In a strange drunk driving case out of Florida, a man who was found to be intoxicated and who ran over a pedestrian actually had his charges reduced, not because of any evidence related to BAC, but because of a potentially faulty vehicle.
The case began in 2010 when a 44-year-old woman from Clearwater, Florida was sitting with her friend on a curb. At the same time, Jonathan Grinsted approached at a high rate of speed, slamming into a nearby office building and eventually running over the woman on the curb. Police investigators would soon discover that Grinsted was intoxicated at the time of the accident, with a BAC of 0.14 percent, substantially higher than the 0.08 percent limit for drivers in Florida.
Given the woman’s death and Grinsted’s intoxication, it was no surprise that prosecutors moved forward with DUI manslaughter charges, a crime that if Grinsted were convicted of, would result in 15 years behind bars. The surprise came when Grinsted had his charges reduced, down to a misdemeanor DUI. The reduction came despite clear evidence of Grinsted’s intoxication and irrefutable evidence that the woman had died as a direct result of the drunk driving accident.
So why then did the court agree to reduce Grinsted’s charges? Because of the make and model vehicle Grinsted was driving at the time: a Toyota Land Cruiser. The type of car was critical to the case because his model had been involved in the massive recall launched by Toyota in 2010 due to problems related to sudden acceleration.
Newspapers blared with headlines about incidents where Toyotas seemed to come to life and speed off on their own accord. Toyota initially ignored the problem, but extraordinary pressure from government safety agencies and consumers led the automaker to recall millions of vehicles, with some debate over whether the problem was electrical or a simple issue of sticky accelerator pedals and cumbersome floor mats.
In Grinsted’s case, his attorneys never claimed that he was not drunk; instead, they argued that the deadly accident would have happened even if Grinsted had been totally sober. They claimed that while Grinsted was technically operating the vehicle, it was the sudden acceleration that caused the crash, not his impaired driving.
Grinsted’s legal team had some basis for making the sudden acceleration claim, only a year before his SUV had done something similar when it suddenly accelerated and crashed through his garage door. Though Grinsted took the SUV to his dealer to have it repaired, a warning light came back on and the dealer said not to worry about the problem.
Witnesses support Grinsted’s version of events the night of the fatal crash. They say that they heard the engine roar and the car appeared to just take off. An investigation found that there was a problem with the throttle control on his Land Cruiser, which could lead to sudden bursts of acceleration. Prosecutors tried to knock down his claims but ended up having a difficult time proving that Grinsted’s actions were what caused the crash. Prosecutors then allowed him to plead no contest to a charge of misdemeanor DUI. Grinsted thus avoided 15 years in prison and instead will serve 12 months on probation.
Source: “Charges reduced in Clearwater DUI death case because of sudden acceleration in Toyotas,” by Curtis Krueger, published at TampaBay.com.