The driver behind the wheel of an autonomous Uber vehicle that fatally struck a woman in Tempe in March was watching “The Voice” via a streaming service in the minutes leading up to the crash, a police report says.
The detailed report of more than 300 pages was released by Tempe police Thursday night, along with video and photos from the scene of the March 18 collision. Also released was the 911 call made by the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, 44, after the crash.
The Mill Avenue collision, which killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she walked across the street midblock, was the first fatal crash ever to involve a self-driving car.
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The material includes blurred video from officers’ body cameras. One video captures an officer’s conversation with Vasquez still seated behind the wheel.
“The car was in auto-drive,” Vasquez says to the officer.
“All of a sudden … the car didn’t see it, I couldn’t see it,” she says. “I know I hit her.”
Tempe police released body camera video in the nation’s first pedestrian death involving an autonomous vehicle. A woman was hit while crossing a street.
Tempe Police Department
Vasquez was given a field test and police initially determined she was not impaired. A few days after the crash, police obtained a search warrant for Vasquez’s two cellphones and served warrants on three companies that provide streaming services — Hulu, Netflix and Google, which owns YouTube — in an effort to determine if the driver had been watching shows on her phones while driving.
One of those providers, Hulu, later provided a record of usage on one of Vasquez’s phones that showed she was watching “The Voice,” a talent competition show on NBC, right before the collision. The Hulu record showed her streaming ended at 21:59 hours — or 9:59 p.m.
The crash occurred at 10 p.m., according to records.
Tempe police, in the report, reviewed video from inside the Volvo XC90 — some of which previously was made public — that showed Vasquez looking down moments before the crash.
“She appears to be looking down at the area near her right knee at various points in the video,” the report says. “Sometimes, her face appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down. Her hands are not visible in the frame of the video during these times.’’
The report details an exhaustive analysis of data from the vehicle and re-enacting the crash at the site.
Tempe police have released the audio of Rafaela Vasquez, 44, calling 911 after fatally hitting a pedestrian on March 18, 2018
The analysis showed that nine video segments from dashboard cameras in the vehicle covered 11.8 miles prior to the crash. During that distance, Vasquez looked down 204 times toward her right knee, the report says. Of the nearly 22 minutes that elapsed during that distance, Vasquez was looking down for 6 minutes and 47 seconds.
“This crash would not have occurred if Vasquez would have been monitoring the vehicle and roadway conditions and was not distracted,” the report says.
Tempe police referred the case to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for possible charges. Police initially said the county attorney would determine when the report could be released.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office referred the case to the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office after citing a possible conflict of interest.
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Officials with the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office could not be reached late Thursday to confirm whether that review was complete or if charges would be filed in the case.
A crash report indicated that the self-driving vehicle was traveling too fast for the road conditions.
It also noted that the roads were dry and level, and that there was no apparent medical condition that would have affected the driver at the time of the collision.
The report says Vasquez initially told police she had her hands “hovering” in front of the steering wheel preparing to take over control of the vehicle. However, police noted that videos from the car show her hands were not visible.
The report concludes that, while Herzberg was not in a crosswalk when hit, Vasquez was “inattentive,” failed to take control of the vehicle to avoid the crash and that her “disregard for assigned job function to intervene in a hazardous situation” all contributed to the crash.
A report released by the National Transportation Safety Board on the crash last month showed that the emergency braking system on the car had been disabled, in part to reduce the jerkiness of the ride. That report also said toxicology reports found Herzberg had methamphetamine and marijuana in her system.
Tempe police released video in the nation’s first pedestrian death involving an autonomous vehicle. A woman was killed by a Volvo operated by Uber.
The police report released late Thursday indicated Uber company officials were consulted early on in the investigation. One video released from a police body camera shows a police sergeant talking to company representatives at the scene.
“You guys know as well as I do that this is going to be, like, an international story,” he says. “We want to make sure we not only do what we normally do, not do anything different, but also make sure that everything is aboveboard.”
The officer added that “we hope you guys do the same,” noting the two parties were “going to be working together.”
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