San Francisco, CA — A woman charged with vehicular manslaughter after a freak parking accident was acquitted after evidence pointed to a defective brake pedal rather than negligence, Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors on Tuesday found San Francisco resident Sonia Wright, 51, not guilty of one count of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in the death of 67-year-old Emmitt Jackson. If convicted, she faced up to a year in jail, said her attorney, Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin.
The charge stemmed from an Oct. 4, 2013 accident. Wright, a driver and assistant for an electrical company, shuttled two workers to a job site at a cheese shop on Pacific Avenue and Polk Street in her employer’s 2005 Ford F-150. The loading zone was occupied, so Wright parked the truck in a metered spot behind it.
When a car left the loading zone, Wright decided to drive forward 20 feet to take its place. Jackson, an electrician, was putting tools into his Honda truck, which was also parked in the loading area. For reasons she could not explain, Wright’s foot became stuck on the gas and she lurched forward at 12 miles per hour, pinning Jackson’s lower legs between the two vehicles. He was rushed to the hospital, and suffered a fatal heart attack later that day.
Wright, who was in shock from the tragedy, fully cooperated with responding officers as they conducted sobriety tests. She maintained she was sober and denied being on her phone during the accident. A breathalyzer detected no alcohol in her system, but officers arrested her for driving under the influence pending the results of her blood tests. She was also booked for talking on her cell phone while driving, and manslaughter.
Wright spent more than two months in jail before results of the toxicology tests revealed no drugs her system. Police gained access to her cell phone records, which showed no phone activity in the 10 minutes prior to the crash.
Neither police nor Wright could explain what happened.
The Public Defender’s Office retained a former law enforcement officer and expert accident investigator who would solve the mystery.
The expert’s investigation revealed that the brake pedal on the poorly maintained F-150 was entirely missing the rubber tread that provides friction and grip for the foot. During the trial, he testified the accident could be reasonably explained by the missing rubber, which prevents the foot from slipping off the brake and onto the accelerator or getting stuck between the pedals.
“This was no crime. It was a tragic accident and that’s exactly what the evidence showed,” Boudin said. “Ms. Wright wishes more than anything she could fix what happened. Of course that’s impossible, but the jury did the next best thing by providing closure to both families after three years.”
Adachi said the government should not have turned the tragedy into a criminal matter.
“Ms. Wright’s prosecution only compounded the trauma of that terrible day. She is relieved that her legal saga is behind her,” Adachi said.