News

District attorney: No charge in crash that hurt 6-year-old twins on Menlo Park sidewalk

Driver's license suspended, but it's unclear whether it was voluntary or by DMV

Edward Nelson, the 90-year-old driver whose SUV jumped a curb and pinned six-year-old twin boys against a wall in downtown Menlo Park, will not be charged with an infraction for driving on the sidewalk.

The Oct. 17 crash broke one twin's arm and left the other boy in critical condition; he was released from Stanford Hospital following a five-week stay and multiple surgeries.

The Cadigan family filed a lawsuit against Mr. Nelson seeking punitive as well as general damages for injuries ranging from multiple, extensive skin grafts and lower-body damage; orthopedic and soft-tissue damage to the upper body; and emotional trauma.

Under California criminal law, the infraction was the only possible charge, and the evidence didn't support filing it, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office, because nothing indicated that Mr. Nelson intentionally hit the boys.

"There has to be an intentional, or a 'malicious' act, which is probably a better way to look at it," Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher said. "There has to be volitional conduct. If you run a stop sign, you are volitionally not bringing the wheels to a complete stop. In this case, he believed he was doing one thing, and was mistaken. He was trying to hit the brake, and hit the gas instead."

Mr. Nelson's physical condition – some witnesses of the crash reported that he needed a walker to exit his BMW – wasn't a factor. "They determined at the scene that he wasn't under the influence. There was nothing obvious to indicate that he was incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle that day," Mr. Gallagher told the Almanac.

The driver, however, is no longer behind the wheel: His license has been suspended, according to the D.A.'s office, but it's unclear whether Mr. Nelson voluntarily surrendered it or the Department of Motor Vehicles took it away. He had no prior suspensions or history of reckless driving.

"Tragically, these incidents are what brings home to a lot of elderly drivers that maybe they shouldn't be driving," Mr. Gallagher said.

Had someone died as a result of the crash, the driver would likely have faced a vehicular manslaughter charge, which doesn't require intentional conduct.

"We can all agree it was an accident, but the law says if someone dies, we're going to hold someone responsible for the death," Mr. Gallagher noted. "We don't have an equivalent for injuries inflicted in an accident."

Criminal law, he said, does not address every tragedy that happens. "It's a classic civil tort."

The family's lawsuit against Mr. Nelson, however, ran into a similar setback on the civil front when a judge ruled on Thursday (Jan. 23) to dismiss their request for punitive damages because "there are insufficient allegations to show that defendant acted intentionally to harm the plaintiffs, or that he engaged in despicable conduct with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others."

Judge Joseph Bergeron did, however, grant the plaintiffs' request to amend their complaint. That leaves open the possibility that they will submit further evidence to support their contention that the driver "was aware of the probable dangerous consequences of his driving, and that he failed to take action to avoid such consequences" with conscious disregard for the safety of others, according to the family's attorneys.

The initial response filed by Mr. Nelson's legal team denied his responsibility for the resulting injuries, claiming the children were engaged in behavior that was reckless, careless and negligent.

Mr. Nelson did not respond to a request for comment. A Woodside resident at the time of the crash, he graduated from Stanford Law School and was licensed to practice law from 1957 to 2001, according to the California State Bar.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2014 at 9:16 am

The MPPD and the state should take immediate action against all the "reckless, careless and negligent" children who use our downtown sidewalks after school. Annual sidewalk use exams should be required of all youth for the privilege to walk on our sidewalks.

Yeah, just like annual driving skills and cognitive tests are required for elderly drivers over the age of 79.

Yep, age impaired sidewalk walkers are a much greater danger to public safety than age impaired vehicle drivers.

Time to start requiring more frequent and more comprehensive driving exams for the elderly which include behind the wheel testing. The Department of Veterans Affairs in Palo Alto has an excellent program of testing driving skills and abilities which includes a major section on testing for cognitive impairments, peripheral acuity, reaction time, and ability to handle distractions.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2014 at 9:59 am

If drivers need drivers licenses, why don't pedestrians need walking licenses? Clearly, all pedestrians need lessons on how to walk on a sidewalk without getting nailed by SUVs jumping the curb.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Incomprehensible
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2014 at 12:21 pm

If what happened doesn't fit the definition of driving while impaired, I don't know what would outside of being ****-faced drunk.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Short changed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 24, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Who is going to pay all those medical bills (auto insurance?) and make up for the quality of life issues that at least one of those twins will face, whether short-term or long term? How about all the missed days of work the parents had to take to be at the hospital for weeks with their son, and to care for him after he came home? Is all that off the table with the "my bad--but I didn't mean to" defense?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2014 at 12:52 pm

I really, really hope that the family prevails in civil court against Nelson.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 24, 2014 at 1:25 pm

The State of California / DMV needs to do a much better job of screening older drivers. Incidents involving seniors who confuse the gas and brake pedals is far too common, with the outcome many times similar to this very unfortunate one.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by concerned
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2014 at 1:34 pm

[Post removed; please stick to the topic.]




 +   Like this comment
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2014 at 1:41 pm

This is a COMPLETE OUTRAGE!!! The laws need to be changed so when someone plows into someone walking on the sidewalk, there will be repercussions!!! I cannot believe that Mr. Nelson is getting off scott free!!! And, that Mr. Nelson "denied his responsibility for the resulting injuries, claiming the children were engaged in behavior that was reckless, careless and negligent." SHAME, SHAME, SHAME ON YOU, MR. NELSON, FOR YOUR COWARDICE, AND FOR NOT HAVING THE COURAGE TO ADMIT YOUR WRONGDOING, AND FOR NOT STEPPING FORWARD AND TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR HEINOUS ACTIONS, AND FOR TRYING TO GET OUT OF THIS HORRIBLE THING THAT YOU DID WHEN YOU PLOWED INTO AND INJURED THESE TWO YOUNG CHILDREN!!! The headline should read, "RICH GUY FORMER ATTORNEY LIVING IN WOODSIDE GETS OFF SCOTT FREE FOR RUNNING DOWN TWO CHILDREN!!!" Our criminal justice system is such a farce, such a mockery!!! Everyone - please write to your legislators, send them a copy of this news article, and demand a change in the law so that cowards like Mr. Nelson will have to pay for running down people while driving their car. I hope the family of these two young children sues the shorts off Mr. Nelson.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Get well kids
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jan 24, 2014 at 1:55 pm

[Post removed; please stick to the topic and don't speculate about other people's motives.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not scot free
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 24, 2014 at 2:52 pm

To short-changed: I believe the damages you refer to would still be recoverable as compensatory damages in the civil suit, which the defendant is almost certain to lose, even if the plaintiffs don't prevail on their punitive damages claim. Auto and any Umbrella liability insurance would likely pay out at policy limits, then the personal assets of the defendant would be available to satisfy the remainder of the compensatory damages (plus any punitive damages) awarded by the court. Thus, while criminal charges may have been avoided in this case, the monetary impact on the defendant will likley be huge unless he has massive Umbrella liability coverage.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 24, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The biggest price that the driver will pay is the forever knowledge that his actions seriously hurt other people. No court can impose that penalty and no court can remove it.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Punitive
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2014 at 3:23 pm

The San Mateo court just dismissed the request for punitive damages because there is no evidence Nelson acted maliciously or did this on purpose. Punitives don't apply to accidents, even horrible ones.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2014 at 6:41 pm

I m disgusted that Mr. Nelson, who is apparently wealthy, did not even get charged with a misdemeanor! I am sure that had he been a poor black or Hispanic male, he would be in jail right now -- and for a long time. Justice has not been served here.

I hope the boys' family is successful in suing Mr. Nelson for all their expenses -- and punitive damages, too.

And the DMV is a cruel joke, and a complete waste of our taxes, or Mr. Nelson would not have been allowed to keep driving when he was so clearly too impaired to do so safely.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2014 at 8:58 pm

Louise68 - the type of injustices to which you're referring certainly do happen. But please note that the African American woman in E. Palo Alto who hit and killed a child in an intersection also wasn't charged.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by You got it backwards
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2014 at 9:26 pm

Louise â€"

It's far more likely that a wealthy person will be treated harshly by prosecutors in San Mateo county.

First, law enforcement people don't like it when they are challenged. Wealthy people have the means to hire an attorney and fight the charge.

Second, many government employees resent wealthy individuals.

You put these two factors together â€" they interact with each other â€" and there will definitely be enmity for wealthy people by many law enforcement types.

Just telling it like it is.

If you want to commit a crime in San Mateo county and not answer for it, being a cop will get you a lot further than being wealthy.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 24, 2014 at 9:28 pm

People are confusing criminal charges with damages sought in a civil trial.

