Aggressive Driving Versus Road Rage

Many drivers are guilty of showing hostility to other drivers occasionally but when does aggressive driving escalate to road rage, and what difference does it make legally?

Utah drivers

Photo by: State Farm

Driving can be a stressful event when dealing with other drivers on the road that don’t always make the best decisions. Although bad drivers are literally everywhere, residents of the Beehive State seem to think that the majority of horrible drivers call Utah home. Many Utah drivers will encounter (or cause) at least one incident a day that shows inexperience, poor judgement, disregard for other drivers, or distraction on the road. When these events occur it can be upsetting and how drivers handle their annoyance or anger towards other drivers could make the difference between whether or not they face criminal charges.

Four vehicles – one life lost

Early last month, hundreds of vehicles heading north towards St. George, Utah on I-15 remained at a standstill for several hours, after authorities processed the scene of a road rage incident that claimed the life of innocent driver on the opposite side of the freeway. There is no information on what caused the road rage, but fellow drivers reported three vehicles that were headed southbound on I-15 were being driven aggressively when things quickly escalated. In an attempt to pass a car on the inside shoulder, one of the drivers involved lost control and struck a northbound vehicle, killing 69 year old Michael Prinaris of Henderson, Nevada instantly.

Aggressive driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as “The operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property.” They state that an aggressive driver may display the following behaviors:

• “Following too closely,
• Driving at excessive speeds,
• Weaving through traffic, and
• Running red lights and signs, among other acts”.

Road rage

Photo by: Mike Kline

The NHTSA states, “aggressive driving occasionally escalates to gesturing in anger or yelling at another motorist, confrontation, physical assault, and even murder. ( . . . ) Road rage is the label that emerged to describe the angry and violent behaviors at the extreme of the aggressive driving continuum.” The turning point between aggressive driving and road rage is someone can drive aggressively, possibly putting others on the road in danger while road rage is deliberate actions intended to do harm to another driver.

Aggressive driving a.k.a reckless driving

According to the NHTSA “an important distinction is that aggressive driving is a traffic violation, while road rage, aside from the yelling and gesticulating, is a criminal offence.” While it is true that more serious criminal consequences can occur from committing acts of road rage, the state of Utah actually punishes aggressive drivers as well. Utah Code 41-6a-528 defines reckless driving as when a person operating a vehicle does so “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property; or while committing three or more moving traffic violations ( . . . ) [within]three miles of less in total distance.” Utah’s definition of reckless driving sounds a lot like what can occur during aggressive driving and that can result in class B misdemeanor charges.

Misdemeanor charges for road rage

Road rage is punishable by whatever criminal act a person performed because they were angry at another driver. Beyond reckless driving charges, road rage can also produce charges of:

• Misdemeanor assault if one driver physically assaulted the other driver;
• Threat of violence; also a misdemeanor charge;
• Possession of deadly weapon (vehicle) with criminal intent, a class A misdemeanor.

Felony road rage charges

Photo by:Beau Giles

Unfortunately for many cases, Road rage can also result in felony charges such as:

• Aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon, a third degree felony;
• Manslaughter, a second degree felony; or even
• Aggravated murder, a first degree felony.

Anyone facing charges related to an aggressive driving or road rage incident should seek the help of an attorney immediately.

Increased Alcoholism among Baby Boomers

Baby boomers are all nearing the age of retirement if they haven’t already and studies have shown this generation may have an increased chance of alcoholism, especially among women.

Increased age, increase alcohol use

Photo by: Katina Rogers

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism stated in a 2008 study ”about 40 percent of adults ages 65 and older drink alcohol.” Multiple studies conducted since that study in both in the U.S. and the UK have shown a dramatic increase of drinking among older adults than in previous years. Additionally, the amount of alcohol consumed by older adults is also increasing; in many case adults over 65 are drinking more than double the recommended weekly limit.

Older women at higher risk

While there have always been a higher amount of men who drink heavily compared to women, the rate of binge drinking among older women is increasing more rapidly than that of older males. Some theorize women over 65 may be increasing their heavy drinking due to it being more socially acceptable, to handle pain that comes with age, or even to fill the time of a life that may be slowing down with other activities.

Health risks

Photo by: Jeffrey Fairchild

Older women who drink heavily are at an increased risk of severe health problems related to alcohol abuse. According to the NIH, Those who are heavy drinkers could increase health problems such as “diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, liver problems, osteoporosis, memory problems, and mood disorders.” They also note that “women typically start to have alcohol-related problems at lower drinking levels than men”. Additionally, many medications that those 65 and older take regularly can have dangerous reactions when mixed with alcohol.

Legal ramifications

Beyond the wide range of health risks, both men and women over the age of 65 should be aware of the legal risks that can be associated with binge drinking.

