NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Drivers in New Jersey are torn after a woman has been charged in the first vehicular homicide case in Essex County involving texting while driving.
As CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported, the landmark case could leave those who text behind the wheel and cause serious accidents to face stiff legal penalties.
“I see it all the time,” driver Cynthia Haynes told Brown. “All day, every day, people texting and driving.”
Jennifer Sahoye, 35, was originally charged with causing death while driving with a suspended license in the Oct. 10 crash on Routes 1 & 9 in Newark.
Further investigation revealed Sahoye was texting while driving at the time of the crash, which killed 58-year-old Carlos Carvalho of Elizabeth, Essex County prosecutors said.
Sahoye was driving southbound in the express lanes of Route 1 & 9, near the Route 78 interchange, when she crossed into the southbound local lanes and hit Carvalho’s Ford pickup truck, prosecutors said. The truck overturned and Carvalho was ejected from the truck. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
As WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported, witnesses told The Newark Star-Ledger they saw Sahoye looking down while she was behind the wheel.
When police brought the text-messaging evidence to light, prosecutors upped the charges to vehicular homicide.
That charge is typically reserved for drivers accused of knowingly using their vehicle as a weapon.
“We look at, was the driver acting intentionally? Were they acting recklessly?” Essex County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Fennelly said. “And in this case we feel her conduct was reckless, justifying the charge.”
Sahoye was driving with a suspended license and could face a maximum of 10 years in state prison if convicted.
Most drivers said they support the tough stance, and the direction police and prosecutors are moving in when it comes to texting behind the wheel.
“If you kill someone, it’s homicide, right?” a driver said. “So, it’s pretty self explanatory.”
“You know it’s a law,” Andrea Powell told Brown. “You get a ticket for it, but if you kill somebody, I think it’s right. It’s a rule.”
“I think it’s a little extreme,” Rolando Simpson said. “I think she should be punished, but not a couple of years in jail,”
The case comes just a month after a panel of New Jersey State Appeals Court judges found that when a driver is texting and causes an accident, even the person exchanging texts with that driver could be held liable for negligence if they knew the person was behind the wheel.
Drivers have a more mixed reaction on that statute.
“I shouldn’t text the person at that time, and I could blame myself,” Nelvar Pierre of Jersey City said.
“I wouldn’t know if they’re driving or not,” Laura Burns of Verona said. “I thought they would be at home. It’s (the driver’s) fault.”
Sahoye was released Tuesday on $50,000 bond following a court appearance.
In July in central New Jersey, an 18-year-old driver received five years in prison on the same charge, Adams reported.
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