No charges in Port Angeles car vs. pedestrian death

PORT ANGELES — Prosecutors will not charge the driver who was investigated for striking a Port Angeles man who later died on a dark city street last June.

Citing a lack of facts to support a criminal prosecution, the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that it declined to file charges against JohnPeter “JP” Kil Hyun Smithson.

Smithson, 20, was driving a 1995 Geo Prizm when he struck Robert Simmons on the 2000 block of West 18th Street at about 10:50 p.m. June 6, Port Angeles police said.

Police found Simmons as he lay unconscious and barely breathing with a faint pulse. Port Angeles Fire Department paramedics pronounced him dead at 11:10 p.m., according to the case report.

Simmons was 50.

Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols said the decision to not charge Smithson was made after careful consideration of information from Port Angeles police, the State Patrol, accident reconstruction specialists, forensic testing and the findings of a forensic pathologist.

“The decision to decline filing criminal charges was not made lightly,” Nichols said in a news release.

“The existing facts simply do not support a criminal prosecution given the high burden to which the state is held in proving crimes within the American criminal justice system. We will re-evaluate this case if additional evidence comes to light.”

Police investigated Simmons’ death as a potential vehicular homicide and felony hit-and-run. They recommended a charge of hit-and-run injury, according to the certification for probable cause.

Simmons died of blunt-force trauma to the head and extremities, including a broken left thighbone, according to a Sept. 13 police report.

Pieces of a car found at the scene matched a missing fragment and wheel well liner from the car Smithson was driving, according to the report.

Smithson told police that he thought he hit debris in the area where Simmons was found just west of the Clallam County Public Utility District operations center at 1936 W. 18th St.

Simmons was wearing dark clothing.

The morning after the collision, Smithson’s parents found a note from him saying, “I got my first ding in the car,” according to the police report.

His mother “said he told her he was driving, it was dark, late at night, and all of a sudden there was something in the road,” Detective Erik Smith’s wrote.

“He thought it was debris of some kind,” according to the statement.

“He said he swerved really hard. He said he just caught it with the bumper and he kept going.

“JP said that whatever it was [he] just barely ‘caught it’ and that he did not feel it.”

Police said Simmons might have already been lying down in the street when the car apparently hit him.

Port Angeles Deputy Chief of Police Jason Viada said the department “recognizes that the prosecutor’s office makes the final decision regarding charging, much like the police department makes decisions about who to arrest.”

Police must have reasonable suspicious to make a stop and probable cause to make an arrest.

“The next higher step is probable cause to charge,” Viada said in a Thursday email.

“The police department understands that the prosecutor’s office will not file charges unless it believes in good faith that it can convince a local jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the offense charged was committed.

“The police department and the prosecutor’s office work together to gather available facts and apply Washington law,” Viada said.

“A case like this is an example of a fact pattern that does not align with any Washington law.”

The prosecutor’s office met with Simmons’ family to advise them of the decision Tuesday, Nichols said.

“Our heart goes out to the family,” Nichols said.

“This is a tragic case involving a man with rich life experience who was clearly loved by his family. He will be missed.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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