Defendant in fatal crash acquitted
Sorrow and relief marked a Grass Valley area man’s acquittal Thursday on charges stemming from last year’s fatal crash near the Nevada County Fairgrounds
Raymond P. Herve, 46, was found not guilty of vehicular manslaughter, reckless driving and hit-and-run by Judge Ersel Edwards.
Herve opted to have a judge, rather than a jury, decide his case – which the California Highway Patrol called a product of road rage.
While the judge conceded the prosecution’s road rage theory was conceivable, it wasn’t proven beyond a reasonable doubt during the two-day trial.
Herve smiled slightly and shook hands with defense investigator Jean Carli and later his lawyer, Ron Lange. Herve’s wife cried and hugged a friend.
Herve exited the courthouse without responding to questions. A friend with him said, “He is just numb right now.”
The family of Jesse Roberts, the 22-year-old Grass Valley man killed in the March 7, 2001, crash on Highway 20, lingered in the hallway and shared tears and hugs with several others.
Roberts’ parents, Jim and Laura Roberts, said they expected the verdicts, but remained convinced that Herve and a third driver, Nevada City resident Bruce Kirkpatrick, caused the crash that killed their only son. They also have a daughter.
“It was rage,” Laura Roberts said. “They were both angry, and if people would watch their anger, it would save a lot of lives.”
At the same time, she didn’t harbor anger toward the Herves, who have two sons. “They lost their family happiness,” she said.
The Robertses said they settled a civil lawsuit with Herve’s insurer prior to trial for the maximum liability amount. They had earlier settled with Kirkpatrick’s insurance company, also for the maximum, they said.
Kirkpatrick, 62, was charged in the case, but found incompetent to stand trial because of extensive head injuries suffered in the crash.
On a day much like Thursday, clear and sunny, the crash occurred just west of Grass Valley. The CHP claimed Herve, driving a 1969 Ford Thunderbird, caught up to Kirkpatrick on westbound Highway 20 after Kirkpatrick cut him off on the Golden Center Freeway’s southbound offramp in his Chevy pickup.
Investigators claimed Herve passed Kirkpatrick and hit the brakes, causing Kirkpatrick to skid into the oncoming lane and strike Roberts’ car. Kirkpatrick’s truck was traveling at least 89 mph before the crash, according to the CHP.
Roberts, a computer technician, was returning from Penn Valley, where he had helped a paraplegic woman with her computer. He died at the crash scene.
Witnesses saw different phases of the incident, but none saw the entire sequence, and that’s where reasonable doubt entered. The judge said that while Herve’s Thunderbird was in the vicinity, there were discrepancies in witness accounts of vehicle positions and colors.
Said Lange: “I think it was a series of unfortunate misunderstandings of observations” fueled by a “highly charged” public reaction.
The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Dave Walters, had previously said the case leaned heavily on circumstantial evidence, but insisted it meshed.
“I understand the judge’s reasoning by which he came to the conclusion he did. I didn’t analyze it the same way, but I can’t say his way of looking at it is out of line or wrong,” Walters said.
He had sought to present Herve’s letters to the editor published in The Union. The letters, one of which rhymed, chastised poor driving, and Walters argued they spoke to Herve’s state of mind.
Before the trial, Edwards ruled the letters had marginal relevancy because they were written well before the crash and could also be construed as public safety reminders.
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