Distracted Driver Accidents

Recent Comments

Alabama Convicts Distracted Driver of Manslaughter

Brian DebelleBrian Debelle

It’s Alabama’s first conviction of manslaughter while texting and driving: Jonathan Raynes, 23, will serve two years in prison followed by eight years of probation for a car accident killing 24-year-old Miranda Hamilton.

Raynes, who momentarily took his eyes off the road, swerved into oncoming traffic in an attempt to avoid hitting a stopped car in front of him. Instead, his F-150 (check) collided head on with Hamilton’s F150. She was thrown from the truck and subsequently died of her injuries; she was not wearing a seatbelt.

Over four days in court, the prosecution argued Raynes was fixated on his phone while driving, sending texts and instant messages and visiting multiple social apps including online dating sites. An information and technology specialist and digital forensic examiner for the FBI – the FBI was not involved in this case, but other agencies can ask for their expert testimony- agreed, noting the last time Raynes “manipulated” his phone was 32 seconds before the first 911 call.

In Alabama, all cell phone use (including hands-free) is illegal for novice drivers while only texting and driving is illegal for all drivers.

Rayes unsuccessfully argued he was not using his phone at the fatal moment nor was it a distraction. It’s possible that very argument, however, is what led the jury to convict him not of criminally negligent homicide (Class C Felony), but the more severely punished charge of manslaughter (Class B Felony).

But what’s the difference? Birmingham car accident attorney Mike Mitchell, of the Mitchell Law Group, explains a criminally negligent homicide (vehicular manslaughter in most states) would imply Raynes didn’t know his driving was reckless or dangerous, but should have. And since talking on the phone or using GPS isn’t illegal under Alabama’s current distracted driver laws, it’s the usual charge for fatal car accidents that make it to trial. Manslaughter, however, means the jury believed Raynes was aware of the risks and consciously decided to ignore them.

Mitchell said the ruling is unprecedented for Alabama. Many, including the prosecution team, hope the ruling sends a statement about the personal consequences for those who text and drive. Because, unfortunately, the state’s shocking statistics of distracted driving was failing to do just that.

Alabama Car Accident Statistics 

Alabama drivers are twice as likely to die in a car accident than the average American, with 14 deaths per 100,000 compared to the nation’s average of seven. That fact is not surprising to local police, though, as the Alabama State Troopers spokesman, Cpl. Jess Thornton, once said “we’re washing blood off of our highways every day.”

The statistics below prove Thornton’s statement was sadly no exaggeration. Most statistics are from 2014, the most recent year Alabama released a “crash facts” report.

News stories sharing these statistics could cover the state with their print; yet, Alabama’s crash and fatality rate rose again in 2016. Despite car manufacturers continuously adding new safety features – back-up camera, blind-spot detection, forward collision warning, lane-keep assist- Mitchell points out besides major product recalls the most common theme he sees in the news and in his car accident cases is human error.

The Mitchell Law Group frequently writes about car and passenger safety. Below they share some important warnings of not just texting and driving, but all distracted and reckless driving habits in general.

While it may seem elementary, it may be time for Alabamians to get back to car safety basics. Don’t drive drugged, drunk, drowsy or distracted. Always properly wear a seatbelt and make sure car seats are properly installed and used- even in rental cars. Obey the speed limits, traffic signals and remain alert for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. Finally, lead by example, especially when driving with young children.


Comments 1
  • Jeff
    Posted on

    Jeff Jeff

    Reply Author

    I would question your assertion that the defendant Raynes “momentarily” took his eyes off the road. Evidence in the case indicates much, much more. News articles following the trial and detailing the arguments even indicate he was using his phone throughout his 75 minute drive leading up to the crash. I think it was much more than a “momentary” lapse.

    I would also add to your article that while texting and driving is a citable traffic offense in Alabama, the fine for a violation is minimal. We need to strengthen our distracted driving laws to prevent serious crashes.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.