An accused texting driver who struck and killed a motorcyclist last year got off with just a $500 fine after pleading guilty to a lesser charge Monday, because Maryland prosecutors said they weren’t sure if Elizabeth Meyers, 21, was actually texting when she slammed into 30-year-old Jonathan Roberts.
Meyers had originally been charged with felony auto manslaughter and several other charges related to texting behind the wheel, but ultimately prosecutors dropped all charges except negligent driving which carried the small fine.
But her lawyers argued that while she was texting a minute or two before the crash, before driving her 2008 Chevy Cobalt onto Route 3 in Gambrills, Maryland on March 10 of last year there was no evidence the young driver was texting when she pulled onto the highway and slammed into Roberts, sending his body flying through the air.
He died later at a hospital.
“It’s a tragic accident, but it is just that. It’s an accident,” said Andrew White, lawyer for the 21-year-old accused texting driver. “Frankly, there’s negligence going both ways on this. This is absolutely not a criminal case.”
White said Meyers was driving only 14 mph when she hit the motorcycle.
“It’s really unfair to demonize this young girl for coming across the roadway at a slow rate of speed. It’s crazy to think she’s criminally wrong,” he said.
Meyers was originally accused of failing to stop when she pulled out onto Route 3, bit a data recorder in the Cobalt indicated that she had stopped the vehicle for a several seconds before pulling on to the road.
Prosecutors said they were unable to verify the account of a witness who said that Meyers was texting on her cell phone while pulling on to Route 3.
“We were no longer confident in the eyewitness’ account,” said State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess. “We can’t throw things up and see where the chips fall.”
But Roberts family members, who are going ahead with a $5 million lawsuit against Meyers, called the plea deal a travesty.
“They’re really horrified that this can happen,” said their lawyer Jonathan Halperin. “That apparently the value of a life in the state of Maryland when it’s lost in a motor vehicle collision caused by criminal negligence — the value of that life is $500 and three points”
The accused texting driver had been cited for reckless driving in a separate incident — driving 85 mph in a 55 mph zone — “less than three weeks ago,” Halperin said.