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

Minnie Murray
June 25, 2018

The human backup driver of the self-driving Uber that struck and killed a woman crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona was streaming the NBC show "The Voice" on her phone shortly before the March 18 collision.

Vasquez looked up just 0.5 seconds before the crash, after keeping her head down for 5.3 seconds, the Tempe Police report said.

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".

The 300-page report released Thursday night by police in Tempe revealed that driver Rafaela Vasquez had been streaming the musical talent show via Hulu in the 43 minutes before the March 18 crash that killed Elaine Herzberg as she crossed a darkened road outside the lines of a crosswalk.

Analysis of video taken from the vehicle shows Vasquez looked downward 204 times in the 11.8 miles traveled before the crash. The case has been submitted to the Maricopa County Attorney's office for review against Vasquez, who could face charges of vehicular manslaughter.

Tempe police concluded that Vasquez should have been able to avoid the deadly collision if she had been paying proper attention.

A search warrant by police of Vasquez's cellphone showed three different streaming services present and showed Vasquez was watching "The Voice" on Hulu at 9:45 p.m.

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. The company now says it will happen sometime this summer, indicating the top-to-bottom safety review and investigation into the Tempe crash is taking longer than expected. After the incident which took place in March, Uber announced that they are closing self-driving auto operation in Arizona.

Uber has fired several safety drivers for breaking the mobile device policy, the spokesperson said. The Uber self-driving program was suspended after the fatality and the Arizona program shut down.

The crash dealt Uber a major setback in its efforts to develop self-driving cars, and the company ended its autonomous vehicle testing programme in Arizona after the incident. She did not apply the brakes until after the collision.

The fatality prompted the ride-hailing giant to suspend all road testing of self-driving vehicles in areas including Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

Tempe police also released blurred video from the responding police officers' body cameras, and one caught a conversation with Vasquez while she was seated behind the wheel, according to the newspaper. Of the almost 22 minutes that elapsed during that distance, Vasquez was looking down for 6 minutes and 47 seconds. Vasquez couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Uber has hired former National Transportation Safety Board chair Christopher Hart as an adviser on the company's overall safety culture.

The Yavapai County Attorney's Office hasn't set a deadline for deciding whether to bring charges, said Penny Cramer, assistant to County Attorney Sheila Polk. "The operator further stated that although her personal and business phones were in the vehicle, neither was in use until after the crash, when she called 911", according to the NTSB.

A fatal Tesla crash in Florida may have involved the driver watching a Harry Potter movie on a portable DVD player while the car's Autopilot mode was engaged.

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