Wrongful death case involving speeding deputy continues after plea deal in criminal case

April 26, 2017 | 9:37 am


A former Kern County Sheriff’s deputy has pleaded “no contest” in connection with a crash that killed a 72-year-old Oildale woman in 2014, a crash also connected to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of her family.

Nicholas Clerico will receive three years probation, must pay a $570 fine and serve 240 hours of community service after pleading no contest on April 25 to a misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of Nancy Joyce Garrett, who was killed when Clerico struck and killed her in his speeding patrol car. The filing came after the California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) report found Deputy Clerico at fault in the September 2014 crash, at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark, who is representing Garrett’s family in the case, commented to local media on Clerico’s plea and the ongoing wrongful death civil lawsuit.

“In talking with the family, they’re glad that (Clerico) has finally accepted some responsibility for what he did,” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian, adding that the family, however, has not received closure, and continues to mourn Garrett’s loss. “This was no accident. This was totally preventable.”

Family members have described Nancy as a friendly neighbor, a caregiver for our community, an active blogger, and the pillar of her family. She was a drug and alcohol counselor for the Kern County Mental Health Department, and also volunteered her time as a substance abuse counselor for STEPS, a local nonprofit that provides DUI awareness services. At the time of the crash, she was returning home from a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game she attended with her family and friends.

Garrett’s family is seeking changes within the sheriff’s department in how deputies are trained to drive. Her death, unfortunately, is not the only one related to driving by Kern County Sheriff’s deputies.

  • Larry Maharrey was killed when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Marvin Gomez abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive in Oildale directly into Maharrey’s motorcycle. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash. That wrongful death case represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, is ongoing.
  • Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley were killed in December 2011 when Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed them as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. Chain | Cohn | Stiles settled that case in March 2014 for $8.8 million.

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PLEA DEAL MEDIA COVERAGE

PAST CASE MEDIA COVERAGE

Week of firm philanthropy includes fundraisers for disabled residents, alumni scholarships, families of fallen officers

October 21, 2015 | 8:59 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles this month is supporting several causes throughout Kern County including an event that raises funds to provide programs and services to local children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, another fundraiser to assist families of fallen officers throughout Kern County, and an event to provide scholarships to Cal State Bakersfield students.

Learn more about these causes, and others supported by the Bakersfield-based law firm, below:

CHiPs FOR TIPS

California Highway Patrol will host its sixth “Tips for CHiPs” luncheon fundraiser on Wednesday, Oct. 21, at Outback Steakhouse in Bakersfield, and Chain | Cohn | Stiles is serving as a sponsor.

The fundraiser benefits the California Association of Highway Patrolmen Widows and Orphans Trust Fund, which helps families whose loved ones are killed in or off the line of duty. The fund is organized by the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, a nonprofit that represents about 11,000 active and retired CHP officers, and is dedicated to assisting families of CHP officers.

At the luncheon, CHP officers serve diners and wait on tables. For $25, diners can choose from a menu of steak, chicken or salmon with all the trimmings. Side dishes include bread, salad, vegetables, mash potatoes, and, of course, the restaurant’s famous Bloomin’ Onion. Dessert is also included.

In six years, the organization has raised nearly $100,000 to assist local families, making Kern County’s event the single highest fundraising event for the Widows and Orphans Fund in California, organizers say.

Tickets are $25, and can be purchased at the door starting at 11 a.m. For more information, visit the Tips for CHiPs Facebook page by clicking here.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles for years has supported CHP causes and programs. Many times, the Kern County attorneys represent CHP officers in workers’ compensation* and personal injury cases.

To see previous news coverage of the event, click here.

NEW ADVANCES FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

New Advances for People with Disabilities (NAPD) is hosting its 21st annual Friends of NAPD “Walter H. Cochneuer Memorial,” golf tournament on Friday, Oct. 23, at Buena Vista Golf Course.

The local nonprofit provides critical services every day to more than 500 children and adults in Kern County with intellectual and developmental disabilities to empower them to live more productive, rewarding and independent lives. The golf tournament helps make sure these services continue to be provided to these people in need.

To join Chain | Cohn | Stiles in getting involved, call 661-395-1361. For more information on NAPD, call 661-327-8531 or visit the web page here.

CSU BAKERSFIELD ALUMNI ASSOCIATION ‘PARTY IN THE PARK’

Cal State Bakersfield’s Alumni Association will host its annual “Party in the Park” on Friday evening, Oct. 23, at the CSUB Alumni Park.

Funds raised from the event go toward alumni scholarships, membership outreach, and mentoring opportunities for current CSUB students.

Two Chain | Cohn | Stiles associates are alumni of CSUB:

  • Chad Boyles earned his bachelor’s degree from CSUB before attending law school at Whittier Law School.
  • Beatriz Trejo earned her bachelor’s degree as well from CSUB before getting her master’s degree from Cal State Northridge and law degree from University of Akron School of Law.

For more information on the event, go to www.csub.edu/partyinthepark.

MORE OCTOBER COMMUNITY SERVICES

Here are a few other October events and causes supported by Chain | Cohn | Stiles. To see a list of organizations supported in recent years by the law firm, click here.

