Family of Chappaqua Teen In Fatal MVA Fights Distracted Driving
In a story by Terence Corcoran in the May 20, 2013 edition of the Journal News, the family of Evan Lieberman, a 19 year old student at the University of Connecticut who was killed in a motor vehicle crash on June 16, 2011, has taken on the battle against distracted driving. Evan Lieberman was a passenger in a car driven by a high school friend named Michael A. Fiddle along with two other friends from Chappaqua when the fatal accident occurred at 7:50 AM on June 16, 2011. Fiddle was driving on Route 6 in Orange County to their summer employment in Woodbury, New York.
Fiddle claimed to state police investigators that he had fallen asleep at the wheel before veering into oncoming traffic. Mr. Lieberman suffered massive injuries and was hospitalized for one month before dying of his injuries on July 18, 2011, after several surgeries were unsuccessful in saving his life. The case was presented to a grand jury on the theory that Fiddle had been texting and driving or otherwise using his cell phone at time of the accident. Apparently, the grand jury decided not to indict Mr. Fiddle.
Lieberman’s father, Ben Lieberman, was not satisfied with the explanation given by Fiddle that he had fallen asleep at the wheel. Mr. Lieberman pushed investigators to look at the case more closely. Although the state police never charged Mr. Fiddle or cited him for any violations of the New York Vehicle & Traffic Law with regard to the accident, Evan’s father decided to file a civil suit on behalf of his late son so that he could obtain cell phone records. The state police apparently never sought the phone records of Mr. Fiddle, and claimed they could not prove definitively whether Mr. Fiddle was using a cell phone at the time of the accident.
Whenever there is a fatality in a car accident, the Department of Motor Vehicles automatically conducts a hearing to determine if action should be taken against the driver of the car with regard to his or her driving in that fatal accident. Mr. Fiddle, as was his option, (and is usually on the advice of counsel when there is potential criminal responsibility) did not testify at the hearing. The estate’s attorneys introduced statements made by Mr. Fiddle in the civil suits filed by the Lieberman family and other passengers in the car. Lieberman’s attorneys were also able to establish that the browser on Fiddle’s phone was on from 7:00 AM through the moment of the fatal accident.
Mr. Fiddle’s attorney argued that the phone records should not be used during the hearing, contending that the police did not file any charges against his client. He also made the claim that investigators concluded that there was no evidence connecting texting or speaking on a portable device with the accident. However, Judge Marinacci was not persuaded by these claims.
During the hearing, (which is generally recorded only on a cassette tape recorder unless one of the parties pays for a court reporter), Administrative Judge Donna Marinacci determined that Mr. Fiddle had in fact been using a portable device while “driving drowsy”, (unlike the police, Judge Marinacci did obtain the cell phone records). Judge Marinacci ruled that Fiddle’s driving “constituted gross negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle”, and "showed a reckless disregard for life” and “caused or contributed to the accident.” Judge Marinacci ruled that Fiddle violated several sections of the Vehicle & Traffic Law in the fatal accident, and suspended Fiddle's license for one year.
Evan's parents have set up an organization to combat distracted driving known as "DORCs"--"Distracted Operators Risk Casualties." Additionally, the entire Lieberman family has organized a non profit called "Evan's Team", to raise funds and awareness for community concerns and issues.
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