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Crash Cab

Attorney: Charges in accident too light



In August 2010, a Yellow Cab plowed into a moped. The moped’s driver, Derrick Price, bounced off the hood of the cab, while the passenger was catapulted over the cab and into the street. Price later died, while passenger Sarah Tarr suffered a severe head injury and has no memory of the accident.

Why the accident occurred is a mystery—it was determined that the Yellow Cab driver, Sarbjit Singh, was neither distracted nor intoxicated. For Tarr’s attorney, Larry Long, the bigger mystery is why the Salt Lake City prosecutor’s office charged the driver with a class C misdemeanor for an accident that took one person's life and changed another’s forever.

On Nov. 15, 2011, the Salt Lake City prosecutor’s office accepted Singh’s plea-in-abeyance—meaning that if he complies with the terms of the agreement, he could be back driving a taxi in six months and have no points on his license. Long says he recently took a right turn at a red light, was pulled over and received a penalty more severe than the cab driver “who killed one person and seriously injured another,” Long says.

While Long readies a civil-action suit against the taxi company, he still questions the city’s “slap on the wrist” punishment for the driver that included a $500 fine and a required defensive-driving class. For Aaron Aplin*, the prosecutor who worked the case, Long’s posturing is unfair, especially since Aplin says his office struggled with evidence issues and difficulty in contacting Long’s client, Tarr, to see if she objected to the sentence.

“It was interesting the way they handled the case,” Aplin says. “Basically, they didn’t have any kind of objections or problems with the disposition”—a claim Long adamantly denies.

It’s the kind of case that frustrates law enforcement and prosecutors. Had Singh been found to have been intoxicated or texting on a phone, his case would have likely been felony manslaughter and handled by the District Attorney’s Office. Still, Long says that even in the Salt Lake City Justice Court, the price for inflicting injury and death should be steeper—if the driver had been intoxicated, it could better explain the tragic accident; as it stands, Long sees the driver’s behavior as incredibly incompetent.

“He just drove right into them,” Long says. “The taxi driver is Indian; he’s a vegetarian and doesn’t drink. On the police video, he says, ‘I didn’t see a thing’—the only way you didn’t see a thing is if you’re not looking out the window.”

The crash itself was observed by four witnesses, and more than half a dozen Salt Lake City police officers responded to the crash to interview witnesses and document the scene. Police reports describe a scene of chaos in the aftermath of the wreck, which occurred at roughly 11:30 p.m. on the night of Aug. 26, 2010, after the driver accelerated and turned left on a red light, not seeing the moped directly in front of him. One responding officer took grim note of the condition of the cab, reporting two impact points and that “on the lower impact, there is a lot of hair and flesh-like substance stuck to it,” adding, “there were several red droplets on the driver’s side door which appear to be blood.”

According to one witness report, “The driver of the scooter hit the windshield and bounced along the ground. The bike flipped, and the girl went into the air and did a couple of flips, then smacked her head.” All witnesses say that Singh was accelerating to make the left turn even as the light had turned red; two witnesses described the driver as having “gunned it” through the intersection.

In a police interview with Singh, he explained that he had just finished a shift that had started that morning at 10:15 a.m. and was headed home, that he had eaten “vegetables and water” for dinner and that he “never drinks nor smokes cigarettes.” A spokesman for Yellow Cab says that Singh was suspended from his job after the accident and subsequently left his position. Attempts to reach Singh for this article were unsuccessful.

Prosecutor Aplin says the case was stymied by evidence problems, arguing that one witness to the event had moved out of state and that one was difficult to communicate with. The other two witnesses he couldn’t reach, he says.

“At the end of the day, I was not able to reach four,” Aplin says. “Two I could not contact. We did not have any success reaching them via telephone.” Aplin says that police accounts were insufficient, and that without being able to get hold of witnesses, a stronger charge would have been harder to stick. He says the office struggled to reach even the injured passenger.

Aplin says the suggestion was made that Long was more concerned with preparing a civil-action suit against the taxi company than getting involved with the criminal case against Singh.

“We did reach out to them to get their input throughout, and they were very uncooperative,” Aplin says. He points out that at the time of sentencing, Tarr herself could have spoken in court to offer any objections to the city’s plea-in-abeyance deal with Singh, but that neither she nor Long were present in court. Aplin also says that the agreement called for Singh to be liable for reasonable compensation to the victim, but says those terms haven’t been discussed, either.

Long, however, argues that he was sick the day of the sentencing and that his client had previously spoken with police about the crime. Long blasts Aplin’s argument of “evidence” issues as a “scoundrel’s retreat.” He argues instead that the city backed down after being intimidated by the cab company’s attorney—a point Aplin denies emphatically.

“These are just limp excuses from [the prosecutor’s office] to justify this thing they did,” Long says. 

Twitter: @EricSPeterson