Sheriff's investigators today asked witnesses to the weekend's deadly accident involving Bruce Jenner to come forward.
The plea indicates that authorities are having a hard time placing blame in the noontime chain-reaction crash Saturday that took the life of 69-year-old Kim Howe of Calabasas.
Sheriff's officials said that a Toyota Prius possibly stopped short of a red-light traffic signal on Pacific Coast Highway and Corral Canyon Road. Howe's Lexus struck the Prius, and Jenner's Caddilac Escalade ESV, which was towing an off-road vehicle on a trailer, hit the Lexus and pushed it into oncoming traffic, where a Hummer H2 plowed into it head-on, killing Howe.
"Detectives from Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station are seeking the public’s assistance in locating additional witnesses or anyone with information in regards to the fatal traffic collision that occurred on Saturday, February 7, 2015 at approximately 12:00 PM, in the area of Pacific Coast Highway and Corral Canyon Road, Malibu," the sheriff's department said in a statement today.
According to California vehicle code 21703, drivers must maintain a safe distance to the vehicle ahead of them:
The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the roadway.
In some chain-reaction accidents motorists to the rear are assigned some percentage of blame for this reason.
"That's the general rule of thumb," says West L.A.-based attorney Daniel Geoulla of B&D Law Group, APLC. "There's not a special law that says you're automatically responsible because you rear-ended the person in front of you, but typically you are."
However, Geoulla was quick to note that "there's so many exceptions."
"Fault is not black and white," he said. "A bowling ball falls out of the sky in front of the car in front of you. There's an argument that whoever dropped the ball is at fault. It's not an absolute rule that the person in the back is responsible. There are many factual exceptions that can arise."
CHP spokesman Juan Galvan told us that often a preliminary collision factor (whatever happened with the car in front) is more blame-worthy than what happened behind. However, he said there are cases in which operating too close to the vehicle in front is cited as an "associated factor," he said.
"Just from experience, I've had a couple chain-reaction crashes, and I've cited people [in back] for associated factors," he told us. "Somebody else was partially at fault. Had it not been for this person initially doing this, it wouldn't happen, but this person is also partially to blame. Each case is unique, and it depends on what the investigating officer sees out there."
In the case of Jenner's crash, sheriff's officials are trying to determine what prompted the Prius to stop ahead of the signal. So far that driver's answers have been described as vague.
They also want to determine if Jenner was texting and driving. Photos of the Olympian show him doing something with his hands before the crash. However, it's possible he was smoking. His attorney has said Jenner's cellphone records will be made available to investigators, and that they will exonerate him on that issue.
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It's not a sure thing that those records will determine fault or innocence, though. But it is clear that sheriff's investigators are being very cautious and deliberative.
"There's a lot more eyes on this," lawyer Geoulla said, "and they don't want to make any mistakes."
Witnesses were asked to call the sheriff's department at 818-878-1808.