The Los Angeles DUI Law Blog

Drunk Driver Kills Son of HOF Motorcycle Racer/CHiPs Star

The son of Hall of Fame motorcycle racer Bruce Penhall, who also starred in the television series “ChiPs,” was killed in Baldwin Park by a drunk driver. Connor McDermott Penhall, 21, was killed while working as a contract worker for CalTrans, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The driver of the vehicle, Tatsuhiko Sakamoto, 37, is suspected of being under the influence of alcohol when he plowed his Toyota Rav4 through construction barriers and into the construction site. He was arrested on charges of vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence, and driving without a license.

There are two types of DUI vehicular manslaughter in California. Both require DUI to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in addition to the vehicular manslaughter charge.

The difference between the two is the level of negligence required. One charge, California Penal Code 191.5(b), requires “negligence,” whereas 191.5(a) requires, “gross negligence.” The one word difference is far from minimal, as the gross negligence charge carries a much stiffer penalty.

Regular negligence would be ordinary speeding while drunk and someone dies as a result.

Gross negligence might involve street racing or engaging in some other sort of out of the ordinary dangerous driving activity, like driving over 100mph through a residential area.

The reason for the difference is the level of culpability. Someone driving at 100mph in a residential area has no regard whatsoever for those around him. His or her wanton indifference is almost guaranteed to harm someone.

Someone who is merely driving at, say 75 in a 65 on the southbound 5 freeway in the middle of the night might be driving negligently, but it would be hard to prove that he or she was indifferent to human life.

It is unclear at this point which of the two charges has been filed against Tatsuhiko Sakamoto for the death of Connor McDermott Penhall. The lesser charge is far more common, as it is easier to prove and requires less extreme circumstances.

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