  • Nathan’s Army 5K, held Oct. 3, raises money to help cure pediatric brain tumors.
  • For the entire month of October, Chain | Cohn | Stiles lights at its new building in downtown Bakersfield will be shining pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. See a picture here.
  • The law firm served as a sponsor for the 99 Music Fest and the Supermoto Invitational Jump Start Classic.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles continues fight to end drunk driving in Kern County with MADD

September 2, 2015 | 3:13 pm


California Highway Patrol gave nearly 2,200 citations for driving under the influence in Bakersfield in 2014. CHP officers in Kern County in the same year also noted 312 collisions, 422 injuries, and 14 fatalities – all involving DUI.

They are statistics, arrests and tragedies that are 100 percent preventable – choices were made by people to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. That decision affected families and communities.

In an effort to raise awareness in our own community, raise funds to stop drunken driving and underage drinking locally, and provide support to victims and survivors of drunk driving crashes, the Kern County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving will host its second Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash 5K at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19, at Park at River Walk, 11200 Stockdale Highway in Bakersfield.

For the second year, the Bakersfield personal injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is supporting MADD and the event, serving as sponsor and key partner in organizing the event. Earlier this year, Chain | Cohn | Stiles marketing director Jorge Barrientos was named MADD California’s volunteer of the year for his work with MADD Kern County.

This second annual event follows the first-ever Bakersfield Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash in which 700 people attended and raised more than $46,000 to fight against drunk driving locally. That event followed a tragic 2013 on Kern’s roadways in which more than 30 deaths and 600 injuries occurred at the hands of drunken drivers.

“The fight is not over,” said Carla Pearson, victim advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County. “People are still making the choice to get behind the wheel after drinking, putting your life and their own life at risk. These are not accidents – they are 100 percent preventable crashes.”

The event ceremony will start at 7:30 a.m. and the race and walk will kick off starting at 8 a.m. In attendance will be surviving victims of drunken driving crashes and their families, supporters, law enforcement officers with their vehicles, a Kern County Fire Department engine and giant flag, A Life Interrupted display vehicle, an activities area for kids, advocates, and other community members rallying and running for the cause.

For more information and to register to participate, go to www.walklikemadd/bakersfield.

SPONSORS

The event is supported by local law enforcement and prosecutors, as well as sponsoring local companies. Sponsors include:

Local media is also supporting the cause and helping raise awareness. Media sponsors include:

Several other local groups are assisting MADD Kern County with donations and other assistance. They include:

MEDIA COVERAGE

Several local media agencies have partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to raise awareness of the problems in Kern County, and support the Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash 5K. Stay tuned to this section for coverage of the event.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit for family of woman killed in crash with Sheriff’s deputy

July 15, 2015 | 11:13 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of 72-year-old Nancy Joyce Garrett, who was killed when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office patrol car operated by Deputy Nicholas Clerico struck and killed her.

The filing of the lawsuit is on the heels of the release of the California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) report regarding the crash that occurred on Sept. 28, 2014, at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale. The report finds Deputy Clerico at fault in the crash, and the CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy.

Nancy was a friendly neighbor, a caregiver for our community, an active blogger, and the pillar of her family. She was a drug and alcohol counselor for the Kern County Mental Health Department, and also volunteered her time as a substance abuse counselor for STEPS, a local nonprofit that provides DUI awareness services. At the time of the crash, she was returning home from a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game she attended with her family and friends.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark was joined by Garrett’s grown children, Mark McGowan and Deborah Blanco, for press conference on July 9 to discuss the case, the 230-page MAIT report, and the lawsuit.

To view media coverage of the crash involving Garrett and Clerico and Chain | Cohn | Stiles representation of Garrett’s family, click here. To see media coverage following the press conference and filing of the lawsuit, view them below.

The unveiling of the MAIT report, the filing of the lawsuit by Chain | Cohn | Stiles and subsequent media coverage of the wrongful death case also comes in the midst of yet another tragic crash involving a Kern Count Sheriff’s deputy.

A 59-year-old motorcyclist Bakersfield man riding a motorcycle died Tuesday evening in Oildale when his motorcycle struck a patrol car driven by a deputy responding to an emergency call, according to local media reports. The crash is under investigation.

The crashes and lawsuits also come just a few years following another high-profile case represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles involving a fatal crash with a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy.

On Dec. 16, 2011, Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed Daniel Hiler, 24, and Chrystal Jolley, 30, as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. Chain | Cohn | Stiles sued the County of Kern on behalf of the families, and settled last year for $8.8 million.

In the lawsuit related to Nancy Garrett, her family and attorneys are asking for changes within the sheriff’s department in how deputies are trained properly throughout Bakersfield and other communities across Kern County.

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PRESS CONFERENCE MEDIA COVERAGE

LAWSUIT MEDIA COVERAGE

Bakersfield crashes involving law enforcement vehicles share similar stories

May 4, 2015 | 10:31 am


Late last week, a family of four was driving in southwest Bakersfield when a Bakersfield Police officer driving his cruiser at freeway speeds crashed into them head-on, family members told Eyewitness News.

