Judge faces charge in bicyclist’s death
December 19, 2013
District Judge Michael Gibbons faces a charge of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter related to an Aug. 20 fatal accident involving 61-year-old bicyclist Joseph A. Longo.
District Attorney Mark Jackson announced the charge on Friday.
Gibbons, 57, is scheduled to appear in East Fork Justice Court on Jan. 13.
According to the Nevada Highway patrol, Gibbons was westbound on Pinenut Road in a Subaru when he turned right onto East Valley Road. Longo was also westbound on Pinenut approaching the same intersection.
The bicycle and the right rear portion of Gibbons' vehicle made contact, throwing Longo, who was not wearing a helmet, to the ground, according to the Nevada Highway Patrol.
Nevada law requires motorists give bicyclists 3 feet right of way.
According to the Nevada Highway Patrol Major Accident Investigation Team report, there were no aggravating circumstances, egregious or intentional conduct resulting in the collision, Jackson said. The MAIT investigation concluded that the collision between Gibbons' vehicle and Longo's bicycle was as a result of simple negligence.
Gibbons attorney, David R. Houston, questioned whether Jackson should be handling the case.
"We are surprised and disappointed that the local district attorney has decided to file charges," Houston said. "We thought the case should be handled by a prosecutor from outside of Douglas County. We believe that this case is more properly resolved in a civil court because our accident reconstruction has shown that Judge Gibbons did not hit the bicyclist. This is a tragic incident for all."
Jackson said he believed that it was appropriate for him to prosecute the case, pointing out that his office has pursued other cases involving family members of county officials.
If convicted, Gibbons faces a mandatory fine of $250-$1,000, mandatory community service of 50-99 hours, and up to six months in the county jail.
Jackson said it wouldn't be appropriate to discuss whether he will seek a jail sentence in the case.
He said eight other drivers have been charged with the vehicular manslaughter since the law was enacted in 2005, seven of whom have been convicted.
In two of those incidents, the drivers served jail terms.
"In cases where jail was imposed there were aggravating circumstances, a criminal history or strong victim recommendations for a term of confinement," Jackson said.
Jackson said the law was designed to document that a collision resulted in a death, something that sometimes didn't happen before it was enacted.
"When the Nevada Legislature enacted the misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter statute in 2005, there was much debate about the purpose of the new law," he said. "The primary purpose of the vehicular manslaughter statute was to ensure that in those cases of simple negligence wherein the driver of a motor vehicle caused a collision thereby resulting in the death of another person, that the negligent driver's driving record was documented with the conviction."
Should he be convicted, Gibbons' driver's license could be suspended for a year.
"I believe that law enforcement officials need this tool to make an appropriate charge to a driver whose carelessness results in a death," Jackson said. "Because no matter how accidental the circumstances might have been, the consequence remains the same — someone is killed."
Jackson received the final report on the accident from the Nevada Highway Patrol on Nov. 14.
Gibbons is nearing the end of his third full term as a district judge.
A former chief deputy district attorney, he was first elected district judge in 1994, defeating Tom Perkins who had been appointed to replace Judge Norm Robison. Gibbons won the seat again in 1996, 2002 and 2008.
When District Judge Dave Gamble retired in 2012, Gibbons indicated that he would seek another term.