California Highway Officer Allegedly Speeds Through Intersection Without Lights, And Kills Two Pedestrians . . . Police Later Arrest Four Relatives Of The Victims

We have previously written (here and here and here and here) about unnecessary fatalities produced by high-speed chases by police officers — an on-going controversy over the justification for such chases. The latest such controversy occurred in California where Deputy John Swearengin drove through an intersection without his lights on and hit and killed Daniel Hiler, 24, and Chrystal Clevenger, 30. They were pushing a small motorbike across the interaction when hit by Swearengin. He was responding to a call about a stolen vehicle. The police ended up arresting relatives of the deceased who were outraged by the accident.

Family members spend the weekend washing cars to raise money for in Oildale, California for Hiler’s fiancée and two children.

What is interesting is that Sheriff Donny Youngblood said Swearengin “was responding to a report of a stolen vehicle with a suspect still at the scene” when he struck his victims. That would indicate that the suspect was already in custody or at least this was not a chase situation — increasing concerns over the negligence of the officer in the circumstance. One countervailing fact alleged is that the two victims were outside of the crosswalk. That alone, however, does not necessarily bar recovery. Even in a contributory negligence jurisdiction where one percent of negligence by the plaintiff can bar recovery, there are claims of “last clear chance” for inattentive or helpless individuals. Most states, like California, are comparative negligence jurisdictions. In pure comparative states, the negligence of the victims are simply applied against the award to reduce liability. In a modified comparative state, the plaintiffs must be less than 50 percent at fault to recover. California is a pure comparative negligence state.

The police ultimately arrested four relatives of the victims after the police say they got into an “altercation” with California Highway Patrol officers at the scene.

The matter is under criminal investigation, but there would appear grounds for possible civil litigation. A wrongful death action does not have to be filed for at least a year and it is sometime good to see how the criminal investigation will come out. The lack of lights may be key as well as the speed. Witnesses have already claimed that there were no lights and forensics should confirm the likely speed as well as the possible dash cam information.

Investigations have shown
police officers in other jurisdictions routinely running red lights.

I do not know the circumstances of the arrest of the relatives, though considerable slack should be given to grieving family members. However, the circumstances of the two fatalities merit both criminal and civil scrutiny.

Source: KGET as first seen on Reddit.

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43 thoughts on “California Highway Officer Allegedly Speeds Through Intersection Without Lights, And Kills Two Pedestrians . . . Police Later Arrest Four Relatives Of The Victims”

  1. The officer has rejected a plea deal, so this is going to trial March 2014:

    Prosecutors offered Deputy John Swearengin a two-year prison sentence in exchange for pleading no contest to the two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence he’s charged with. Swearengin faces a maximum of seven years in prison if found guilty….

    A California Highway Patrol report says Swearengin, 36, was driving 80.2 mph just before hitting Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley as they were crossing Norris Road near Diane Drive about 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16, 2011. The posted speed limit is 45 mph.

    Swearengin’s lights and sirens were not on at the time of the crash, according to the report, and he applied his brakes about a half second before impact. His speed was about 60 mph when he hit the two.

    The report says Swearengin told investigators he took his eyes off the road just before the crash when he looked down to grab his radio for permission to go Code 3 — drive with his emergency lights and siren on. He’d been fumbling for the radio because a large drink in his cup holder was in the way.

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