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Was justice served in verdict?

A district court judge handed down his findings last week in the criminal case against Emily Givens, the driver charged in the car-bicycle crash death of Glencoe resident Penny Verdeck last April.
Givens was alleged to have been reading a text message when the accident occurred.
Many have expressed disappointment in the judge’s findings. He found Givens not guilty of criminal vehicular homicide and use of a cellphone in a vehicle. She was found guilty on a misdemeanor count of careless driving.
There are those who don’t feel justice was served here, and it’s hard to believe that a simple charge of careless driving could be found in such a tragic death.
We don’t want to second-guess the findings. First, we weren’t at the trial where all the evidence was presented. Second, and more importantly, we weren’t there when the accident happened. As Penny Verdeck’s husband, Ryan, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “We thought there was plenty of evidence for a felony, but they raised reasonable doubt that she wasn’t reading a text message,” Ryan Verdeck said. “I wasn’t in the car, so I can’t say for sure she was or wasn’t. Only she can tell us.”
And Givens contended that she had unlocked her phone for the sole reason of changing the station on Pandora radio.
In issuing his findings, the judge said that there was reasonable doubt that Givens was reading text messages at the time of the accident. On the other hand, he wrote, there was none of the usual extenuating circumstances, based on precedent cases, for finding her guilty of criminal vehicular homicide: she wasn’t under the influence, she wasn’t speeding, she wasn’t in the wrong lane, she hadn’t run through a stop sign or a stoplight.
But there also was evidence cited that showed that it was a clear, straight, flat stretch of pavement, that the sun was behind the car and not in the driver’s eyes, and that the driver had at least 17 seconds to see the bicyclist on the side of the road here.
It’s obvious that something went seriously, horribly wrong in that 17 seconds. And the judge has ruled that no one has been able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt just what that something was.
Maybe lawmakers need to look at making the definition of what constitutes gross negligence clearer.
Maybe cellular devices should be banned from driving compartments in vehicles regardless of what they are being used for: reading texts, checking the weather, changing radio stations.
Regardless of the judge’s ruling, the real lesson of this tragedy is simply this: lives can be irrevocably changed in a heartbeat. We need to pay attention to what we’re doing, and the potential consequences of those actions on the people around us.
Let’s all make it a mission to drive more safely each time we head out on the road. Our friends and neighbors deserve that care.