Probe continues in self-driving car crash

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Police outside Phoenix recently closed part of a street to conduct a lighting test as an investigation continues into the 2018 death of a woman who was struck and killed by an Uber self-driving SUV.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office says prosecutors asked for more investigation before making a decision about whether to charge backup driver Rafaela Vasquez who was supposed to take control in an emergency. Another prosecutor’s office decided in March not to charge Uber.

The Tuesday night lighting test was conducted near the crash site in Tempe. The Arizona Republic reports one man drove a white Volvo XC90 like the vehicle that killed Elaine Herzberg who was crossing the street with her bicycle. It did not appear to have the sensors Uber uses on self-driving vehicles.

The investigation last year by Tempe Police determined the accident was “entirely avoidable,” but prosecutors wanted more information.

Amanda Steele, a spokeswoman for Montgomery’s office, said the tests were connected with Montgomery’s request.

“Once prosecutors receive a new submittal (from police), they will begin reviewing the case for a charging decision,” Steele said.

Montgomery said at a March news conference that his office wanted more data on the crash, which was recorded by cameras inside and outside the Uber vehicle.

“We are asking the Tempe Police Department to conduct further investigation into the video itself,” Montgomery said. “One of the critical decision points for us will be to match up specific actions of the driver at specific points in the roadway in order for us to be able to properly asses the reasonable likelihood of a conviction with the evidence we will have.”

Vasquez, 45, told investigators that she didn’t use her cellphone before the crash. But authorities say records show Vasquez was streaming the television show “The Voice” on her phone and was looking downward in the moments before the crash. Investigators concluded the crash could have been avoided had Vasquez not been distracted.

Dash camera video shows Vasquez was looking down near her right knee for four or five seconds before the crash. She looked up a half-second before striking Herzberg.

Vasquez told police Herzberg “came out of nowhere” and that she didn’t see her prior to the collision. But officers calculated that had Vasquez been paying attention, she could have reacted 143 feet (44 meters) before impact and brought the SUV to a stop about 42 feet (12.8 meters) before hitting Herzberg.


Information from: The Arizona Republic,

By Kerry Minor

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