An example of a Rube Goldberg machine, from YouTube
Picture a Rube Goldberg machine: a ball travels down a slope, knocks into a candle which falls over, and so on down the line as a series of exactly timed consequences unfolds. Now picture the same thing happening in real life: one person’s mistake spins out into an unlikely but fatal consequence. Someone is dead as the result of a long chain of precisely timed but unplanned events. Is it homicide?
That’s the tricky question a court in Mineola, New York court is trying to answer. Here are the facts: James Ryan got drunk, got behind the wheel, and slammed his Toyota into a BMW on the expressway. He finally came to a stop 1,500 down the road; it was there that another car hit him. Nassau County Police Officer James Oliveri arrived at the scene. It was then that an SUV driver smashed into Ryan’s car, which hit and killed Officer Oliveri.
A state judge initially dismissed the charges against Ryan, but an appeals court later reinstated them, saying that it was “reasonably foreseeable that the defendant’s conduct would cause collisions and that the police would respond and be required to be in the roadway, where they would be exposed to the potentially lethal danger presented by fast-moving traffic.” Assistant District Attorney Maureen McCormick argued that Ryan “drove wildly, recklessly and drunk… They are the natural, foreseeable consequences of his actions and he owns them.”
A small case with huge consequences
In fatal crashes, it’s rare for anyone other than the driver directly involved to be charged at all. In the district attorney’s view, Ryan is being charged because the possibility of a police officer being called to assist him after a wreck and ending up in a potentially life-threatening situation should have been a foreseeable result of his actions.
What do you think? Should a drunk driver be charged with the full consequences of any crash they cause? Is danger in the line of duty just part of a police officer’s job, or is it the fault of a criminal? Tell us what you think in the comments.