Editor’s Note: In the originally posted article, the information on Robert Schreiffer’s claim that he was clipped by a truck was incorrectly attributed to Roger Lytel. The information was obtained from the police report of the incident. The Daily Nexus regrets these errors
Former UCSB professor and Nobel Prize winner Robert Schrieffer could soon be facing an estimated eight months in jail for vehicular manslaughter as a judge prepares to give sentencing on the case in November.
Schrieffer allegedly crashed on Highway 101 near Santa Maria when his Mercedes hit a Toyota van at over 100 miles per hour, killing Renato Catolos and injuring seven others on Sept. 24, 2004. Schrieffer was driving with a Florida license that had been suspended due to his accumulation of 18 points for various traffic violations within 18 months. He pled no contest to felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence in exchange for a plea bargain on July 27 and is currently out of prison on bail. Roger Lytel, Schrieffer’s attorney, said he will receive sentencing Nov. 7.
Initially, Schrieffer claimed he had been clipped by a truck, but later admitted that he had lied and said that he had actually fallen asleep at the wheel, in information obtained from a police report.
“He woke up after the accident,” Lytel said. “When he fell asleep his foot must have pressed on the pedal and he accelerated. He had [his car] on cruise control and that’s the only possible thing he can think of.”
Daniel Hone, the UCSB Institute for Theoretical Physics deputy director, said he did not expect such behavior from his fellow colleague and friend.
“We’re very old friends, I’ve known him since 1959,” Hone said. “We’ve been friends for 46 years and colleagues much of that time. He is a generous and thoughtful person. It’s not like him to be reckless or thoughtless about other people. To have something like this happen to someone you know well and regard highly is terrible. What happened is a terrible tragedy for all involved.” Before he was released on bail, Schrieffer was ordered to spend 90 days in jail, after Judge Jim Herman ordered a court evaluation, Lytel said.
“He was sent to Wasco [State Prison] … for a study and report of his condition to be given to the judge,” Lytel said. “I think that he’ll be sentenced to eight months in county jail and put on probation for five years, which is the original plea agreement.”
Lytel said Schrieffer feels deep remorse for his actions.
“He doesn’t plan on ever driving again,” Lytel said. “This has been difficult on Dr. Schrieffer’s physical health and has weighed heavily on him.” According to the Nobel Prize website, Schrieffer received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1972 for his work on the theory of superconductivity. In his Nobel Prize lecture, Schrieffer described superconductivity as a phenomenon wherein electricity flows through alloys with almost no resistance at temperatures near absolute zero.
Schrieffer began his career at UCSB as a professor in 1980 and rose to the position of chancellor-professor in 1984. He served as the director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara from 1984 until 1989, leaving UCSB in 1992 to become the chief scientist of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee at Florida State University.