DUI Related Deaths Spiked in Greater Phoenix

by Aaron M. Black • February 03, 2023

Local news recently reported several serious crashes by allegedly impaired drivers resulting in the deaths of people killed in the collisions. This is the most serious offense of DUI charges.

DUI Fatalities in Greater Phoenix

These are from the recent fatality reports:

Dec. 11: A head-on crash at 43rd Avenue and McLellan Blvd., killed a man and severely injured his woman passenger. The driver of the second vehicle, David Leeshawn Johnson, 30, crossed the center line and hit a sedan. He was arrested on suspicion of impaired driving, with a BAC just above the legal limit at 0.089, and reckless manslaughter and aggravated assault.

Dec. 17: Cooper Lamb, 22, the son of Pinal County’s sheriff, was killed in Gilbert along with a 1-year old girl. The girl’s mother, Lamb’s fiancée died at the hospital. A truck had t-boned their small car driven by the mother. The unidentified truck driver, who was not injured, remains under investigation.

Dec. 30: A wrong way driver on surface streets in Scottsdale, while allegedly impaired, hit a rideshare car occupied by a wife and husband. The impact knocked the rideshare vehicle about 20 feet from the impact spot. The wife was pronounced dead at the hospital. Her husband and the rideshare driver sustained serious injuries. The driver was charged with manslaughter, aggravated DUI for driving the wrong way, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of endangerment. The driver tested at .179 percent blood-alcohol concentration, almost twice the legal limit.

Jan. 1: In the early morning hours, a person was killed in a rollover crash near 40th and Peoria Avenues involving excessive speed and impairment. A vehicle rear-ended another vehicle rolling over and pushing the second vehicle into a wall.

Jan. 14: A driver ran a red light near 47th Avenue and Indian School Road, killing motorist Irene Lujan, 27, who had to be extricated from her vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene. Impairment was not a factor. The other driver stayed at the scene.

Roadway fatalities in Arizona have been steadily increasing. In 2011, 825 deaths occurred, and in 2020 the number had climbed to 1,057 fatalities, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Depending upon the facts and circumstances of the DUI related fatality, the charge can be manslaughter; negligent homicide; or in severe intentional cases, second degree murder. Arizona does not have a specific vehicular manslaughter law.

Photo of woman turning on hazard flashers in car

Arizona’s Manslaughter law

In cases involving a death, the applicable law is manslaughter under Arizona Revised Statute §13-1103(A)(1) for “recklessly” causing a person’s death. Impairment while driving is a reckless act and knowing the risk of causing a fatality and driving in spite of the risk is reckless.

A reckless action is legally defined as the person must have been aware of the unjustifiable risk and then disregarded the risk. The risk is a “gross deviation” of the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would do.

Consequences of a manslaughter conviction

Arizona prison sentencing guideline provisions are comprised of minimum, presumptive, and maximum ranges. For a first-time offender charged with the dangerous Class 2 felony, manslaughter, the minimum sentence is seven years, the presumptive is 10.5 years, and the maximum prison term is 21 years.

For an offender who has one prior dangerous Class 2 conviction, the minimum is 14 years, the presumptive is 15.75 years, and the maximum is 28 years.

For someone who has two prior Class 2 dangerous felony convictions, the range increases to a minimum of 21 years, a presumptive of 28 years, and a maximum of 35 years.

A judge has the discretion in determining the actual length of the sentence, so the punishments can vary depending upon the facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history and if it is the person’s first offense. The judge may also impose fines and a term of probation after the period of incarceration ends.

Negligent homicide

This charge is based on causing the death of someone while driving in a criminally negligent manner, defined as failing to perceive an act that is an unjustifiable and substantial risk. The conduct of that person is a “gross deviation” of what a reasonable person would do in such a situation. That is the basis of criminality.

Negligent homicide is a Class 3 felony carrying 1.5 to four years in prison.

Gavel in courtroom

Civil lawsuit for Monetary Damages

Other than years in prison, the family of the person killed can sue for financial and punitive damages under civil law for causing a wrongful death and to recover what the deceased person could have earned had he or she lived. The offender’s future wages can be garnished. While criminal law requires the state to have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, civil law just requires a far lesser burden of a preponderance of the evidence.

Common manslaughter defenses

We all have the constitutional right that protects us from convicting ourselves. In interacting with authorities, it is crucial to invoke the Fifth Amendment because anything said will become evidence against you.
Every manslaughter case has its own particular set of facts that will determine the most effective defense strategy. These are the common defenses:
  • Challenging the state’s version that the defendant’s action was reckless
  • Reconstructing the crash to show vehicle defects were at fault
  • Challenging the accuracy of witness statements
  • Violations of Constitutional Miranda rights to remain silent and to have an attorney
  • The police report was misleading or contained substantive errors of fact
  • The breathalyzer test was inaccurate because of calibration faults
  • Blood draw test result was tainted by improper handling or storage

Why use Aaron M. Black Law

If you or a loved one is under pre-charge manslaughter investigation or has been arrested for manslaughter, it is crucial to promptly have an experienced criminal defense attorney such as myself to defend your case.

Aaron M. Black Law has decades of experience defending good people who find themselves in serious legal trouble, without being negatively judged. My goal is always to win the case or to earn a dismissal of the charge; or if that is not possible, to negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charge to a less serious offense.

My legal services are based upon providing individual attention throughout the legal process to win back your life. You will always be talking to me, no one else.

Start your defense by calling me at 480-729-1683 and I will respond promptly unless I am in court or at trial. Or use my easy contact form on my website. I defend manslaughter DUI charges throughout Arizona, including Maricopa, Pinal, Yavapai, and Coconino County Superior Courts.

About the Author

Aaron Black Phoenix DUI LawyerAaron Black is the founder and sole attorney of the Law Office of Aaron Black. Located in Phoenix, Arizona, his DUI and criminal defense law firm provides legal services to people who have received felony or misdemeanor charges from the state.

Aaron has developed a strong interest in defending people who have been arrested and received criminal charges for driving under the influence. With his professionalism and knowledge of Arizona DUI and criminal law, he has acted as a check and balance on the police, prosecution and courts and has protected a great number of his clients from excessive and unfair sentencing.

Along with DUI defense, Aaron handles a range of other criminal defense matters, including aggravated assault, burglary, domestic violence, drug possession, drug trafficking, fraud defense, insurance fraud, sex crimes, and white-collar crime cases.

After graduating college in 2003 from the University of Arizona, Aaron decided to pursue a law degree. He followed a family long tradition and went to the University of South Dakota School of Law where he pursued his goal of becoming a criminal defense lawyer.

After passing the Arizona and South Dakota bar exams, Aaron joined the Maricopa County Office of the Public Defender where he defended hundreds of people charged with serious criminal offenses. His work as a public defender helped him sharpen his litigation skills and gave him a unique insight into the Arizona criminal justice system.

Over the course of his 15-year legal career, Aaron has spent a considerable amount of time in both Arizona justice, municipal, state and federal courts. He has argued over 50 jury trials, tried over 100 bench trials and has become one of the highest-rated criminal and DUI defense attorneys in Phoenix and the surrounding areas. He has received a 10/10 rating from the legal directory Avvo because of his legal background and successful case record. Since 2014, he has received the Super Lawyer rating for his work as a Phoenix DUI Attorney and criminal defense attorney.

You can review Aaron’s Attorney Bio page for more information about his background, education and experience as a Phoenix DUI and criminal defense attorney.
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