Grand jury indicts woman behind wheel of self-driving Uber that killed woman in Tempe

Grand jury indicts woman behind wheel of self-driving Uber that killed woman in Tempe
Vasquez was behind the wheel while the Uber SUV was self-driving but court documents say she was watching "The Voice" right before the crash (Source: AZ Family)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The woman behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber that hit and killed a woman in Tempe in 2018 has been officially charged, but said she didn’t do it.

A Maricopa County grand jury indicted Rafael (aka Rafaela) Vasquez on April 27 with one count of negligent homicide in connection to the death of Elaine Herzberg.

On Tuesday, Vasquez appeared before a judge and pleaded not guilty. She was then released but has to wear an ankle monitor.

On March 18, 2018, Herzberg was hit and killed while she walked her bicycle across Mill Avenue near Curry Road. She was not in a crosswalk. Vasquez was behind the wheel while the Uber SUV was self-driving, but court documents say she was watching “The Voice” right before the crash.

It’s believed Herzberg’s death was the first death of a pedestrian struck by a self-driving vehicle.

Herzberg’s family said in 2019 it was suing the City of Tempe and the State of Arizona for $10 million. Family members said both governments didn’t have enough oversight on the testing program of autonomous vehicles.

In its final report, the National Transportation Safety Board said both the operator of the Uber van and the victim contributed to the crash. The feds also said the Arizona Department of Transportation had insufficient oversight of the program.

Prosecutors declined in 2019 to file criminal charges against Uber, as a corporation, in Herzberg’s death.

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