When negligent homicide is committed with a dangerous weapon or instrument, the recommended sentence increases to six years.

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