Maricopa County Attorney's Office asks Yavapai County to handle fatal self-driving Uber case

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Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk (Source: 3TV/CBS file photo, Cronkite file photo) Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk (Source: 3TV/CBS file photo, Cronkite file photo)

A potential conflict of interest has prompted the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to hand off “prosecutorial responsibility” for the case in which a self-driving Uber vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe.

Keith D. Manning, MCAO’s law enforcement liaison, sent the request of Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk last Friday, saying, “ … MCAO’s previous relationship with UBER’s ride sharing (sic) business model in March ... 2016, created a potential appearance of impropriety.”

That “previous relationship” was the “Save Lives, Don’t DUI” campaign, according to a letter from Manning to Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir.

[PDF: Read both letters from Maricopa County Attorney's Office]

MCAO teamed up with Uber to encourage people to call the ride-sharing services to avoid the inherent dangers of drinking and driving.

“The campaign was heavily publicized and promoted throughout Maricopa County,” Manning wrote, explaining that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery “actively encouraged people to use UBER…" and touted coupons and discount codes.

Looking through Arizona's Family archives, there was a similar partnership in December 2015, but only the March 2016 campaign was mentioned in Manning's letters.

[RELATED: Free Uber rides for St. Patrick's Day (March 11, 2016)]

[AND THIS: Uber offers free rides for holiday revelers (Dec. 17, 2015)]

For its 2017 campaigns, MCAO worked with Uber competitor Lyft.

The potential conflict of interest came up during what Manning described as a “conflict of interest review.”

[CONTINUING COVERAGE: Self-driving Uber hits, kills pedestrian in Tempe]

MCAO also requested that Yavapai County keep it apprised of “the disposition of this matter once it is concluded.”

On March 18, 2018, a self-driving Uber SUV his and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she crossed a Tempe street. Federal investigators say the human backup driver began steering less than a second before impact but did not hit the brakes until a less than a second after the impact.

Video released by the Tempe Police Department showed the moment that operator saw Herzberg.

[RELATED: Tempe PD releases video of moments before self-driving Uber hit, killed pedestrian]

[VIDEO: Uber video from self-driving SUV just before fatal wreck]

The vehicle reportedly spotted Herzberg 6 seconds before hitting her, but the system is not designed to alert the person acting as the backup driver and the mechanism to automatically brake in potentially dangerous situations had been turned off.

[READ MORE: Feds: Uber self-driving SUV saw pedestrian but didn't brake in Tempe crash]

At this point, it’s not clear what – if any – charges will be filed against the backup driver. While that decision would normally sit with the MCAO, the potential conflict of interest means it’s now up to the YCAO.

MCAO usually makes charging decisions within 30 days of receiving a case. The Tempe Police Department submitted it on May 23.

YCAO has not said if it will use a similar timetable.

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