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On the morning of December 7, Raymond Veloz was involved in a fender-bender in Chicago. He dutifully called 911 on his cell phone and stepped out of his vehicle to exchange information with the other driver. As he did so, a woman by the name of Araceli Beas struck the 70-year-old Veloz, causing massive blood loss and, ultimately, his death.
At the time, Beas told the responding officers that she was temporarily blinded by the sun and unable to see the road. But now, the deceased's daughter, Regina Cabrales, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit, claiming that the accident was actually the result of Beas' negligence -- specifically, that Beas was updating her Facebook status when she hit Veloz.
It's a curious situation. On the face of it, Cabrales would seem to have a pretty good case, since Beas' Facebook status update was posted at exactly the same time that Veloz made his call to 911: 7:54am. But technologically speaking, it's not so cut and dry.
For one thing, we'd need to know whether Veloz and Beas were on the same cell phone network. If they weren't, that brings the time sync into question.
More importantly, we'd need to know how well Veloz's cell network syncs with Facebook. If they're off by even a minute, it makes the case harder to call. (And, of course, that doesn't even take into account the amount of time it might've taken for Beas' message to upload and be timestamped by Facebook -- which, as most cell users know, could lag 30 seconds or more on some mobile networks.)
None of that is meant to defend Beas, who, in any case, was likely breaking Illinois law by composing and sending a message on her cell phone while driving. (Her mom insists that Beas was sitting in the driveway of her boyfriend's house -- two miles away -- when the update was composed and posted.*) But whether Beas was or wasn't Facebooking at exact the time of the accident, it's a sobering reminder that we all need to stay alert at the wheel.
* Don't look too closely at the times listed in that Chicago Tribune article. They're approximate and very confusing.