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Thursday, June 21, 2007
Student who drove Halberstam during crash to be charged

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- A graduate student who was behind the wheel when Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam was killed in a car crash will be charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, a district attorney said Thursday.

Kevin Jones, 26, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley's journalism school, was driving Halberstam to an interview with football legend Y.A. Tittle on April 23 when the fatal accident happened in Menlo Park, south of San Francisco.

An investigation showed that Jones made an illegal left turn into the path of a car that had a green light. That car smashed into the passenger side of the car in which Halberstam was riding, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. Jones had a red light.

Based on eyewitness accounts and a reconstruction of the accident, investigators determined that Jones made the turn while in a lane intended for traffic heading straight -- instead of from either of the two left-turn lanes, Wagstaffe said.

"He turned into the oncoming traffic, and that's why the [other] car crushed the side of the car with Mr. Halberstam," Wagstaffe said.

Jones is expected to be charged next week.

Records from the California Department of Motor Vehicles show that Jones had two previous accidents on his record, from March 2005 and March 2006. Neither resulted in a citation.

In 1999, while he was a teenager living in Washington state, Jones was convicted of driving under the influence and paid an $862 fine, court records show.

"His prior driving record did play a factor in our deliberations," Wagstaffe said.

The misdemeanor charge prosecutors plan to bring against Jones carries a maximum sentence of a year in county jail, a fine or both.

An autopsy showed Halberstam, who was wearing a seat belt, died almost instantly when a broken rib punctured his heart, authorities said.

Jones suffered a punctured lung in the accident and took a leave of absence from school after the crash. He did not immediately return a call seeking comment from The Associated Press.

His defense lawyer, Laurel Headley, said Jones "is still extremely upset" and struggling to come to terms with Halberstam's death.

"It's been an absolutely devastating experience for him," Headley said. "He feels a great loss of a mentor of his, and that's a big deal to have to deal with."

Halberstam, the author of 21 nonfiction books, was at work on a new one about the legendary 1958 NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants.

The 73-year-old won the Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his coverage of the Vietnam War, a subject he revisited in his 1972 best-selling book, "The Best and the Brightest." He went on to write 14 other best-sellers, including "The Breaks of the Game," "The Reckoning," and "The Powers That Be."

"The Coldest Winter," an account of a key battle of the Korean War, is to be published posthumously in the fall.

Halberstam's widow, Jean Halberstam, hired a lawyer to explore the possibility of suing whichever driver ultimately was found at fault. She was out of the country on Thursday and not available for comment.