Report says Uber driver was watching TV show before fatal Tempe accident

Elias Hubbard
June 24, 2018

One of the videos released Thursday captured an officer's conversation with the human controller, Rafaela Vasquez, who was responsible for monitoring the SUV during the self-driving test.

"Um, yes, um, I hit a bicyclist northbound Mill Avenue just south of Curry Road", says Vasquez in the 911 audio. "I know I hit her".

A camera inside the vehicle pointed at the driver indicated that she didn't look up until half a second before impact.

Police obtained records from Hulu suggesting that Vasquez was watching "The Voice", a singing talent competition that airs on NBC, just before the crash. Her phone stopped streaming the show at 9:59 p.m., which is about when the XC90 struck pedestrian Elaine Herzberg as she was walking a bicycle across a dark road in Tempe.

The crash is said to have occurred about 1 minute later at 10 p.m. on March 18.

More: Tesla, Uber crashes spotlight automatic emergency braking.

Raw video: Cameras mounted inside the auto catches the fatal moment.

"She appears to be looking down at the area near her right knee at various points in the video, " the report says. According to police, she "appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down". She also claimed that neither her personal or business phones were in use at the time of the crash. "During the 9 video clips, I found that the driver looked down 204 times with almost all of them having the same eye placement at the lower center console near her right knee".

The report found that Vasquez "was distracted and looking down" for close to seven of the almost 22 minutes prior to the collision.

The sources said this was due to the way the vehicle had been "tuned". County prosecutors will decide, based on the police evidence, whether to take that path.

Cristina Perez Hesano, a lawyer for Herzberg's daughter and husband, and Pat McGroder, an attorney representing Herzberg's mother, father and son, declined to comment on the police report.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office referred the case to the Yavapai County Attorney's Office after citing a possible conflict of interest.

The spokesperson added that any physical mobile device usage while the vehicle is on the road is a fireable offense.

According to the police report, Vasquez was distracted in this way for seven of the almost 22-minutes just prior to the collision.

However, police have determined the collision was "entirely avoidable".

A previous National Transportation Safety Board report said Herzberg had methamphetamine and marijuana in her system. Asked about the many pages that were blacked-out in the report, Elcock said they mostly consisted of medical records, license plates, addresses and dates of birth. They have now discovered that the female operator of the malfunctioning automobile was streaming The Voice on Hulu in the moments leading up to the accident.

"You guys know as well as I do that this is going to be, like, an worldwide story, " he says.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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