Student Who Drove Halberstam To Be Charged With Vehicular Manslaughter

By: A graduate student in journalism at the University of California who was behind the wheel when Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam was killed in a car crash will be charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

The San Mateo County District Attorney said in a statement that 26-year-old Kevin Jones made an illegal turn into the path of a car that had a green light. That car crashed into the passenger side where Halberstam was sitting.

Jones will be charged next week but the DA did not elaborate on how his investigation concluded Jones was at fault or why criminal charges were warranted.

The 73-year-old Halberstam won the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his coverage of the Vietnam War. He wrote 21 nonfiction books, 14 of which were best sellers.

?We decided to file the charges because the conduct that was involved here involved going through a red light,? and not a light turning from yellow to red, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. said. ?He turned into the oncoming traffic, and that's why the (other) car crushed the side of the car with Mr. Halberstam.?

Jones was driving a Toyota Camry through a six-lane intersection marked by a left-turn only signal arrow when an Infiniti Q30 driven by a 61-year-old man broadsided his. Based on eyewitness accounts and a reconstruction of the accident, investigators determined that Jones made the turn without the arrow while in a lane intended for traffic heading straight ? instead of from either of the two left-turn lanes, Wagstaffe said.

The fact that Jones was not in a turn lane was part of the reason the district attorney decided to file a criminal case, Wagstaffe said.

An autopsy showed Halberstam, who was wearing a seat belt, died almost instantly when a broken rib punctured his heart, authorities said.

Halberstam, 73, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his coverage of the Vietnam War, a subject he revisited in his 1972 best-selling book, ?The Best and the Brightest.? He went on to write 14 other best-sellers, including ?The Breaks of the Game,? ?The Reckoning,? and ?The Powers That Be?

?The Coldest Winter,? an account of a key battle of the Korean War, is to be published posthumously in the fall.

Under California law, drivers can be charged with vehicular manslaughter when a passenger dies if it is determined they committed a moving violation that led to the fatality. It can be charged as a felony if gross negligence ? for example, alcohol, drugs or racing ? were involved.

The misdemeanor charge prosecutors plan to bring against Jones carries a maximum sentence of a year in county jail, a $1,000 fine or both. Prosecutors also could seek to have Jones' driver's license suspended, according to Wagstaffe.

Records from the California Department of Motor Vehicles show that Jones had two previous accidents on his record, from March 2005 and March 2006. Neither resulted in a citation.

In 1999, while he was a teenager living in Washington state, Jones was convicted of driving under the influence and paid an $862 fine, court records show.

?His prior driving record did play a factor in our deliberations,? Wagstaffe said.

Jones, who took a leave from absence from school after the crash, did not immediately return a call seeking comment from The Associated Press. Wagstaffe said he would be charged next week.

Jones' defense lawyer, Laurel Headley, said she was not entirely surprised by the DA's decision because she had been following the investigation. She said she would advise Jones to plead not guilty at his July 11 arraignment. By that time, Headley said she does not expect to have seen any of the evidence on which prosecutors' have based the charges.

Halberstam, who lived in New York, recruited Jones to chauffeur him to the Tittle interview through the journalism school alumni association. Following the accident, Jones said in an interview that he had jumped at the chance to spend time with the celebrated writer and was grief-stricken over what happened.

Halberstam was at work on a new book about the legendary 1958 NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants, and Jones said the two were talking about football right before the crash.

Headley said Thursday that Jones, who suffered a punctured lung in the accident, ?is still extremely upset? and struggling to come to terms with Halberstam's death.

?It's been an absolutely devastating experience for him,? Headley said. ?He feels a great loss of a mentor of his, and that's a big deal to have to deal with.?

Halberstam's widow, Jean Halberstam, hired a lawyer to explore the possibility of suing whichever driver ultimately was found at fault. She was out of the country on Thursday and not available for comment.


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