Head-on collision after driver fell asleep at the wheel killed rider, says California Highway Patrol

A California driver who allegedly hit and killed a cyclist while driving a new Tesla electric car has blamed the ‘new car small’ of the ten-day-old vehicle for causing him to fall asleep and crash.

According to Stephen Baxter of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Navindra Kumar Jain, 63, will be charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in connection with the death of Joshua Alper, 40, on Highway 1 north of Santa Cruz, California on November 2 last year.

Baxter writes that the California Highway Patrol’s initial report says that Jain fell asleep at the wheel about 11:15 a.m. and struck Alper head-on.

Alper was riding a road bike south on Highway 1. Jain was driving north in a black 2013 Tesla S when he crossed the centre line, drove up a hill, down a hill and struck Alper on the road’s shoulder.

Jain remained at the scene and spoke with witnesses and CHP officers.

According to the report, Jain had bought the car about 10 days before the crash. He told officers that the car had a strong, new-car smell that prompted him to use a baking soda car freshener in it.

Jain told authorities that the smell caused him to fall asleep and there were no mechanical problems with the car, according to the report.

A lawyer for Alper’s family has filed a suit against Jain for negligence. The suit alleges that Jain carelessly and negligently drove into Alper.

Car manufacturer Tesla is also named in the suit, which contends that the car was “defective and unreasonably dangerous when used in a normal, intended and foreseeable manner”.

Terry O’Reilly, a lawyer for Alper’s family, said that he had never heard of a new-car smell hindering a driver in his 44 years of trial experience.

He added that he did not understand why Santa Cruz County prosecutors plan to charge Jain for a misdemeanor and not a felony.

“If you or I drove across Highway 1 and into the bushes, then steered straight back on to the highway and killed somebody, we would have been hauled off to jail in handcuffs,” he said.

Santa Cruz County prosecutor Greg Peinado said Jain was charged with a misdemeanor rather than a felony because the facts in the case support “ordinary negligence,” that he failed to use “reasonable care.”

The more serious charge of felony vehicular manslaughter carries up to a 6-year jail sentence, but to make that charge stick, prosecutors would have had to prove Jain acted in such a reckless way that his actions created a “high risk of death,” Peinado said.

“Our real concern was just making sure that we base the charges on the evidence,” Peinado said.

Jain’s lawyers say they plan to test the car’s interior to see if it played a role in the crash. Susan Harriman, one of Jain’s lawyers, said that Jain had the car’s interior lined with a synthetic material rather than the usual cloth or leather, because he does not eat meat or use any animal products.

Jain put a box of baking soda in the car to absorb the smell, and the odor of the seats may have been a factor in why he dozed off and lost control of the car, Harriman said.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.


notfastenough [3728 posts] 3 years ago

What a load of bollocks

ribena [187 posts] 3 years ago
movingtarget [144 posts] 3 years ago

Sounds like a variant of the hip and trendy "affluenza" defense.

"I'm cripplingly rich and cannot be held accountable for my actions because any reasonable person would blame the gun for shooting their neighbor. Being intoxicated and stumbling around outdoors with a loaded gun did not contribute to it at all. I'm suing Smith & Wesson for their defective product!"

Recently a 16yo who had a blood alcohol level of 0.24 (legal limit 0.08) killed 4 people with his pickup truck and instead of prison time for vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving he got 10 years probation and alcohol rehab at a posh treatment center in Newport Beach, CA.


Sometimes it's embarrassing to be an American but at least we have vehicular manslaughter laws and killing someone on a bicycle with a car is considered (for the most part) a felony.  22

mikefreer [17 posts] 3 years ago

I've never heard such a strange story in my life!!

bikebot [2118 posts] 3 years ago

Does this guy have a lawyer called Saul Goodman?

ironmancole [357 posts] 3 years ago

Any excuse will do...just great, gives us Brits another excuse to add to the recent "my unborn baby kicked me".

Do we see DVLA rushing to stop pregnant women from driving now its been used in mitigation for a death?

Of course not.

OldRidgeback [2847 posts] 3 years ago

I don't remember ever hearing a flimsier excuse. If the car smelt that bad, it was the owner's responsibility to take care it wouldn't affect his driving anyway. Trying to pin it on Tesla is ridiculous.

The driver fell asleep because he was tired and someone else died. That the driver should then try and wriggle out of his responsibility for his actions on such a flimsy pretext is appalling.

53x11 [15 posts] 3 years ago

I was in the emergency room that morning, and spoke with the highway patrolman who was first on the scene. No one could believe that the killer was sober, and that there was no evidence that he had been phoning or texting. How this could even happen is still a mystery. No believable explanations have been offered. None at all. No cyclist in Santa Cruz has any sense of humor about this.

The local cycling community remains incredibly upset. A little earlier or later in the day, and it could have been any of us, and, in fact, one of us did die that morning. Have your fun jokes, but if we can't get a felony prosecution, let the family sue the killer into complete and total ruin. Motorists cannot be allowed to keep killing us with impunity, whether it is California, London, or anywhere else.

SideBurn [890 posts] 3 years ago

I can assure you they are not 'fun' jokes 53x11. The joke in the UK is how our legal system protects people who clearly have not taken reasonable care. In the UK a jury thought it was perfectly acceptable to drive almost at the speed limit whilst so blinded by the sun the driver could not see a parked lorry. The Police noted the driver was in 4th gear; suggesting he was driving more quickly as he had just pulled out of a junction. Even when found guilty a driver can expect a small fine and a ban. The 'joke' is very definitely on us. I am sure the contributors did not intend any offence