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Walnut Creek Man Enters Not Guilty Plea to Vehicular Manslaughter Charges

John Peder Harris, 32, of Walnut Creek is facing two charges of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence for a fatal collision that happened in Danville on Nov. 7.

Until John Peder Harris was asked how he plead, he stood mostly silent, completely still, with his hands folded Wednesday during his arraignment in front of Judge Clare Maier at Contra Costa County's Superior Court in Martinez.

"Not guilty," he said, barely audible.

Harris, 32, of Walnut Creek, is being charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence for his role in a in Danville that left a mother and daughter dead.

The collision took place at Sycamore Valley Road and Brookside Drive.

According to Danville Police, Harris was driving a Toyota 4-Runner, traveling westbound on Sycamore Valley Road. Authorities say Harris ran the red light at the intersection and struck a southbound Dodge Durango.

Elham Pirdavari, 51, of Danville, was driving the vehicle and her mother, Mahin Dowlati, 72, also of Danville, was in the passenger seat. Both women were killed in the accident. A memorial for the two victims is still set up at the northwest corner of the intersection.

Harris is due in Martinez's courthouse again on April 12 at 8:30 a.m. Contra Costa Deputy District Attorney Alison Chandler said that a trial date could be set at that time.

The court hearings follow a lengthy investigation by Danville Police, which resulted in , that the Walnut Creek man had a medical condition.

That medical condition, Chandler said, was a seizure disorder.

Due to the medical information in the transcripts and the evidence, the grand jury sealed the documents, Chandler said.

As a result, Harris' defense attorney has yet to see any of it, she said.

"(The defense) doesn't know what's (in the transcripts), doesn't know the evidence against him," she said.

Whether the seizure disorder had something to do with the collision is still in question. Chandler said there are three factors that lead to the Nov. 7 collision.

"The factors include running a red light, speeding and a seizure disorder," .

Chandler said Harris was going at least 62 mph when the cars collided. She added that Harris' license was valid and there were no restrictions placed on it.

Danville Police Chief Steve Simpkins said the department's investigation showed no extraneous factors, such as texting, cell phone use or alcohol use, were involved in the accident.

“We believe this accident was caused by a negligent decision to drive, which resulted in tragedy,” Simpkins said.

If convicted of these two charges, Harris could face up to seven years and four months in prison. Chandler said the counts could not be merged into each other and Harris would have to serve time for each charges individually.

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Bill Goodwin March 09, 2012 at 08:46 PM
The time of day this accident occurred was 4:20 PM, I can't help but think that sun might have been in the drivers eyes..?? I have driven this stretch of road for 25 years and I have always thought that "Someday there will be a terrible accident here due to sun in the Westbound drivers eyes"!! I'm not sure the defendant was speeding because I don't know when or if he started braking prior to the accident. .. I also know that trees often do obscure traffic signals/signs in Danville. Perhaps we need to spend more money trimming them -vs- purchasing new patrol cars?? In any case, signage is woefully inadequate on East and westbound streets in Danville with regard to warning drivers of sun obstructing views of traffic lights!! What a terrible tragedy for the family of the victims..!! Danville needs to take more responsibility for making it's streets safe for drivers! Would it kill them to add 5 seconds to the yellows on the most dangerous locations?? Oh yeah, and if you have some kind of disorder that might disable you while driving a vehicle, you need to not drive and put the rest of us at risk!! I recall a head on crash on the GGBridge where an old timer had some kind of seizure/attack and crossed into oncoming traffic!! (Killed a person!) Why aren't doctors mandated to report to the DMV a patient's severe conditions which should obviously preclude them from driving a vehicle??

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