The Los Angeles DUI Law Blog

DUI Manslaughter Conviction Upheld for Driver Who Ran Out of Gas

He didn't swerve and hit a pedestrian. He didn't run another car off of the road. He didn't even crash and injure a passenger. He got rear-ended by someone traveling almost 80 mph. He ran out of gas. And last year, he got 13 years in prison, reports the Orange County Register.

Earlier this week, according the Register, Christopher James Koppi's conviction was upheld on appeal. The person who rear-ended his stalled truck was subsequently rear-ended by another vehicle and did not survive the collisions.

How does someone manage to get 13 years in prison for getting rear-ended and running out of gas? They commit gross negligence leading to the death of someone while driving under the influence. The court, in their lengthy opinion, defined gross negligence as:

"Gross negligence is the exercise of so slight a degree of care as to raise a presumption of conscious indifference to the consequences. The state of mind of a person who acts with conscious indifferences to the consequences is simply, 'I don't care what happens.' The test is objective: whether a reasonable person in the defendant's position would have been aware of the risk involved." (citations omitted).

There were a lot of factors at play that led to his conviction. For example, Koppi had an extremely high blood alcohol level, measured at 0.20 two hours after the crash.

(The appeals court stated that at the time of the crash it must have been at least 0.22, which is erroneous, as that assumes his BAC was falling due to digestion. It also could have been rising due to rapid consumption of drinks in a short period of time immediately before getting behind the wheel. Either way, with a BAC that high, he was clearly drunk when the accident occurred.)

Being drunk, however, is not enough to meet the gross negligence standard. There has to be more, such as driving at 100 mph, or pretending you are in NASCAR and swerving across four lanes.

The court found that Koppi's prior DUI conviction and alcohol education class put him on notice of the possible consequences of driving under the influence. He also must have ignored the "low gas" warning light on his truck, as the tow yard tested the light and it worked.

His car, at the time of the crash, was alleged to be stopped and parked straight in the driving lane, with no emergency flashers on. According to an expert, if Koppi had run out of gas, he would have had 1500 feet in momentum to allow him to coast onto the shoulder.

Adding everything up -- ignoring of the gas light, the extremely high BAC, and Koppi's experience and alcohol education -- the court felt that it was possible for a jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that he was grossly negligent.

Related Resources: