The case against a bus driver accused of running over and killing 82-year-old businessman Richard Wirick, who was known around Salt Lake City as “Mr. Downtown,” was put on hold Wednesday until prosecutors can appeal a judge’s decision to a higher court.
Salt Lake City Judge L.G. Cutler ruled Wednesday that a jury could not convict someone of negligent operation of a motor vehicle unless criminal negligence is proven. That means the defendant would have had to knowingly commit an act of negligence — take impairing substances before driving, seeing a man in the crosswalk but proceeding anyway, among other knowingly reckless acts.
It’s a possible snag in the city’s case against Cheryl Anne Kidd, the bus driver who hit Wirick as he was walking in a crosswalk at 200 East and 400 South about two years ago.
There has never been any evidence presented in the case to indicate Kidd had been driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. According to police, she did not see Wirick before it was too late.
“The term negligence is supposed to describe the conduct of a driver,” Cutler said. “It’s a strict liability — of criminal negligence, of a conscious decision — otherwise negligence has no meaning.”
But Salt Lake City prosecutors insisted the city ordinance that Kidd was charged with violating does not require such a high bar of negligence.
Assistant City Prosecutor Scott Fisher argued Wednesday that simple negligence — looking away or not paying attention — should be sufficient.
“Does that mean that we’re going to require criminal negligence to be attached to every traffic violation where negligence is at issue?” Fisher asked.
Prosecutors sought relief Wednesday afternoon in 3rd District Court, asking presiding Judge Royal Hansen to weigh in on the question of negligence. Hansen sided with Cutler.
Kidd’s trial, which was scheduled to begin Tuesday but was delayed due to this question of negligence, has been put on hold until the city appeals its case to a higher authority.
Kidd, 50, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The UTA terminated Kidd on March 15, 2012.
Wirick owned the Oxford Shop shoe store, at 65 W. 100 South, for nearly six decades.