Milton Olin’s Killer Escapes Charges. A Broken System Cries for Change.

Last night, Brenda Gazaar broke the story in the Daily News that the District Attorney will not be pressing charges against Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Wood, who struck and killed Milt Olin from behind with his car while Olin was riding his bicycle in the bike lane. Olin, a former Napster executive and lawyer, was riding legally and safely in the bicycle lane on the 22400 block of Mulholland Highway in Calabasas.

Olin is pictured in his cycling gear with sons Chris, left, and Geoff
Olin is pictured in his cycling gear with sons Chris, left, and Geoff

Reaction from safety advocates, critics of the scandalplagued Sheriff’s Department and bicyclists was swift on social media. The department’s internal investigation showed that Wood was typing non-emergency messages on his on-board computer when his car veered into the bicycle lane at high enough speed to strike Olin and send him flying over his handlebars.

I share their outrage, and the investigation into Wood’s killing of Olin has been under fire from the moment the Sheriff’s Department declined to pass the investigation off to the California Highway Patrol, but the burden of proof to convict a peace officer who kills someone with a vehicle is so high that even a well-ordered investigation may have yielded the same results.

The system is broken.

Maybe a review of the D.A. will overturn the initial ruling and a criminal trial will occur. Even if that’s the case, there’s going to be a high standard for Wood to face justice.

The system is broken.

Gazaar explains:

Wood, a 16-year department veteran, was returning from a fire call at Calabasas High School at the time of the collision.

“Wood entered the bicycle lane as a result of inattention caused by typing into his (Mobile Digital Computer),” according to the declination letter prepared by the Justice System Integrity Division of the District Attorney’s Office and released Wednesday. “He was responding to a deputy who was inquiring whether the fire investigation had been completed. Since Wood was acting within the course and scope of his duties when he began to type his response, under Vehicle Code section 23123.5, he acted lawfully.”

The law does not prohibit officers from using an electronic wireless communications device in the performance of their duties, according to the letter. Furthermore, prosecutors said it was “reasonable” that Wood would have felt that an immediate response was necessary so that a Calabasas deputy wouldn’t unnecessarily respond to the high school.

And there you have it. Because Wood didn’t want another deputy to drive to a fire that was already contained, and because the LASD allows deputies to use their on-board computers while driving, there really isn’t much the law can do to bring Wood to justice for Olin’s death. Even though the communication he was sending was far from critical.

But that doesn’t mean the rage should subside nor that there isn’t still work to be done. Despite their tragic loss, Olin’s family is trying to create something positive out of the tragedy. The Milt Olin Foundation is dedicated to making the streets safer for bicyclists through education and advocacy. Doubtless some of that advocacy will be aimed at changing the Sheriff Department’s unsafe driving rules.

As news of Wood’s legal exoneration spreads–no matter what happens in the civil trial Wood will serve no jail time for killing Olin–more and more people will want to take action of some sort. There’s already talk of sit-ins, protest rides and testifying at an upcoming Metro hearing about the LASD’s uneven record of enforcing laws as Metro’s enforcement arm.

A rule that allows a driver to veer into a bicycle lane, striking and killing someone actually bicycling safely, needs to be changed. Fortunately, there is an election underway at the moment. Even though Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell has a large lead after the primary over Paul Tanaka, anything can happen in an election. In my experience, the best time to get an elected official to commit to change is before they actually win office.

  • HelloWorld

    I hope the lawsuit reaches 1 billion dollars. I know as a taxpayer, I will eventually pay. But these policies have to be changed. People that are not in cars need safety and the only way it will happen is through the pocketbook. This has gone on too long.

  • effron

    This is outrageous. I reserved judgement until all the facts where in –now that they are it’s time to demand fitting justice. Unacceptable.

  • DF

    Here comes the civil suit!

  • dave

    Civil suit unfortunately accomplishes nothing. The settlement money comes from us taxpayers. AND the officer keeps his cushy, pensioned job as an overpaid security guard for the county courts.

  • HelloWorld

    Hopefully some of the settlement goes to the foundation and also create a precedence that punishes this kind of negligence.

  • 69fasty

    I want to hear what the county board of supervisors thinks about this decision.

  • Wendy Rides

    “In my experience, the best time to get an elected official to commit to change is before they actually win office”

    Assuming their word is worth something. Gil Cedillo has reminded is that we need to take campaign promises with a grain of salt.

