‘Professional Courtesy’ and Negligent Homicide

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Lars Gardner of St. George, Utah walked away unscathed from the March 11 accident he caused when he plowed his car into a tan Buick carrying 71-year-old Karen Gummow, and 75-year-old Illa Jean Moore. Neither of the women — who were on their way to a women’s gathering at a nearby church when Gardner blindsided them — survived the crash.

Gardner was entirely at fault in the accident, yet no criminal charges were filed against him. A civil suit would most likely be thrown out of court.

Need it even be said that Gardner is a costumed agent of state coercion, and the women he killed were mere Mundanes?

At the time of the accident, Gardner, an officer of the Utah Highway Patrol, was driving 86 miles an hour in a 40 MPH zone. He was en route to a separate traffic accident 45 miles away that had taken place at least a half hour earlier.

By the time Gardner received the call, the accident scene was already secure. Some sense of the relative urgency of Gardner’s errand can be gained from his own description of the response he provided when he received the call: “Yeah, let me clean up, get dressed, grab a snack, and I’ll be on my way.”

If Gardner had the time to “grab a snack,” it obviously wasn’t necessary for him to drive like a maniac and risk the lives of others. Yet according to Washington County Brock Belnap, Gardner’s irresponsible recklessness doesn’t “arise to criminal negligence,” since it occurred in the “performance of his duties.”

“We’re dealing with the Highway Patrol’s policy, and the Highway Patrol’s policy doesn’t have any upper limit,” insists Belnap.

While this may be true, it’s not legally decisive. The section of Utah’s State Code dealing with speed limit exemptions for emergency vehicles specifies: “The privileges granted under this section do not relieve the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle of the duty to act as a reasonably prudent emergency vehicle operator in like circumstances.”

Gardner had time to primp and stuff his face before tearing down St. George’s River Road, headed for an accident scene that was already secure. Not even the most resourceful government-employed sophist can describe this as “reasonable and prudent” behavior, rather than a case of an overgrown adolescent indulging — at lethal expense to others — his appetite for “drivin’ fast and kickin’ ass.”

But clever sophisms aren’t necessary when vulgar, brazen corruption will suffice.

A source close to the official inquiry into Gardner’s behavior told Salt Lake City NBC affiliate KSL that “pressure was placed on investigators to clear Gardner of any wrongdoing and, despite an investigator’s recommendation to charge him, he was cleared.”

Neither the UHP nor the Utah Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training has reprimanded or punished Gardner in any way. It’s a matter of “professional courtesy” among uniformed tax-feeders.

Accordingly, as the families of his victims deal with their irrecoverable loss, Gardner is behind the wheel of a UHP cruiser without facing personal or professional consequences for needlessly killing two elderly sisters on their way to a church luncheon.

(Thanks to LRC reader Jason Smith for bird-dogging this story.)

1:15 pm on May 25, 2010