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No manslaughter charge in death

As a North San Juan woman continues to grieve the loss of her husband in a Christmas Eve accident on Highway 49, the Nevada City resident who accidentally killed him will not face a manslaughter charge.

Bradley Wahl, 22, struck and killed 57-year-old James Adams of North San Juan with his Honda Civic on Dec. 24 as Adams tried to repair his stalled Buick Regal on the westbound shoulder of Highway 49 near the Broad Street onramp.

Adams’ wife, Susan, was sitting in the passenger seat of the Buick when her husband was struck.



“It was awful,” she said Monday. “It’s like the worst nightmare of your life.”

Deputy District Attorney David Walters said Friday he would not file a manslaughter charge against Wahl because he did not think he could prove to a jury without a reasonable doubt that Wahl was driving in a negligent fashion.




Wahl told officers at the scene that he never saw the stalled car, its attached trailer or James Adams until the collision. Wahl said Monday he did not want to comment on the accident or the DA’s decision.

Wahl’s car hit the trailer first, then the Buick, next to which Adams was standing. Adams was reportedly treating the engine with starter fluid.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

California Highway Patrol Sgt. Mike Lawrence said in December the CHP would submit a report to the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office recommending Wahl be charged with vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence.

The crime is a “wobbler” offense, meaning it can be determined to be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the discretion of the district attorney’s office.

California Highway Patrol Officer Earl Cummins said the CHP always recommends the more severe felony charge and leaves it up to the DA’s office to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor if appropriate.

“That’s why we look like the mean guys in this situation,” Cummins said, “but it’s easier for the DA to reduce the charge than to bump it up to a felony.”

Walters said witness statements influenced his decision to refrain from charging Wahl.

“Three people drove through the same area right before the accident,” Walters said. “They reported it was a very hazardous situation because of the way the trailer was parked. More than half of it was in the traffic lane.”

He said one witness had to swerve quickly to avoid the trailer, which had no reflectors, was in a shady area and contrasted greatly with the glaring afternoon sunlight.

“(The witness) said she was shaken from the close miss and worried it would put others in grave danger,” Walters said.

Another witness said the trailer was in an “awful position,” and he came close to hitting it himself.

“I would expect the defense to center its argument around these statements,” Walters said. “The chance of a guilty verdict would be very low.”

Susan Adams said she did not want to comment on the DA’s decision because it was “very personal.”

Adams, who runs a real estate business she started with her husband, said she is trying to live as he would want.

“I tell people Jim would have wanted me to be happy,” she said. “I’m a very positive person.”

She said she is trying to take care of herself the best she can.

“Without the help of friends and family, it would be impossible,” she said. “I have to go with the belief that there is a divine plan and thank God for each day.”

To contact staff writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail robynm@theunion.com or call 477-4236.


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