Tag Archives: District Attorney

now it can be told

A bit melodramatic, our title is, but the whole thing seems a bit melodramatic sometimes. Nothing will bring Zach back but I still have questions about the night he died.

To that end, I traveled back to Baton Rouge on Tuesday. I never wanted to go back, but I did. I only told one person where I was going because I didn’t want to have to justify it ahead of time. I’ve been calling it my ‘white whale’ because it sometimes seems like an ill-fated obsession.

Well, I’m home safe now, so ‘ill-fated’ it wasn’t. My apologies to Micah and Julie for not letting you know I was in town. I had to maintain my focus and I only had a short time there. I also didn’t (don’t) want to drag them through that experience for my benefit. It’s my obsession, dammit, and I’m keeping it to myself.

Well, not really, because I’m writing about it here. Here’s what I did: I got up early and took a non stop flight to New Orleans, arriving in the early afternoon. I rented a car and drove to Baton Rouge and got a room. I then headed over to the stretch of Lee drive between Perkins Road and the site of Zach’s death. I had a camera, my voice recorder, a laser rangefinder, a notebook. It was about 5 pm and rush hour (I can only assume) was in full swing. Cars were pouring through that intersection without letup for the whole two hours I was there. Actually, by the end I thought it might have lessened somewhat but I also thought perhaps I was just getting used to it.

With the rangefinder I measured the distances all along Lee Drive. I had bought one of those rangefinders designed to be used for hunting that was good for up to 600 yards because I thought I might want to measure the whole distance all at once. In the event, I used the telephone poles along the street that were only about 25 to 50 yards apart. The accuracy of the rangefinder is 1 yard so it wasn’t civil engineering. Actually, the whole thing was pretty ad hoc but I’m not displeased with the results.

I drew a simple map of the street showing the side streets and the distances along Lee. I took pictures and video of the cars surging down Lee with special attention to how and where they merged and where exactly the pavement was no longer two cars wide. I spoke my impressions into my voice recorder.

Oh, and I brought one more thing, a stopwatch. The old fashioned kind that has three buttons on top. Actually, the old fashioned kind only had two buttons. This one is digital and had a clock mode, hence the third button. I wanted this style so I could watch the cars go by a certain point and time them along a known distance. I didn’t want to be fussing around with ‘buttons’ on my smart phone.

It worked great. I stood by one of the telephone poles and timed cars going by at the point near to where I believe Zach was hit. When I got back to the hotel room, I calculated their speeds and tabulated it all in a spreadsheet.

(I will omit a long digression where I first forgot how to calculate rates, then found that I had measured a critical distance wrong. So that last part actually took quite a while.)

I’m going to save the details for another post which will be based on a letter I will write to the Baton Rouge District Attorney asking him/her to reopen the case and file more significant charges against the driver, Shawn Allen. I also think the driver of the other vehicle, Reginald Herzog, Jr, has culpability as well as I believe the two drivers were racing each other and not paying proper attention to the road. My information is that criminal charges can be filed up to 4 years after the incident.

In the morning, after a restless night, I went back to the vicinity and made a video driving through the Perkins intersection from College onto Lee so times could be extracted from that although I did not have a camera on the speedometer.

I took some more photos, particularly of the bike, which is still there. The post accident story of the bike is here.

After that, I couldn’t think of anything else to do. It was still early, but there was nothing else in Baton Rouge for me. I drove slowly back to the New Orleans airport on back roads and flew home.

reality

Well I had a couple of doses of reality, as one might say, today. Why would one bit of reality be more significant than another? As one of my science fiction authors said in another context, reality is just a shared hallucination. True enough, but some things are more important than others.

Reality first came to my attention this morning about 6:45 when I woke up but that isn’t what I’m writing about. I had received an email yesterday from the Assistant District Attorney in Baton Rouge telling me that he had finished his investigation of Zach’s death and wanted to discuss his conclusions with me over the phone. I responded telling him that this morning was a good time and he called me about an hour ago.

I spent yesterday evening steeling myself for the news that there would be no criminal prosecution and that in fact is what the gentleman had to say. I do not use the word lightly. This man, who I will not here name, was a gentleman from start to finish. This in addition to being completely professional. He was very familiar in our conversation with all aspects of the evidence and circumstances.

Bottom line: he felt that the driver was ‘negligent’ but not ‘criminally negligent’, thus there would be no charges. I’m not going to go into all of his reasons now but they were all good enough.

The ADA was emphatic in telling me that he would be happy to talk to me at any time; answer any questions, etc. I told him how much of the rather fine points I was raising were on the basis of one reading of the police report months ago, that I haven’t been able to look at it with anything close to the objective eye needed for legalistic thinking. He reminded me that the statute of limitations for criminal action is 4 years so there is time.

Towards the end of our conversation he asked what I did for a living. This was after I commented that I could only admire people like him and the police Traffic Homicide Unit who faced death and other horrible things daily and didn’t go crazy. I told him worked at the Symphony Hall in San Francisco. He said how great it must be to work with such a good orchestra and I had to agree. Then I told him how Sarah has been playing with that orchestra as a sub since last fall and that really started the waterworks. I held most of it in until I got off the phone.

After I calmed down I got in the shower and got my second dose of reality. The shower drain was backing up! I choose to interpret this as Zach telling me that I have to press on.

 

the report

So far I’ve been reluctant to put up anything like progress reports on my efforts to understand what happened in Baton Rouge on the evening of November 14, 2015. Many people have asked me what I want. I’ve always felt, and I still do, that revenge is not the path to follow. Zach is dead & nothing can change that most important fact.

I am unhappy with almost everything the officials of Baton Rouge did – or more precisely didn’t do – in their investigation. Their conclusion that Zach was at fault for entering the street when he shouldn’t have makes me want to scream. Seemingly, everything hinges on the fact that Zach’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was measured at 0.125%. The driver had a BAC of 0 so he’s absolved, goes the narrative. Never mind that he was rat racing another guy to be first past the merge. He got a speeding ticket, BFD.

This subject did come up last weekend, at the breakfast in Grass Valley. Emily spoke very clearly about similar incidents that had come to the attention of she and Zach. She said Zach was willing to see all sides and was generally forgiving of the one most of us would see as the transgressor. Ashley echoed my feelings when she said that she thought the driver should be punished with something more than just a speeding ticket. I asked her specifically what & she said, ‘Prison time.’

Nancy & I both looked into civil suits. She wanted me to join with her but I declined. I consulted another lawyer who eventually got back to me and said the insurance was ‘only’ $15,000 & I would have to share that with my ex-wife. So evidently their M.O. is to jack up the insurance company. They’re not interested in real questions of responsibility.

I consulted yet another lawyer and said I would pay up front to have my questions answered. He sent me to an accident reconstruction specialist who essentially declined to take the job for a variety of technical reasons (he was at least nice enough to explain to me why). The lawyer also suggested that I contact the Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office. He said they generally very responsive to bereaved families.

So it has proven to be. I wrote a letter; they called me back. I wrote another letter because I hadn’t written down the name of the lawyer who called me; they called me back again. Both times I came away with the feeling that the lawyer in the DA’s office was sympathetic to my concerns and would make an honest effort at reviewing the investigation.

The title of this post comes from the interesting fact that the DA lawyer didn’t have a copy of the coroner ‘report’. I said I did and would send it to him, which I did this morning. I call it a ‘report’ because it is two sentences long. Reading it and trying to read the police report again gave me the impetus to write this post.