Tempe police release body cam footage, photos from deadly Uber crash

Posted June 25, 2018

Following a three-month investigation, the Tempe Police Department has released a 318-page report that claims the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, had been looking down while the vehicle was moving and glanced up only half a second before the crash, Reuters reports.

A video of the moments before the crash shows Vasquez looking toward her right knee while occasionally looking up and around. She confirmed that she was looking away from the road, but told federal investigators that she was still monitoring the car's self-driving functions.

It suggests she could face charges of vehicle manslaughter.

The detective seeking the warrant, identified as J. Barutha, wrote that based on information from the vehicular homicide unit, "it is believed that the crime of vehicular manslaughter has occurred and that evidence of this offense is now located in a 2017 Grey Volvo XC-90".

The Volvo's internal video shows Vasquez repeatedly looking down below the dashboard as the vehicle speeds along, as observers noticed when the video was released in March.

Records provided to investigators by Hulu show Vasquez was streaming an episode of the reality TV show on her phone when the Volvo SUV fatally struck Elaine Herzberg as she walked her bike across a dark stretch of road. But the system is not created to alert the driver.

Cody Fleming, assistant professor of systems engineering at the University of Virginia, told me in a conversation about autonomous vehicle levels - Level 0 means no vehicle automation with the driver fully in control; Level 5 is the highest, with the auto able to drive itself in any situation and condition - that humans don't do well with boredom. Uber, meanwhile, has ended its self-driving vehicle tests in Arizona.

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Police say Vasquez called 911 immediately after the crash and a field-sobriety test conducted at the scene determined Vasquez was not impaired. The Volvo was traveling at about 40 miles per hour in the lane nearest the curb and never braked. While the SUV was in motion, Vasquez averted her eyes away from the roadway almost a third of the time, according to the report.

Police observed nine video segments from the Uber's dash-cam which showed Vasquez looking down 204 times "with almost all of them having the same eye placement at the lower center console near the area of her right knee".

At the same time, Vasquez was convicted of unsworn falsification committed in 1999, meaning she made a false statement to a public officials, and received a concurrent one year sentence.

The office of Cristina Perez Hesano, an attorney for Herzberg's daughter and husband, declined to comment on the police report.

It added: "We have a strict policy prohibiting mobile device usage for anyone operating our self-driving vehicles".

Last month, the Uber spokeswoman said the company was undergoing a "top-to-bottom safety review", and had brought on a former US federal transportation official to help improve its safety culture. Former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart is now a safety consultant for Uber.

As Uber told Phoenix New Times last month, and as the new Tempe police report states, Vasquez had been trained on the capabilities and limitations of the vehicle.