Young life is precious, and it can end in a heartbeat from
decisions that don’t even seem consciously made, such as hopping
into the bed of a truck for an exhilarating ride in the night air,
or driving a truck without thinking of unrestrained passengers or
the conditions of the road.
Young life is precious, and it can end in a heartbeat from decisions that don’t even seem consciously made, such as hopping into the bed of a truck for an exhilarating ride in the night air, or driving a truck without thinking of unrestrained passengers or the conditions of the road. This is one of the things our South County communities have learned from the accident that killed former Gilroy High student Erin Kinkel.
The decision of Anthony McDowell, 19, the driver of the truck from which 15-year-old Erin was ejected and killed last summer, to plead guilty to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter nearly 11 months after her death was the right choice. Now he is at the mercy of the court.
From the beginning, county prosecutors made moot community debate about whether there should have been a prosecution in the first place by consistently applying its policy to charge and not “plead down” cases of vehicular manslaughter.
The message they wanted to give the community is reckless driving resulting in loss of life cannot be tolerated.
With the case resolved except for the sentencing, that message is loud and clear: whenever a driver gets behind the wheel, he is responsible for the safety of his passengers, and the driver will be held accountable for any consequences of not adhering to safety laws. According to the law, a driver is guilty of negligence as soon as he turns the key with unrestrained minors, and guilty of vehicular manslaughter as soon as someone dies as a result.
What began as an evening of fun left one dead and another prosecuted for his decisions and their unforeseen consequences. Kinkel paid the ultimate price for her decision to ride in the back of the truck, as her father has acknowledged in countless community presentations he has given to adults and youths since her death. McDowell’s decision to drive with her in the back will exact a price as well. In addition to losing his driver’s license for a year, he could be sentenced up to a year in jail, given community service, or face fines of up to $10,000; the decision on one or a combination of those is up to the judge.
We hope that whatever the judge decides – and we expect she will apply the wisdom that comes from bench experience – the sentence serves as a cautionary tale that will save other lives and keep families and our community from suffering such profound loss.