EL PASO, Texas - As police work to investigate nine cases (eight deadly) of pedestrians struck by motorists over roughly the past month, the El Paso County District Attorney told ABC-7 that it's often difficult to charge vehicle drivers with a crime.
"The difficult part about these types of cases is you have a traffic accident, but many of these accidents don't reach the level of criminal responsibility where we could actually charge someone with a crime," D.A. Jaime Esparza said Friday.
Even if a driver kills a pedestrian at a crosswalk, Esparza said prosecutors are tasked with proving criminal negligence.
"Their conduct could be negligent, but for us, in order for it to be criminally negligent, there has to be much more," Esparza said. "We look at factors like: 'Were they speeding? Were they using their phone? Were they not attentive?' In some cases, it might reach criminal negligence."
Distracted driving alone does not always demonstrate criminal negligence, he told ABC-7.
"For instance, if you had an accident and the person was intoxicated, well, by law that person is reckless, and we can charge that crime," Esparza said. "We know that. But there's a big gap between what is an accident and what is driving that is going to reach a level of being a crime."
Esparza told ABC-7 that none of the drivers involved in pedestrian crashes over the past month have been charged with crimes. He said the police department is likely still investigating many of those incidents.
An El Paso police spokesman declined to comment on camera. He said the department is in the process of creating a pedestrian safety video, but did not allow ABC-7 to film the production of the video.
Pedestrians or bicyclists struck by vehicles in the past month:
- On Sunday September 15th, 70-year-old Maria Margarita Garcia was struck and killed by a pickup truck in the Lower Valley
- On Friday, September 27th, 61-year-old Sydney Caldwell was struck and killed by a semi-truck at the intersection of North Loop and Americas
- On Wednesday, October 2nd, 59-year-old Hector Leyva was riding his bicycle near Alameda Avenue and Fresno Drive when he was struck and killed by an SUV
- Also on Wednesday, October 2nd, 72-year-old Javier Garcia was struck and killed by an SUV crossing the 500 block of South Kansas Street
- On Saturday October 5th, 19-year-old Fort Bliss soldier Gage Aaron Thornton was killed in a hit-and-run on I-10 near Horizon
- On Wednesday, October 9th, 7-year-old Alexa Barrera was struck by an SUV at a crosswalk, run over and killed in front of Roberts Elementary School
- On Monday, October 14th, 67-year-old Maria Elena Garcia was struck and killed by a vehicle Monday evening at a Lower Valley crosswalk
- On Tuesday, October 15th, 13-year-old Brian Velasquez was struck and killed by a truck as he crossed the street Tuesday night.
- On Thursday, October 17th, 73-year-old Miguel Pantoja Carrillo remained hospitalized Friday with life-threatening injuries one day after being struck by a city-owned vehicle while using a crosswalk