The Linn County District Attorney’s Office has decided against filing charges against the driver in the November hit-and-run accident near Corvallis that killed Oregon State University Ph.D. student Shiloh Sundstrom.
The Linn County District Attorney’s Office released a report Wednesday indicating an intent not to file charges in connection with the Nov. 22 crash just east of Corvallis on Highway 34 in Linn County. Sundstrom, who held a master’s degree in forestry from OSU, was a 34-year-old Ph.D. candidate and teaching assistant in OSU’s Geography Department at the time of his death.
“I cannot conclude that (the driver) acted recklessly or with criminal negligence when he struck and killed Mr. Sundstrom with his vehicle,” Alex Olenick, deputy district attorney for Linn County, wrote in his report. “The evidence is not sufficient to prove that (the driver) committed any criminal acts following the fatal crash.”
In his report indicating a decision not to issue charges, Olenick described the accident this way:
Shortly after midnight on Nov. 22, Sundstrom was struck and killed by a Suzuki SUV along the east side of Highway 34 near Corvallis. The driver, from Harrisburg, left the Elks Lodge in Corvallis around midnight and drove onto Highway 34 East and collided with Sundstrom.
The report said that the driver later told authorities that, immediately after the crash, he “turned around to see what he had hit, saw nothing, and then continued driving.” The vehicle later broke down and the vehicle was towed to the driver’s home in Harrisburg.
A person discovered Sundstrom’s body at around 10:10 a.m. on Nov. 22 on the side of the highway. The Corvallis Police Department and Oregon State Police responded soon after.
On that same morning, the driver, believing “he had struck a deer,” cleaned out his car and wiped it down at his home in Harrisburg, according to the report. He later heard the news that someone had been killed on Highway 34 and called police to inform them that he may have been the driver in that crash.
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Olenick noted in the report that there was no evidence to support that the driver acted intentionally, so the prosecutor focused his analysis on whether there was sufficient evidence that the driver acted recklessly or with criminal negligence in causing the crash.
“The evidence shows that (the driver) diverted his attention away from the road in the moments immediately preceding the crash,” Olenick wrote in the report. “(The driver) told police that he noticed something on his phone, which was on the seat next to him. He then looked down, and it was in this moment that the crash occurred.”
Olenick wrote that the question was whether the act of looking at the phone, and away from the road, constituted conduct that was criminally negligent, which is defined as a “gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the same situation.”
“This presents a difficult question on which reasonable minds may differ,” he wrote. “My analysis is whether simply looking away from the road at his phone is any different from looking in one’s blind spot, looking at a map, grabbing a cheeseburger, or turning momentarily for any other reason where the practical effect of the behavior is to deviate one’s attention from the road.”
Ultimately, Olenick found that the evidence “does not prove” the driver acted recklessly or with criminal negligence.
In subsequent interviews with police, the driver admitted that he drank on the evening of the crash, but since he was not identified as a suspect until late in the day following the crash, it was “too late to collect breath test evidence,” Olenick wrote. There was no evidence that the driver was intoxicated at the time of the crash, but there was evidence that Sundstrom’s blood alcohol level was over the legal limit at the time of the crash, Olenick noted in the report.
The driver later told detectives that “he was over the fog-line in the moments after the crash, (but) it is unclear whether he had gone over the fog-line before the crash,” and there was no evidence to indicate whether he was off the road at the time of the crash, Olenick wrote.
As about 10 hours had passed between the crash and the investigation, traffic and weather “may have disrupted the crash scene,” which “further complicates efforts to accurately determine where” Sundstrom and the driver were at the time of the crash, Olenick wrote.