A South Seattle woman was charged with vehicular homicide last week, accused of talking on her cellphone when she fatally struck an elderly pedestrian in February 2014. Police say she altered phone records in an attempt to cover up her distracted-driving behavior.
A South Seattle woman is accused of altering her cellphone records in an attempt to cover up the fact that she was talking on her cellphone when she sped through an intersection in February 2014 and struck and killed a pedestrian, according to King County prosecutors.
Deka Hirsi, now 37, was charged last week with vehicular homicide and issued a summons to appear for arraignment Monday, said Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.
There was never any evidence that Hirsi was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when she struck 78-year-old Tze Kiu Ng, who was thrown 25 feet and suffered a catastrophic head injury and broken bones, charging papers say. He died six hours later at Harborview Medical Center.
Prosecutors allege she turned over her cellphone records after the crash but detectives determined they had been doctored after obtaining copies of the same records from her carrier.
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Hirsi’s driving “behavior and the attempted cover up suggest that she was aware she was distracted and knew she was wrong to use her phone while driving,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Amy Freedheim wrote in charging documents.
Research has shown that using a mobile device while driving is a “cognitive distraction” that increases the risk of crashing by as much as four times and is equivalent to driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08, the legal limit, Freedheim wrote.
In 2007, Washington was one of the first states to enact a ban on texting or talking on a handheld cellphone while operating a moving vehicle. Thirteen states now outlaw use of handheld phones, and 44 states bar sending texts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Under the state’s vehicular-homicide statute, drivers can be charged under one of three prongs: Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol; in a reckless manner; or with disregard for the safety of others.
Hirsi was charged under the third prong.
Charging papers outline the following chain of events:
Around 1:20 p.m. on Feb. 5, 2014, Ng stepped off a Metro bus at a bus stop just south of Beacon Avenue South and South Orcas Street. He walked back to the corner and began crossing eastward in the marked crosswalk.
Meanwhile, Hirsi, who was driving a minivan south on Beacon Avenue, was stopped at a stop sign behind the bus. Ng had nearly crossed the street when Hirsi “inexplicably accelerated across the intersection and slammed into him,” the papers say.
Hirsi pulled over in front of the bus and stayed in her vehicle for about five minutes, talking on her phone, the bus driver later told police.
She was still on her phone when she got out of the minivan, according to the charges. At some point, she called 911 but did not leave a message, the charges say, noting that a witness who saw the collision called 911 immediately.
Police quickly ruled out speed and impairment as contributing factors, and Hirsi told officers she “never saw the pedestrian until the impact occurred,” the charges say.
The day was cold, clear and sunny and there was nothing to obstruct her view of Ng, the charges say.
After Hirsi denied using her phone before or at the time of the collision, a detective asked her to voluntarily provide her cellphone records, the papers say.
After consulting with an attorney, Hirsi turned over three pages of phone records — but the detective was immediately suspicious “due to the formatting” and lack of information about the cellphone carrier, the papers say.
The detective got a warrant and obtained her records from T-Mobile, which showed Hirsi had omitted “numerous phone calls” in the records she had provided police, the charges say.
The untainted phone records showed she was using her phone moments before she arrived at the stop sign, and there “was also evidence that suggested Hirsi was using her phone when she entered the intersection” and hit Ng, charging papers say.
It took nearly two years to file charges in the case because Seattle police detectives had to first obtain Hirsi’s cellphone records along with data from nearby cellphone towers as well as conduct some “additional follow-up investigation,” Donohoe said.
Prosecutors then needed time to review the evidence before filing charges, he said.