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Thursday, 07 March 2019 22:37

Prosecutor: No Crime by Uber in Self-Driving Death; Crash Still Under Scrutiny

Written by Ray Stern, Phoenix New Times
Prosecutor: No Crime by Uber in Self-Driving Death; Crash Still Under Scrutiny Tempe Police


Uber, the corporation, didn't commit any crimes in the self-driving fatal crash last year that killed a woman in Tempe, AZ, the Yavapai County Attorney's Office announced March 5.


But backup driver Rafaela Vasquez may still be in trouble. The prosecutor's office is asking Tempe police to provide more information and evidence that would help determine whether she was at fault. The Prescott-based office is also referring the criminal case against Uber back to Maricopa County for further review.


The March 18, 2018 crash that killed Elaine Herzberg, a 49-year-old homeless woman, rocked many in the tech world who assumed autonomous vehicles wouldn't blindly plow into people in the street.


Herzberg had been walking across Mill Avenue just south of Curry Road about 10 p.m. when Vasquez rolled up about 40 mph in one of Uber's Volvo XC90 vehicles outfitted with self-driving technology. An investigation showed the brakes hadn't been applied; Herzberg died soon after the impact.


Vasquez, who was supposed to be monitoring the road as the vehicle was in autonomous mode, can be seen in an interior video looking below the dashboard of the vehicle in the moments before the car struck Herzberg. Evidence later showed her personal cellphone had been streaming a TV show at the time.


Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery declared a conflict of interest early on because his office had done some work with Uber. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk then took up the case.


"After a very thorough review of all the evidence presented, this Office has determined that there is no basis for criminal liability for the Uber corporation arising from this matter," Polk wrote in a letter released to the news media March 5. "Because this determination eliminates the basis for the MCAO conflict, we are returning the matter to MCAO for further review for criminal charges."


However, Polk went on that her office concluded the collision video "as it displays, likely does not accurately depict the events that occurred."

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