Who is to blame when a self-driving car strikes and kills someone? That question animates Lauren Smiley’s feature about the first instance of such a tragedy. Smiley focuses on the aftermath, detailing the toll that the incident took on the Uber driver — or, rather, “operator” — behind the wheel of the car, and how powerful interests shaped her fate:

For years, researchers and self-driving advocates had anxiously prognosticated about how the public and the legal system would react to the first pedestrian death caused by a self-driving car.

The crash in Tempe ripped those musings into reality — forcing police, prosecutors, Uber, and Vasquez into roles both unwanted and unprecedented in a matter of seconds. At the scene that night, Vasquez stood at the center of a tragedy and a conundrum. She couldn’t yet fathom the part she was about to play in sorting out where the duties of companies and states and engineers end, and the mandate of the person inside the car begins.

“I’m sick over what happened,” Vasquez confided to the police as her mind spun in the hours after the crash. She said she felt awful for the victim’s family. She also grieved the event in a different way — as a loyal foot soldier of the self-driving revolution. “Oh God, this is going to be a setback for the whole industry,” Vasquez told Loehr. “Which is not what I want.”

At the time, Vasquez was an Uber defender. She had come a long way to this job. Over the previous few years, she’d acquired a dizzying track record of doing hidden work for highly visible companies — moderating grisly posts on Facebook, she says; tweeting about Dancing With the Stars from ABC’s Twitter; policing social media for Wingstop and Walmart. But her position with Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group had offered new stability, and after years of turmoil as a transgender woman navigating a hostile society, she was careful not to jeopardize it. Vasquez had even removed the box braids of colorful yarn that had defined her look since she was young. At a new job, she had come to think, “the less attention I bring to myself, the better.” During her nine months of work as an operator, the viselike grip of everything she’d endured as a child and teen and adult had slackened just a bit. As she trudged into her forties, Vasquez had felt her life, finally, relaxing into a kind of equilibrium.

Now, as she and Loehr sat in a victim services van near the Tempe bridge after midnight, grappling with Herzberg’s death, the vise was tightening again. She found herself asking, “Do I need a lawyer?”