Early Sunday morning, April 3, about a dozen bicyclists were riding south on a residential street in Torrance. A car suddenly appeared, scattering the group, and as the driver corrected her course to avoid a collision, the car struck two of the bikers. One of the cyclists was critically injured. The driver of the car, a 19-year-old girl from the South Bay, now faces charges of underage DUI.

The press has made much of the girl’s prior traffic offenses, none of which was alcohol-related. She paid two speeding tickets in 2009, one of which was for driving too fast for conditions, not exceeding the speed limit. She was also ticketed for a U-turn violation that year, and received another speeding ticket earlier this year. Paying a traffic ticket is an admission of guilt, so it does count as a traffic conviction, as the press characterized. However, the four traffic tickets were not serious enough to result in a suspension of her driver’s license.

The girl had four passengers in her car, and at least one member of the group was apparently on her way to work. The crash occurred at 7:15 a.m.

Police arrested the young driver on suspicion of DUI and took her away in handcuffs. She could also be charged with underage drinking. If the injured bicyclist dies, she could also face a vehicular homicide charge. According to reporters, he was taken to County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center with several broken bones, cracked vertebrae and a fractured skull. He remained in a coma at the time of Tuesday’s report.

The girl was released from the Torrance Jail on Sunday after posting $100,000 bail.

A motor vehicle accident that seriously injures someone is always a tragedy, but it is not necessarily a crime. Having committed a few traffic violations in the past doesn’t indicate that someone is likely to drive drunk. When we observe such events from a distance, we don’t always see the whole picture, and we should resist condemning anyone, especially a young person, based on what we read in the press.

Source: The Daily Breeze, “Drunk driving suspect in Torrance crash with cyclists has prior citations,” Melissa Pamer and Larry Altman, April 5, 2011