Council candidate Jennifer Higgins sentenced in fatal accident
In a moving hearing Tuesday, former San Jose city council candidate Jennifer Higgins was sentenced to six months in prison for fatally striking a 66-year-old pedestrian – described as “a life force” – with his SUV.
Despite the objection of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, Senior Judge Jose Franco reduced Higgins’ felony charge of manslaughter with gross negligence to a misdemeanor for the December 2019 accident that killed Timothy Starkey of Santa Cruz.
Franco said he based his decision to reduce the charge on several factors, including Higgins’ age, clean criminal record and general character, adding that this “does not in any way reflect the loss suffered in this case. “.
Higgins is expected to start serving his sentence in the Santa Clara County jail in late September – 21 months after the fatal accident. She is also required to complete 350 hours of unpaid community service, pay $ 183,857 in restitution to Starkey’s family, undergo a psychiatric assessment and serve a two-year probationary period.
“I really wanted to apologize to the Starkey family, but I think there aren’t enough words to express how truly sorry I am for your loss,” Higgins said in tears at the hearing. “And your honor, I want you to know that whatever you tell me to do, I will do it 100%.”
Higgins was first charged with manslaughter at the wheel of a vehicle in July 2020, and then in April, he did not plead any challenges, which essentially has the same effect as a guilty plea, but prevents the conviction to be used as evidence in any corresponding civil litigation.
Starkey’s family released a statement after Tuesday’s hearing saying they were “deeply disappointed” with the sentence, calling it “nothing more than a slap on the wrist.”
“That the woman who played recklessly and took our lives get away with such a light sentence is an insult and an affront to our family and to the many people whose lives he touched,” the statement said. “We are deeply dejected, but this is not the end of our search for justice.”
The fatal crash happened at around 11:40 a.m. on December 16, 2019 in the 900 block of Blossom Hill Road in Los Gatos, according to the police report.
Higgins pulled his SUV out of its lane and past a five-foot bike path before colliding with Starkey who was standing behind a vehicle parked on the north shoulder of the roadway, court records show.
Starkey, who is said to have collected supplies in his vehicle to help a friend hang up the Christmas lights, died immediately after being struck by Higgins’ SUV.
Witnesses at the scene told authorities that prior to the crash, Higgins “swerved and was unable to keep his lane.” In the police report, officers noted that she was unable to remember why she had deviated from her lane approximately six to eight feet and was having difficulty “concentrating and articulating her thoughts or answer simple questions ”.
At the time of the accident, Higgins was under the influence of benzodiazepines, a class of drugs that include Xanax and Klonopin and which are generally prescribed for anxiety, depression and insomnia, according to court documents. People taking benzodiazepines are advised not to drive while taking them, as this can cause weakness and dizziness and impair driving. Higgins was traveling between San Jose City Hall and his doctor’s office in Los Gatos at the time of the crash.
Arguing that the felony charge was upheld, Assistant District Attorney Montana Musso said the evidence showed Higgins “was clearly driving with a high level of distraction.”
“It wasn’t just a moment of inattention,” Musso said. “It was a decision to keep driving when she realized she was too distracted… and it resulted in the death of Timothy Starkey and it’s an event that cannot be revisited.”
Pleading for the fee reduction, Higgins defense attorney Josh Bentley told the court that Higgins was not intoxicated or on his cell phone at the time of the crash, adding that ‘she could have been lying about what had happened but that she had chosen not to.
“Higgins took responsibility for the scene and never waived it,” he said at the hearing, accusing himself of advising Higgins not to reach out to the family and to offer him sympathy after the accident and throughout the criminal proceedings. .
At the time, she was running – as Jenny Higgins Bradanini – for a seat on San Jose City Council to represent the Almaden Valley region. She made a brief hiatus from the election campaign after the crash, but then resumed her efforts and placed third in the March primary.
A lost life
More than a dozen family and friends of Starkey attended the hearing on Tuesday, passing handkerchiefs and holding hands, while his 37-year-old wife, Kathleen, and two children, Bridget and Joseph, each read statements in his honor.
They described him as a faithful husband, father and friend – a “life force” and “a man who can fix anything” with a “larger than life presence”.
Starkey has spent most of his career as vice president of operations at various tech companies across California, including a position where he commuted from Los Angeles to the Bay Area every week because he did not want to force his family to move. . After retiring from corporate life, he began working as a handyman in Santa Cruz.
Kathleen said he dreamed of growing his DIY business and spending his retirement doing what he loved most – helping others.
“He had a great zest for life,” she said. “His absence from our lives is enormous.
“I fall asleep at night craving him and wake up in the morning thinking about him and all the plans we had for our future – all damaged.”
Despite their immense loss, Kathleen and her children all agreed that the glue that held them most together is a reminder of how important Starkey was to them.
“It’s unfortunate that this is the reason why I share these stories about my father, Tim Starkey, but I feel very lucky that he never missed a moment to demonstrate or tell me how much he loved me.” , said Bridget. “I find solace in this tragic experience knowing that nothing is overlooked or acknowledged.”