TEMPE, Ariz. (KNXV) -- A backup Uber driver who was in a self-driving Uber when it hit and killed a pedestrian in 2018 has been charged with negligent homicide, according to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
The crash happened in March 2018 when one of Uber's self-driving SUVs hit and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was crossing mid-block near Mill Avenue and Curry Road. Rafaela Vasquez was in the driver's seat as the backup driver at the time, while the Uber vehicle was in its self-operating mode.
In 2019 the Yavapai County Attorney cleared Uber in the deadly self-driving car crash. Yavapai County returned the case to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for consideration as to whether Vasquez should face criminal charges.
In a police report, it’s noted that Vasquez was allegedly streaming a television show on her phone around the time of the crash. According to a police report, investigators noted Vazquez looking down and to her right side multiple times. Before the collision occurred, Vasquez's eyes were allegedly averted from the roadway for approximately 5.3 seconds.
Officers calculated that had Vasquez been paying attention, she could have reacted 143 feet before impact and brought the SUV to a stop about 42.6 feet before hitting Herzberg.
"This crash would not have occurred if Vasquez would have been monitoring the vehicle and roadway conditions and was not distracted," the report stated.
Vasquez pleaded not guilty to the charge Monday and was released with ankle monitoring.
The Arizona Republic reports the 2018 incident was the first pedestrian fatality involving a self-driving vehicle in the country.