  • PWC

    The argument given above is illogical. It was not safe for the officer to be distracted by an electronic device, and consequently, the officer murdered an innocent public member. Can you imagine if a surgeon interrupted a surgery to answer an email from a boss and this act resulted in the death of a patient? While responding to work email may be a work duty, this does not take president over the lives of others. This officer demonstrated POOR JUDGEMENT in the highest degree, and deserves to be judged accordingly.

  • FunChad

    Police always claim to be “professional drivers,” which is why they can use a computer, cell phone, or whatever distraction they like. Such BS!!! He killed a man. Doesn’t matter, btw if the guy was a COO, a dad, a brother, or someone sucking on welfare… He was a human being who got slaughtered and couldn’t defend himself.

  • danger d

    Aside from distracted driving that killed a man the officer is also guilty of falsifying a police report, as he claimed not once but twice that Mr. Olin rode into his lane, trying to blame his victim!
    Where is the charge for this crime? Funny nobody noticed.
    Guess it’s ok now to lie on a police report, or is that “policy” also?

  • Sharon_McNary_at_KPCC_news

    Can you point me to the evidence of this, please?

  • Jonathan Weiss

    Commenter “danger d” may be referring to the deputy’s inconsistent statements – First, Deputy Wood’s oral statement at the scene: “Wood made a statement at the scene immediately following the collision. …. He said Olin swerved into his lane of travel from the bicycle lane. Wood swerved to the right to avoid hitting Olin. Olin swerved to the right and Wood struck him.” Second, Deputy Wood’s written statement eight days later: “It appeared the bicyclist entered my lane of travel from the bike lane, to my right. He appeared to have driven in the path of my patrol vehicle.” The DA reported the evidence showed otherwise: “[t]he evidence examined in this investigation shows that this tragic collision occurred as a result of Deputy Wood crossing into the bicycle lane ….” The quotes are all from the DA’s “Charge Evaluation Worksheet.” http://tinyurl.com/mht8af5

  • danger d

    Yes I can. Read the officer’s statement which Jonathan Weiss links to.
    Officer Wood states that “Olin swerved into his lane of travel from the bike lane” and “Wood swerved to the right to avoid hitting Olin.”
    The investigation showed that this is not true.
    (even his buddies at the Sheriff department say this in the report.)
    Read the section “Wood’s Statements”

    A spineless lie to try to blame the victim. Compare Wood’s statements to the Factual Analysis section.

    Nothing personal Sharon but don’t you reporters read anymore? It’s all there in the charge evaluation worksheet.

    Now go mention this on the radio and maybe we can see a small bit of justice in this case before Milt Olin’s family proceeds to justly sue the hell out of the Sheriff department and the tax payers foot the bill for another bad public agency policy.

    P.S. Just for the record I want to say that I do like KPCC and you guys usually do an excellent job reporting the facts without bias.

  • PC

    For what earthly reason was it necessary that this conversation take place over the MDT rather than over a tactical frequency with microphones? What is the rationale for having routine, non-sensitive comms be done over a medium that intrinsically and unavoidably requires the people communicating to look at a screen the whole time while doing so–when the people involved spend most of their work shift driving around in urban and suburban traffic? Has LASD addressed that issue? Have any reporters brought it up?

  • jesskazen

    I guess the cop’s lane is wherever his car goes.

  • C Monroe

    That is not a unheard of settlement because the victim had the potential to earn that or more.

  • C Monroe

    Why wasn’t this on Streetblogs main page? Just heard about it from the guardian(UK).

  • Brett Klein

    In the potential criminal case, the ‘distracted driving’ question is a distraction. The traffic law the deputy violated was Vehicle Code section 22107, which makes it an infraction for a driver to leave his lane unsafely. Killing someone by negligently committing a traffic infraction is a crime called vehicular manslaughter. (Penal Code section 192(c)(2).) You could think of vehicular manslaughter as an ordinary accident that proves fatal. Has the district attorney explained why there’s no unsafe lane change?

  • coach

    If Olin was black the media, the naacp, Sharpton and Jackson would be all over it!

  • haley

    I think the only reason that his success keeps being mentioned is so people realize that the victim’s family, who is pressing charges and suing, are not motivated for money, but for justice and change!

  • Jonathan N

    Exactly. Whether police are allowed to use a computer or not while driving is not the issue. Just because texting is legal in some states does not mean you are allowed to break other laws because you are distracted by your phone. Example: I was speeding and killed someone. I was looking at the phone and not the speedometer or the road. I’m not at fault because I am legally allowed to use my phone. The deputy has a responsibility to maintain control of his vehicle at all times, regardless of whether his use of a computer is legal or not. He did not do so, broke multiple traffic laws culminating in the death of another person.

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