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Woman indicted in Tempe self-driving Uber accident that killed pedestrian

(Tempe Police Department via AP)

PHOENIX — The operator of a self-driving Uber was indicted in late August in a 2018 accident in Tempe that left a pedestrian dead.

Rafaela Vasquez, 46, was charged with one count of negligent homicide in the death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg on March 18, 2018.

Herzberg was hit as she crossed Mill Avenue near Curry Road. She was not in the crosswalk, police said, but Vasquez was watching a TV show on a phone just before the accident.

Video of the crash showed Herzberg visible in the car’s headlights walking her bicycle across the street. Video point of view switched to Vasquez, who was looking down, then up.

The car had been going around 40 mph.

“Distracted driving is an issue of great importance in our community,” Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel said in a press release.

“When a driver gets behind the wheel of a car, they have a responsibility to control and operate that vehicle safely and in a law-abiding manner.”

Uber shut down its self-driving car operation in Arizona in May 2018, two months after the fatal accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a May 2018 preliminary report the autonomous driving system spotted Herzberg about six seconds before hitting her but did not stop because the system used to automatically apply brakes in potentially dangerous situations had been disabled.

Herzberg’s family in February 2019 filed a $10 million complaint against Tempe for allegedly failing to make the area of the accident safe for pedestrians.

Vasquez pleaded not guilty at her arraignment Tuesday. A pre-trial conference is set for Oct. 27.

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