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Last Feb., Tiger Woods reportedly crashed his SUV while speeding as fast as 87 mph — more than 45 mph above the legal limit. The golfer crashed his vehicle into a tree and began rolling over. Citing a data recorder in the luxury 2021 Genesis GV80 SUV, the vehicle at some points was going 68 to 86.99 mph before Woods failed to negotiate a curve in the roadway just outside Los Angeles.
But despite the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s determination that Woods drove well above 80 miles per hour in a 45 m.p.h. zone, he was not given a ticket or charged with reckless driving. Law enforcement officers also reportedly did not conduct field sobriety tests or obtain a search warrant for a blood test or toxicology report.
At a news conference, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said his officers had conducted a thorough investigation and didn’t give the golfer special treatment. However, as the New York Times reported, some criminal defense lawyers in the Los Angeles area who represent clients accused of reckless driving or driving under the influence questioned whether the Sheriff’s Department pursued its case against Woods as aggressively as it had pursued cases against others.
As aforementioned, Woods was driving at least 40 m.p.h. above the posted speed limit when he lost control, which was recorded by the vehicle’s event data recorder. But nobody actually saw him driving that fast — a major detail under California law.The state’s vehicle code places a strong emphasis on needing a witness to ticket somebody for speeding.
“In order to issue a citation, you have something to indicate — an independent witness or an observation by a peace officer,” said James Powers, the captain of the Lomita Sheriff’s Station, which handled the investigation of Woods’s crash. He told the NYT that Had Woods been issued a citation based on the readings from the data recorder, the judge would’ve probably thrown out the case.
Section 23103 of the California Vehicle Code states that somebody is guilty of reckless driving if they drive with “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property,” and driving 40 m.p.h. over the speed limit on a winding, downhill road arguably meets the criteria for reckless driving. As the NYT wrote, because of this, it might have been easier to charge Woods with reckless driving, a misdemeanor crime that holds the possibility of jail time, than to give him a speeding ticket, because the California vehicle code does not require witnesses to charge someone with reckless driving.
However, per the NYT, Captain Powers said there was no evidence of reckless driving. “For reckless driving, you have to have multiple violations in conjunction with one another — like multiple unsafe lane changes, passing vehicles in an unsafe manner, kind of like road race stuff — and that did not exist here,” he said. “Therefore, reckless driving is not appropriate.”
A number of lawyers who have defended clients charged with reckless driving disagree, though. “The D.A. could easily get a conviction for reckless driving based on the black box alone,” a lawyer who specializes in D.U.I. defense told the Times. “And even if the black box were somehow not deemed reliable, the accident reconstruction would show the car going in excess of 70 m.p.h. when it hit the tree.”
Four years ago, Woods pleaded guilty to reckless driving, after he was found asleep at the driver’s wheel on the side of the road. He blamed the episode on the interaction between prescription medications he was taking at the time. The Sheriff’s Department did not obtain a warrant to draw blood from Woods to test whether or not he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he crashed in Feb.
However, just because Woods has previously driven while impaired by prescription medications does not mean the Sheriff’s Department could use that to obtain a warrant to test his blood. Instead, as written in the NYT’s article, the Sheriff’s Department could have pushed harder to test Woods’s blood considering there was at least minor evidence of prescription pill use. According to the crash report, an “empty plastic pharmaceutical container” with no label was found in a backpack that was resting in the brush next to Woods’s vehicle.
When asked why Woods was not cited for speeding, Captain Powers said, “Part of it was because of the circumstances that he endured throughout the collision.” Woods reportedly sustained severe injuries in the crash. Woods, however, did not hit another car and nobody else was hurt.