Former San Jose City Council candidate Jennifer Higgins was sentenced to six months in jail for to strike fatally a 66-year-old pedestrian – described as “a lifeblood” – with her SUV in December 2019.
Despite the objection of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, Senior Judge Jose Franco reduced Higgins charged with manslaughter at the wheel of a vehicle grossly negligent in a misdemeanor for the accident that killed Timothy Starkey.
In making his decision, Franco said he took several factors into account, including Higgins’ age, clean criminal record and general character, adding that it “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 while driving in July 2020 and then in April did not plead any competition, which has essentially the same effect as a guilty plea, but prevents the conviction from being used as evidence in a corresponding civil litigation.
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 a police report.
Higgins swerved his SUV onto the side of the road and past a five-foot bike path before colliding with Starkey who was standing behind a vehicle parked on the north shoulder of Blossom Hill Road, court records show.
Starkey, who allegedly helped a friend hang Christmas lights and collect supplies from his vehicle, 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 benzodiazepine, which is a class of drugs that includes Xanax and Klonopin and is typically 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 said to have been driving 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,” she 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.”
Advocating for the reduction in fees, Higgins defense attorney Josh Bentley told the court that Higgins was not drunk or on his cell phone at the time of the crash, adding that ‘she could have been lying about the events that happened but that she chose not to.
“Higgins acknowledged his responsibility at the scene and never waived this,” he said at the hearing.
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 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”.
“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.”
Starkey spent most of his career as vice president of operations at various technology companies across California, then served as a handyman in Santa Cruz after his retirement from corporate life.
Kathleen said he had big goals to grow his handyman business and spend 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. “