SANTA CRUZ -- A Bonny Doon man accused of fatally striking a Santa Cruz cyclist with his Tesla S in November faces up to a year in jail if convicted of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, prosecutors said.
Santa Cruz County prosecutor Greg Peinado said Navindra "Navin" Kumar Jain was charged last week with a misdemeanor rather than a felony because the facts in the case support "ordinary negligence," that he failed to use "reasonable care."
If Jain were charged with felony vehicular manslaughter, which carries up to a 6-year jail sentence, prosecutors would have had to prove he acted in such a reckless way that he created a "high risk of death," Peinado said.
"Our real concern was just making sure that we base the charges on the evidence," Peinado said.
If Jain had been passing another driver and killed that driver in a head-on collision, for instance, he might have been charged with a felony, prosecutors said.
According to the California Highway Patrol, Jain, 63, apparently passed out at the wheel on northbound Highway 1 near Dimeo Lane north of Santa Cruz about 11:15 a.m. Nov. 2. He crossed the double yellow lines to the southbound lane, went up a hill, down a hill and struck 40-year-old cyclist Joshua Alper.
Alper could not have dodged the car, according to the CHP's initial report. The full report is not complete.
Jain has not been arrested. He was formally charged Thursday and is expected to be arraigned Feb. 21 in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, according to court records.
Susan Harriman, one of Jain's attorneys, has said Jain "feels terrible about the loss of life."
It was Jain's second time driving the black 2013 Tesla, which he picked up about 10 days prior to the crash. Jain's attorneys said they plan to test the interior of the car to see if it played a role in the crash.
In part because Jain does not eat meat or use animal-based products, the car's interior was made from a synthetic material rather than the standard leather or cloth, Harriman said. Jain put a box of baking soda in the car to absorb the smell, and the odor of the seats may have been a factor in why he dozed off and lost control of the car, Harriman said.
Jain has been retired since the mid-1990s. He earned a doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University in 1980 and in 1982 co-founded Excelan Inc., a computer networking firm.
Excelan was acquired by Novell Inc. in 1989, and Jain worked there until about 1994, his attorney said. He then retired to focus on philosophy and spirituality.
Jain is a board member of Fremont-based Arcana Networks Inc. and has been a donor to Harker School in San Jose.
Bob Sibley, one of Jain's neighbors in Bonny Doon, said Jain is a kind and thoughtful person. Jain and his family "are just in shock," Sibley said. "He really is a good human being and he's caught here in an accident."
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