San Francisco, CA — A judge dismissed a vehicular manslaughter charge Tuesday against a motorist involved in a 2009 fatal crash after determining that prosecutors unreasonably delayed the case and police lost critical evidence.
Oakland resident Valerie Evans, 52, faced up to a year in county jail if convicted on the misdemeanor charge, said her attorney, Deputy Public Defender Kwixuan Maloof. The case was dropped by San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Collins after Maloof argued that prosecutors violated Evans’ due process and right to a speedy trial by waiting six months to bring the case and failing to preserve key evidence from the crash.
The case stemmed from a Sept. 18, 2009 accident on Cesar Chavez Street near Florida Street that killed motorcyclist Brian Caton, 21, of Santa Rosa. Witnesses told police that Caton was speeding eastbound on Cesar Chavez Street just as Evans pulled out of a parking space and made an illegal u-turn from eastbound Cesar Chavez to westbound Cesar Chavez. Caton was thrown from his 2002 Kawasaki Volcan as it hit Evans’ 2006 Toyota Corolla.
Evans, who immediately stopped to render aid, was cited for making a u-turn in a business district. Caton, who was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, died five days later.
On March 16, 2010, Evans was charged with vehicular manslaughter.
Maloof said there was no justifiable reason for the delay in charging Evans. The law requires prompt charging so that the accused can prepare a defense and critical evidence can be preserved.
“The district attorney cannot explain why Ms. Evans was charged six months after the incident,” he said. “There was no new evidence and it wasn’t a case in which Ms. Evans couldn’t be found. She has lived in the same address for the past decade and has worked at the same job since 1994.”
While police preserved Evans’ car, they released Caton’s motorcycle to a towing company the day of the crash and can no longer locate it. In his ruling, Collins acknowledged that the motorcycle was reasonably expected to play a significant role in Evans’ defense.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi applauded Collins’ decision to dismiss the case.
“This case was a terrible, tragic accident. It was not a homicide,” Adachi said.