A diabetic taxi driver who admitted to causing a fatal crash as a result of his low blood sugar pleaded guilty Monday to five counts of homicide by vehicle and other charges. The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, man had been scheduled to stand trial for the motorcycle accident that killed five bikers and seriously injured a sixth, but he chose to enter the plea on the day the trial was set to begin.

The crash happened in June 2010 as the driver, now 66, was traveling in a van on Route 72 in Penn Township. Witnesses said the taxi driver was reaching speeds of up to 100 mph and swerving on the road. The driver of the vehicle in front of the taxi said he could see it driving erratically in his rearview mirror, and the taxi’s passenger asked to be let out of the vehicle just minutes before the accident. The van crashed into a pack of motorcyclists, five of whom died. Another survived with multiple broken bones.

The taxi driver acknowledged that he needs to eat regularly to keep his blood sugar at a safe level. But on June 27 he’d skipped lunch and had had very little to eat, resulting in an “altered mental state,” according to the assistant district attorney. The driver, when asked if he acknowledged that his dangerously low blood sugar had caused his erratic driving and the resulting crash, paused before replying, “Yes, I do.” The Lancaster County judge presiding over the case stressed to him that his guilty plea meant he admitted to “conscious disregard of substantial risk” by not addressing his own health needs. That disregard translated to criminal intent, the judge explained, and the man said he understood.

The man faces a possible sentence of 37 years in prison, but he could also be hit with one or more civil wrongful death suits on behalf of the motorcyclists who died. Although a guilty plea in a criminal case can affect the outcome of a civil lawsuit, it will be up to the surviving victim or the deceased victims’ families to carry that conscious disregard of substantial risk acknowledgement into a civil case. If successful, a wrongful death or personal injury lawsuit could provide compensation for the plaintiffs’ pain and suffering over the last two years and into the foreseeable future.

Source: Times Online, “Taxi driver pleads in Pa. crash that killed 5,” July 16, 2012