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State Study Let Fatal Driver Keep License : Crash: DMV says 'aberration' in system meant 3 of 5 speeding tickets issued to Shane Young--arrested in Silverado Canyon accident--were never counted.

October 19, 1994|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SILVERADO CANYON — The driver of a pickup truck that struck and killed a pedestrian in Silverado Canyon on Sunday was a chronic speeder with enough tickets to lose his license earlier this year, but remained on the road because he was unknowingly enrolled in a state research program that studied how errant drivers are punished, officials said Tuesday.

But officials from the state Department of Motor Vehicles said a suspension would have made little difference Sunday because the driver, Shane Young, 25, probably would have gotten his license back in September--well before the crash that killed his close friend Jasmin Cook and injured two other people.

"The guy has a history of speeding. He was deliberately negligent. It probably wouldn't have mattered whether he was in any program," said DMV spokesman Bill Madison.

Madison said an "aberration" in the computerized research program for which Young had been randomly chosen meant that three of the five speeding tickets he got last year--enough to ensure the suspension of his license--were never counted. The result was that while Young's license should have been suspended sometime last spring, he was allowed to continue driving.

"It's an idiosyncrasy. You might call it an aberration," said Madison. "We're going to examine why it's like that and whether it should change."

Young was picked by computer in March to be among 55,000 ticketed drivers placed in two special pools so their subsequent driving records could be studied. The idea behind the 20-year-old experiment is to allow officials to study whether measures such as warning letters deter driving violations, Madison said.

Participants are chosen from drivers receiving two tickets over a 12-month period. They remain in the little-known program--called Negligent Operator Treatment Evaluation System, or NOTES--for up to 18 months.

In one group, those who receive a third ticket get letters warning them their license will be suspended after one more violation. In the other group, no such letters are sent, giving researchers the chance to see whether warning letters deter violations, Madison said.

Under DMV rules, licenses are normally suspended for any driver following four violations in any 12-month period.

Young was placed in the NOTES program on March 16, after the DMV received confirmation that he had two speeding convictions within the previous 12 months.

Still working their way through the system, however, were yet two more speeding convictions that predated the March conviction that got him placed in the NOTES program. These two additional convictions would have been enough to reach the four-ticket limit when a license is suspended. But those two tickets were never counted because they were reported to the DMV after his enrollment and the NOTES computer was programmed to ignore prior convictions, Madison said.

Young's fifth speeding infraction dated to March 4, 1993--more than a year before his enrollment in the program.

"This is a real unique situation where the convictions came in late and he was in the NOTES program," Madison said. "This is the first case that anybody's aware of that this has happened."

If Young had not been enrolled in the program, his convictions would have meant the suspension of his license--most likely for three to four months--in May, Madison said. In all likelihood, Young would have gotten his license back, with a year's probation, by the end of September, Madison said. If Young had not contested the suspension, though, he would have lost his license automatically for six months--or until next month, Madison.

Young was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and felony driving under the influence after police said he struck the three people on narrow Silverado Canyon Road while racing another a driver in another car. The second driver, Clint Wamsley, 19, was arrested on the same charges but has been released from custody.

Cook was walking on the edge of the winding road with two friends on bicycles when the crash occurred about 10:15 p.m. Police said Wamsley slowed his Ford Mustang when he saw the trio, but Young struck them when he swerved to avoid the Mustang. Shane Graham, 19, of Silverado Canyon and Timothy Smart, 21, remained in stable condition at Western Medical Center-Santa Ana.

By coincidence, Young was arraigned Tuesday on an unrelated vehicle violation that occurred in September. Young pleaded guilty to having faulty lights, and Municipal Judge Charles Margines suspended the fine. Margines said the lighting violation was "the least of your problems."

Times staff writer Anna Cekola contributed to this report.

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