Newark, CA: Riti Lomesh, a young Indian American woman began a 21-day hunger strike on Mar. 23 in the lobby of the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office in the state of California to protest the lenient treatment accorded to the driver of a pickup truck which killed her brother last year when it overturned in Niles Canyon, near Fremont, Calif. “The district attorney has been very sympathetic to the driver. There has been a lot of victim-blaming for my brother,” Riti Lomesh told the media on the seventh day of her hunger strike. “I find it very disheartening,” said the 23-year-old native of Newark, Calif.
According to reports, on the evening of Apr. 20, 2015, Karan Lomesh, 19 at the time of his death, and another minor who is not being named, got into the open flatbed of Austin Daniel Strong’s Mazda 1994 pick-up truck. The California Highway Patrol reported that Strong was driving about 50 miles per hour on Palomares Road, which leads up to the canyon. Strong, 19 at the time, was unable to negotiate a curve, according to CHP reports, and his truck flew off the roadway and landed in a trench about 30 feet below.
Karan Lomesh and the other rider were ejected from the flatbed. Riti Lomesh said the truck landed on top of her brother, crushing him to death. Karan Lomesh was pronounced dead at the scene. Two other riders were taken into emergency care; one – the other flatbed rider – was treated for moderate injuries, while the other was treated for minor injuries. Strong declined medical treatment.
Riti Lomesh claimed that Strong ignored speed limit signs of 25 mph and was driving erratically. The CHP reported that drugs or alcohol were not involved in the incident. Teresa Drenick, a spokeswoman for the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, told the media that Strong pleaded no contest to one felony count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. He will be sentenced Apr. 12, said Drenick, who declined to comment on the length of sentence Strong will receive.
In California, felony vehicular manslaughter charge carries a sentence of four to six years in state prison, plus a $10,000 fine. Riti Lomesh is reported to have told the media that she was concerned that Strong might receive less than one year for an incident that caused the death of her brother. She expressed concern that Strong’s driver’s license had not been suspended following the deadly accident and alleged that the DA’s office has been treating the case in a “boys will be boys” manner.
In the week that she has been protesting in the lobby, Lomesh said no one from the DA’s office has reached out to her. Riti Lomesh described her brother as “a very kind, compassionate human being,” who was passionate about science, and volunteered with a science-learning program for younger children. “My family and I are utterly dismayed by the lack of justice for my brother,” said Lomesh.