IDABEL, Okla. — An Idabel, Okla. police officer — reeling from the death of his friend and fellow officer — is trying to beef up his state’s negligent homicide laws.
Gainesville native Derrick Taylor wrote a bill that would add gross negligent homicide to Oklahoma’s criminal statutes after a June 28 traffic accident killed Officer Matt Robbins.
Robbins, 40, was headed home on his motorcycle after a shift at the Idabel Police Department when motorist Jimmy Lee Eastman ran him off the highway outside Idabel. Robbins died of massive injuries at the scene.
Eastman was not drunk or using drugs at the time of the incident and was eventually charged with negligent homicide, a misdemeanor offense.
Robbins’ death shattered Taylor — a 13-year police veteran — who was the last person to talk to Robbins.
He said he and his friend worked together the night of the accident. Robbins was doing paperwork as he waited for a thunderstorm to pass. Around 9 p.m., Robbins, a married father of four who had recently become a grandfather, decided to leave.
Taylor said he warned Robbins about dangerous driving conditions.
“He was driving his motorcycle to work to save money on gas and I told him ‘Don’t go down that road,’” Taylor said, referring to Oklahoma State Highway 37 — a two lane thoroughfare that runs from the Texas border to Idabel and ends at the US-70 bypass.
Tragically, Robbins didn’t take his friend’s advice.
Less than a half-mile outside Idabel city limits, Eastman attempted to pass another vehicle and met Robbins head-on.
“Once Mr. Eastman saw Matt, they both tried to veer away,” Taylor said. “Matt tried to take evasive maneuvers but he crashed and died of catastrophic injuries. I told him not to go down that road and within five minutes he was dead.”
Eastman reportedly told investigators he was late for work.
Since his toxicology report came back clean, McCurtain County district attorney Mark Matloff charged Eastman with the only applicable offense — negligent homicide — a misdemeanor which carries penalties of up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
Taylor said Robbins’ death and Eastman’s comparatively light charge gnawed at him. To make matters worse, Eastman failed to show up for his court hearing in McCurtain County.
Although he’s wanted in Oklahoma on the negligent homicide charge and on an additional charge for dodging his court appearance, Taylor said Eastman can avoid arrest and prosecution by staying out of Oklahoma.
“If he gets stopped by state troopers or city police, his misdemeanor will show up, but they won’t extradite him to Oklahoma,” Taylor said. “The reason is that misdemeanor crimes are nonextradictable.”
Taylor thinks the Oklahoma law should be changed.
“The word I use for (Oklahoma negligent homicide laws) is ‘antiquated,’” he said. “This is a common sense law that should’ve been changed years ago. When it comes down to it, I think any time you take someone’s life that should be a felony. (Negligent homicide) should be made a felony. It is a felony in Texas.”
Taylor said he never thought he’d be writing legislation but felt he had no choice.
“I never thought this mantle would fall on me,” he said. “But I thought, if nobody else is going to see this and do this, you know, it’s up to me.”
The veteran police officer drew on what he already knew about criminal law and what he learned in his Gainesville High School government classes to write the bill. He also searched online sources.
“I found my way onto the Princeton University website,” Taylor said. “The site has a model congress where they teach you how to write and submit a bill. I found some bill documents and that’s how I learned the correct format. Then I worded it the way I felt like it needed to be worded.”
Taylor called the bill the Matt Robbins Act. He forwarded the document to Oklahoma State Senator Jerry Ellis.
“Senator Ellis is known to be a friend to law enforcement,” Taylor said. “He helped get a law upgrading assault and battery on a police officer to a felony.”
Ellis supported Taylor’s effort and forwarded the bill to the state’s Public Safety Committee for review.
Taylor said he’s still waiting for word from the state senate.
In the meantime, Taylor launched a media campaign to promote the new law.
Lobbyists have expressed support for the measure, and Taylor is hopeful the Matt Robbins Act will eventually become law. But he’s also aware the new law won’t effect Eastman.
“The law won’t be grandfathered in,” Taylor said.
He said the best he can hope for is that Eastman will return to Oklahoma to face his charges.
“It would be okay with me if Mr. Eastman would come to Oklahoma to have his day in court and serve his up to one year in the county jail,” he said. “I would be okay with that.”
Taylor said his friend’s death is an irrevocable loss but he believes something positive can come from it.
“This will not help Matt Robbins but it can comfort his family and let them know that something good came for the citizens of Oklahoma,” Taylor said.
For more information, visit the Matt Robbins Act page on Facebook.