COUNCIL BLUFFS — The Iowa State Patrol is wrapping up its investigation of the single-car crash that killed Shelby, Iowa, firefighter Michael Collins, who was directing traffic around an accident on Interstate 80.
Unless the report on that investigation shows that the driver of the car, David L. Thies of Ames, Iowa, did something reckless, which authorities do not expect, he is unlikely to face charges beyond a possible traffic ticket, said Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber.
Collins, 41, was killed Sept. 18. He was standing in the left lane of I-80 directing traffic when a Honda Accord driven by Thies, then 43, went around slowed traffic and struck Collins, according to the Iowa State Patrol's accident report.
Wilber said he is awaiting the results of the State Patrol's more detailed technical investigation, to be completed in the next few weeks.
“Obviously, I will have to review the report and see what we have,” he said this week. But, “at this point, (filing of criminal charges) does not appear likely.”
Collins' family hopes something turns up. They think something needs to be done.
“To me, that's just not something you just write somebody a ticket for, especially when you take somebody's life,” said one of Collins' brothers, Al Fenderson, 36. “There needs to be some sort of punishment besides the ticket.”
But an overtly reckless act — such as drunken driving or drag racing — would be necessary to file a charge like motor vehicle homicide, Wilber said. Neither, as far as he knows, happened.
“Coming on to a crash scene and driving too fast for conditions, I'm going to have to have more than that.”
Robert Rigg, a law professor at Drake University in Des Moines, agreed.
“You have to go beyond just making a mistake, and that's where a lot of people tend to confuse recklessness with negligence,” Rigg said. “Everybody at some point in time, if they drive, will be negligent, and the fact that you have an accident doesn't mean that you have a criminal charge, even if that accident results in the death of someone.”
Collins — while no one suggests that he did anything wrong — was in an inherently dangerous situation outside of a vehicle on the Interstate.
“If you are walking on the highway, you are really putting yourself at risk,” Rigg said.
“Highways are really dangerous places for pedestrians. You are really walking into a hazardous environment, even in the best circumstances.”
Attempts to reach Thies by telephone and email this week were unsuccessful.
For Thies, it was the second time he'd been involved in a fatal crash. In 1988, he was riding a motorcycle near Axtell, Neb., when it crashed in an incident authorities said involved alcohol. Thies' passenger, Gina Pearson, 20, of Kearney, was killed.
Thies served 17 months for motor vehicle homicide, according to Nebraska Department of Correctional Services records.
Wilber said he was aware of the incident but said it has no bearing now.
Collins' family is looking at its first Christmas without the husband and father.
“I don't know if (Thies) gets to spend Christmas with his family. We'll never do that again,” Fenderson said. “It's not like my brother was an old man. He was in a prime age.
“We are a holiday family. We always spend our holidays together.”
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