Elderly driver incompetent to answer charge in traffic death

Prosecution of an 80-year-old man charged in the traffic death last summer of a Carson Valley teenager is to be deferred for one year.

If Forrest Russell Ladd violates no laws, a charge of failure to yield right of way or unsafe left turn will be dismissed.

A psychological evaluation of Ladd determined that he suffered from dementia and was incompetent to understand the charge against him or assist in his defense.

East Fork Justice Jim EnEarl told Ladd on Wednesday that he cannot drive or possess a driver's license or vehicle.

Ladd answered "yes" when asked by the judge if he understood the restrictions but made no other statement.

"We cannot move forward on a criminal charge unless Mr. Ladd would regain competency," said prosecutor Derrick Lopez.

Dr. Joseph McEllistrem said in his court-authorized evaluation that Ladd's condition is progressive and cannot be reversed by any medication.

McEllistrem also said that Ladd, who surrendered his driver's license and vehicle, does not represent a danger to himself or the community as long as he doesn't drive.

According to McEllistrem's report, Ladd was unable to accurately recall the July 15, 2005, collision that killed Bridget Chambers, 17.

Members of the Chambers family declined to make a statement at the hearing.

Ladd was southbound on Highway 395 in his 2005 GMC Envoy, according to Nevada Highway Patrol reports. He was accused of colliding with Chambers' 1996 Toyota Corolla while he was attempting to make a left turn on Stephanie Way.

Had Ladd been prosecuted and convicted, the maximum sentence would be six months in Douglas County Jail and a $1,000 fine.

Lopez said at the time Ladd was charged there were no drugs or alcohol involved in the accident or other factors that would raise the level of the offense to a felony.

Ladd has no prior criminal history.

Lopez said Ladd's family has arranged for him to be checked on three times a day by a caregiver who delivers meals.

Bridget's grandfather, Gardnerville resident Bob Chambers said the family talked with Lopez about the case before Wednesday's hearing.

"He (Ladd) can't own a car, can't drive a car, and can't have a license," Chambers said after the hearing. "It's too bad nobody made that decision on July 14."

Chambers agreed that Ladd appeared to be incapacitated.

"They almost had to lead him in court," Chambers said. "He's on the court calendar for April 2007 and they will see whether he has regained any capabilities, but looking at the man, I have doubt that he will."

Chambers said there was no way to prove whether Ladd suffered from dementia when the accident that killed Bridget occurred.

"What scares me the most is the fact that this state, like California, you have your license until something drastic happens and you either die or have an accident," he said.

"There needs to be something as people age to determine whether they can drive."

Chambers said that in many cases families are reluctant to take someone's license when they are self-sufficient.

"The state looks to families and the families have no responsibility," he said. "Nobody is responsible for pulling the plug on anyone as to whether they cand drive or not. Maybe with Nevada's aging population we should do something a little different."

Following the teenager's death last summer, family and friends successfully lobbied the state to install a traffic signal at the intersection at Highway 395 and Stephanie Way.

Supporters of "A Light For Bridget" gathered 4,300 signatures in three weeks after her death and a total of 6,000 names by the time the request was submitted to the state.

Nevada Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Magruder said Monday the traffic signal is in design stages and will be presented to Douglas County commissioners.

He said the light would be similar to the traffic device at Johnson Lane and Highway 395 and estimated it would cost about $200,000 that will be paid by Douglas County.

The department hopes to begin construction by the end of the year.

n Editor Kurt Hildebrand contributed to this story.


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