We know there is civil litigation and the injured parties will demonstrate and seek damages for their injuries. The lack of criminal charges has little impact on that.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by What about Liability Insurance
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 25, 2014 at 10:15 pm

What about Liability Insurance from his Auto or Homeowners Policy - wouldn't this help to cover the victims expenses? It seems if a dog bites your neighbor or slips on your property "by accident" the insurance covers all sorts of expenses and law suits.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 26, 2014 at 8:49 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Unless Nelson has millions of dollars of liability coverage I doubt what he has will cover the costs that have been incurred or will be in the future. The child was in the hospital for a long time and underwent multiple surgeries. That represents a huge amount of money.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 26, 2014 at 9:57 am

Unfortunately, lawsuits are the way these disputes are often settled.

What About Liability Insurance asks about the driver's insurance policy. This lawsuit is being defended by the driver's insurance company who will, undoubtedly, settle this case before it gets too far along. We are just a few months post-accident - these cases often take months or years to settle. That's often in the victim's interest as well because their actual expenses are better known. The injured parties may have their own insurance which will certainly help and the injured parties' insurance company will sue the driver's insurance for reimbursement. And while the driver probably has high policy limits, that will not limit any awards made against the driver.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by what de ....
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 26, 2014 at 12:50 pm

"It's FAR MORE LIKELY that a wealthy person will be treated harshly by prosecutors in San Mateo county."

Whaaaaaaaaaaa????????

Perhaps one of the more ridiculous posts I've seen in a while. Just ask Athertonians about how their cops give them 'courtesy' (non-binding) tickets for speeding, while the same cop will meet his quota out on ECR by citing non-Athertonians.

About the only fer-real comment is: "If you want to commit a crime in San Mateo county and not answer for it, being a cop will get you a lot further than being wealthy"

That pretty much applies everywhere; the get-outta-jail-free-card list looks like this:

1. cops
2. wealthy
3. politicians
4-9: no one
10: scumbag lawyers (excuse the redundancy)
11-49: empty
50: the privileged class
51-99: fill in a couple groups of your choice (usually not your group, of course!)
100: the rest y'all, and baby, well, the rest y'all are *******


 +   Like this comment
Posted by A disgrace
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 26, 2014 at 2:41 pm

To "What De":

The person who wrote that those with wealth are treated less harshly by the San Mateo DA is right on the money.

Case in point: in December 2013, the Palo Alto Daily Post wrote about Luke Lonergan, the very wealthy and educated tech guy who founded the tech company Greenplum, Lonergan has been featured in the Wall Street Journal; Forbes and Wired. In May 2012, Lonergan, was arrested for having massive amounts of child porn in his possession. Yet, as the the Palo Alto Daily Post has pointed out , strangely, San Mateo DA Steve Wagstaffe had failed to include Lonergan's arrest for child porn in his daily "cases of interest" lists to the press. Even though others- no name people who didn't have Ph. D's and who weren't massively rich, as Lonergan was- who were caught in the same sweep with child pornography got their names in the paper.

Unlike 99,999 per cent of defendants arrested in San Mateo County, Lonergan hired a lawyer from LA- a "Super Lawyer" named Ryan Okabe who had worked for one of the defendants in the OJ Simpson robbery case.

Yet despite being probably the richest person that the San Mateo DA has ever had to deal with and most likely the only person who hired a lawyer involved in an OJ Simpson case, Wagstaffe told the Palo Alto Daily Post that he was "not familiar" with the Lonergan case.

Our question is: why is it that the names of the other men caught up in the same sweep as Lonergan- men with no money- got their names splashed in the papers, but Lonergan's was not included in the San Mateo DA's daily "cases of interest" list?

We don't know for sure, but it sure looks like money talked in the Lonergan case.. and it helped keep his name out of the press, until someone came across the case by accident.

We have also heard of NFL players getting into trouble, yet their crimes did not ever reach the press.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by A disgrace
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 26, 2014 at 2:55 pm

PS: Unlike the other Joe blows with no money who were caught up in the child pornography sweep, the uber-wealthy Luke Lonergan didn't have to register as a sex offender.

There is some evidence that the wealthy who commit crimes in San Mateo County are treated differently.

I don't know if that is the case with Edward Nelson, but his having money and a prestigious job certainly won't hurt.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by what de ....
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 26, 2014 at 5:56 pm

@a disgrace wrote: "The person who wrote that those with wealth are treated less harshly by the San Mateo DA is right on the money."

I didn't argue that, I pointed out the folly of the statement: "It's FAR MORE LIKELY that a wealthy person will be treated harshly by prosecutors in San Mateo county."


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