Last week, after a lengthy investigation, prosecutors determined that 91-year-old Leona Morante Fernandez would not face criminal charges for a June 25th accident in which she drove her car through the wall of a nursing home, killing two and injuring four.
The accident occurred when Fernandez inadvertently accelerated into the rec room of the Amberwood Gardens Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center while attempting to park her car. Prior to this, Fernandez had a spotless driving record and had never been involved in a car accident. According to the San Jose Police accident reconstruction team, the car jumped the curb and traveled over 40 feet into the nursing home’s rec room in approximately 5 seconds.
Following the incident, Fernandez willingly relinquished her license and has not driven since.
In an interview with Mercury News, Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu-Towery pointed out that the accident did not occur as a result of Fernandez being impaired or otherwise criminally negligent, adding, “It is an absolute tragedy. But for every tragedy in the community, there is not criminal liability.” Supervising District Attorney Gibbons-Shapiro also made the distinction between accidents resulting from human error and those resulting from aggressive driving, saying, “There is a difference between making a mistake by putting your foot on the gas and running a red light because you thought you could beat it.”
Regardless of how you feel about the decision not to prosecute a 91-year-old woman who made a life altering mistake, the incident once again raises the question of what should be done about elderly drivers. Should there be additional licensing requirements after drivers reach a certain age? Or, was this accident just an aberration that couldn’t have been avoided with any amount of regulation?