A tragic accident occurred in Phoenix this past January. A woman was riding her motorcycle on 19th Avenue near Northern Avenue, when an SUV turned left in front of her, causing a crash that left the woman in critical condition. The driver of the SUV, James Bellinger, did not stop until he was several blocks away. He apparently got out of his car at that point, and was wandering around until confronted by responding police officers. We’ve read the news reports, and while they typically say that Bellinger “showed signs of drug use,” no other specifics appeared in the stories.
Bellinger was originally charged with aggravated DUI, aggravated assault and hit-and-run involving serious injury. But after the woman died of her injuries, the list of charges expanded. The most serious of the offenses were manslaughter and the hit-and-run charge.
- Manslaughter. Bellinger was charged under A.R.S. 13-1103 with recklessly causing the death of the motorcyclist. Manslaughter is a class 2 felony.
- Hit-and-run. The level of a particular hit-and-run charge, also known as leaving the scene of an accident, depends upon a number of factors. Where the accident involves only property damage, it is a class 2 misdemeanor. But if there is a personal injury involved, it becomes a class 5 felony. If the injury is serious, or in the case of a death, leaving the scene becomes a class 3 felony. Finally, if the defendant caused the accident that resulted in the death or serious physical injury, the offense is a class 2 felony.
When the charges were sorted out, Bellinger faced up to decades in prison if convicted of all the offenses. However, a deal was reached, with Bellinger entering a guilty plea to the manslaughter and hit-and-run charges. And on Friday, October 4, 2013, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, plus five years of probation.
Whatever the details may be, the lesson is clear. You may not have any intent to harm anyone, but driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can nevertheless lead to catastrophic consequences in the lives of everyone involved, including other drivers, passengers, pedestrians and yourself.
The Feldman Law Firm PLLC
1 E. Washington Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004