• As reaction time and memory recall decreases with age, alcohol can magnify this effect. The combination of age and alcohol could increase the chance of individuals putting others in harm whether through trying to operate a vehicle or other heavy machinery or by increasing the chance of accidental home fires that could result in injury or death. The NIH stated “Aging can lower the body’s tolerance for alcohol. Older adults generally experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than when they were younger. This puts older adults at higher risks for falls, car crashes, and other unintentional injuries that may result from drinking.

• Alcohol has been shown to be a factor in many aggravated criminal cases such as homicides, assaults, and sexual crimes. Alcohol does not discriminate in regards to age. Those who have a tendency to show increased agitation when they are drunk at 40 may also face the same reaction when they are over 65. Age is never an excuse for violent behavior.

• In a little over a year, Utah will be decreasing the BAC limit for drivers. Most drivers, especially women who typically weigh less than men, will not be able to drive legally after even one drink. All drivers should consider planning ahead for a designated driver whenever alcohol is to be consumed.

Set limits

The NIH recommends those who are over 65, healthy, and not on medication (or planning on driving) should limit their amounts of alcohol to no more than “3 drinks on a given day” and “7 drinks in a week”. Although alcohol is legal for all adults over the age of 21, it may be wise to recognize problems of binge drinking and take precautions to curb excess drinking before health or legal consequences ensue. For any adult regardless of age that is facing criminal charges stemming from an alcohol related offense, it is best to consult immediately with a criminal defense attorney.

Murder Conviction When a Body is Not Found

When a victim is presumed dead yet a body is not found, is a murder conviction even possible? This is a question on many southern Utah residents’ minds after a young father went missing under suspicious circumstances and has yet to turn up.

Gone, but not without a trace

Empty Room

Photo by: Brad K.

On June 27th, 2016 30 year old David Corey Heisler went missing from his Santa Clara, Utah home and many in the community are crying “murder”. When Heisler was reported missing, he and his vehicle were nowhere to be found yet his personal belongings such as a wallet and cell phone were still in the home that Heisler shared with his father, step-mother and daughter. He also had a video game on pause, alluding to the fact that he had no intention of leaving home at that time. To create more cause for concern, blood splatter was found throughout the home which indicated that a struggled likely ensued.

Extreme custody battle

During the investigation, police were able to locate three suspects in connection with Heisler’s disappearance. The first was Kelley Marie Perry, who just two weeks prior lost a custody battle for the pair’s 6 year old daughter, Mariah. The second person arrested was Francis Lee McCard, a man who witnesses said was frequently seen with Perry and is described as being strongly built and likely able of effortlessly overpowering Heisler. The third person arrested four days after Perry and McCard is Tammy Renee Freeman who is alleged to be the transportation in the case.

Planned kidnapping

All three individuals arrested have admitted involvement with the suspicious disappearance of David Heisler. Perry and McCard told authorities they surprised Heisler at his home where they physically assaulted him, tossed him in his own car, and drove him out to the desert. When Perry met up with Freeman who had previously dropped the duo off at Heisler’s home, McCard claims he drove Heisler to a secluded area south of the Utah border where he left the victim alive. He then stated to ditching the vehicle and meeting back up with Perry and Freeman. Heisler’s missing vehicle was located by authorities in Beaver Dam, Arizona which is located a mere 34 miles from Heisler’s home yet a considerable distance away from where Heisler was reported to be left. Blood splatter on the car and evidence of a discharged firearm increased concern of Heisler’s well-being, and whether or not he survived the kidnapping.

3 felonies but no murder charge

Photo by: Ian McKeller

Photo by: Ian McKeller

Perry, McCard, and Freeman are all facing charges of first degree felony aggravated burglary, first-degree felony aggravated kidnapping, and second-degree felony theft of a motor vehicle. One charge that has not been added thus far however is murder. With Heisler missing over two weeks in triple digit temperatures with no food or water and probable injuries, the public is skeptical that Heisler is alive. Heisler’s family and law enforcement officials however have told the community to not give up hope for a safe return. This hope of finding Heisler alive could be what is preventing murder charges to arise, however the possibility of not having a body may also prevent police from charging the three with murder.

Murder conviction with no body

If the trio is charged, is a murder conviction possible if a body is never located? The answer is yes, yet proving a murder without a body is not an easy thing for prosecutors to do. The reason for this is to prevent wrongful convictions, especially when it could lead to life in prison or the death penalty. In the case of David Heisler, a large majority of the public has already deemed Perry, McCard, and Freeman guilty for murder of Heisler either by a gunshot wound or by leaving him to die of exposure, yet at this time no one knows for sure if he is alive or dead. Without a body or enough circumstantial and forensic evidence to back up a murder charge, a judge or jury cannot and should not agree with a murder conviction; an experienced criminal defense attorney would help ensure that.