The officer, they said, did not have his lights or sirens on. The officer suffered minor to moderate injuries while the family members also were injured, and some were taken to the hospital. Fortunately, no one died in the crash.

Family members told Eyewitness News they were trying to turn left onto Wilson Road, yielding to oncoming traffic, when the patrol car swerved into them. Bakersfield Police Department said it’s continuing its investigation.

The case is eerily familiar to two recent cases handled by the Bakersfield-based law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles in which law enforcement officers driving at unsafe speeds have crashed with local residents. Unfortunately in those cases, fatalities occurred.

  • Last year, Chain | Cohn | Stiles settled a wrongful death lawsuit between the County of Kern and the families of two people killed by a speeding Kern County Sheriff’s deputy. That $8.8 million settlement is believed to be record-breaking for an automobile accident case against the County of Kern. Chain | Cohn | Stiles managing partner David Cohn represented Daniel Hiler’s fiancee and two young sons. The 24-year-old was struck and killed along with Chrystal Jolley, 30, in late 2011 by Kern County Sherriff’s Deputy John Swearengin. Both were crossing a road in Oildale when Swearengin’s patrol vehicle struck and killed them. Swearengin was driving 84 mph in a 45 mph zone before hitting Hiler and Jolley. He was responding to a call of a stolen vehicle; however, his emergency lights and sirens were not turned on. Law enforcement officers can travel in excess of the posted speed limit so long as their forward facing overhead lights are activated to warn others that they are responding to an emergency, but Swearengin didn’t do that, Cohn said. In fact, the deputy violated several policies and procedures. The Hiler family received $4.8 million from the settlement.
  • And in September last year, 72-year-old Nancy Joyce Garrett was driving her vehicle at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale when she was struck and killed by a Kern County Sheriff’s Department patrol vehicle. She had just returned to Bakersfield from a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game she attended with her family and friends. The California Highway Patrol’s MAIT Team is still conducting an investigation of the collision.

“Under nearly every circumstance, law enforcement officers driving department vehicles are bound to the same rules of the road as everyday citizens unless they’re operating with lights or sirens when it’s necessary,” said Matt Clark, attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “That certainly doesn’t appear to be what happened in this recent case.”

If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident at the fault of someone else, contact Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Celebrate the holidays without drinking and driving

December 9, 2014 | 9:28 am


The holidays, traveling and parties go hand in hand. But it’s important not to mix the three, unless you have a sober driver.

If you‘re celebrating with alcohol this holiday season, the Bakersfield personal injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, along with Kern County law enforcement, reminds you to drive sober, or get pulled over.

Due to the increase locally in drunken driving-related crashes and fatalities, the Bakersfield Police Department will be out in full force from Dec. 12 to Jan. 5 actively searching for impaired drivers. The DUI task force also plans to place two DUI-driver‘s license checkpoints and eight local roving DUI Saturation Patrols, the department reported.

California Highway Patrol, too, will be out in full force. The Bakersfield-area CHP will deploy officers on enhanced enforcement on State Routes 43, 46, 58, 65, 99, 119, 155, 178, 184, 204 and 223, and jurisdictional unincorporated roadways in Kern County, the agency reported.

During the holiday season in 2012, 40 percent of the drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes had at least one prior DUI on their record, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. During that same holiday period, 37 percent of the 21 to 24-year old drivers in fatal crashes were impaired. Almost one out of six drivers under the age of 21 in those fatal crashes was also drunk, even though they were too young to legally buy or consume alcohol.

Besides causing injury and harm to others on the harm, the consequences of drinking and driving include jail time, fines, loss of your driver’s license, towing fees, and other DUI expenses totaling $10,000 on average, not to mention humiliation drivers face among your family, friends and workplace.

The best way to avoid drinking and driving is to remain sober. But if you will celebrate with a few drinks, here are a few things you can do to stay safe:

  • When you know you’ll be drinking, leave your keys at home or give them to someone else.
  • Designate a sober driver ahead of time, or call a friend or family member.
  • Use public transportation or call a taxi, Uber or Lyft.
  • And if you see a drunk driver on the road, call 9-1-1. You could save a life.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County, also reminds motorists that the most dangerous days of the year on our nation’s roadways are between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. This season, MADD is asking drivers to Tie One On For Safety, which you can read about by clicking here.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is deeply involved with the Kern County chapter of MADD, sponsoring and organizing the second “Walk/Run Like MADD” 5K in Bakersfield on Sept. 19, 2015, at the Park at River Walk. The event is aimed to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, and to raise funds for victims of DUI crashes. Learn more about the “Walk Like MADD” event by clicking here.

If you are involved in a car accident this holiday season due to the fault of a DUI-driver or another motorist, call the car accident lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000. You can also visit our specialized Car Accident website by clicking here for more information.

5th ‘Tips for CHiPs’ fundraiser to support families of fallen CHP officers

September 26, 2014 | 9:16 am


California Highway Patrol will host its fifth “Tips for CHiPs” luncheon fundraiser on Wednesday, Oct. 8, at Outback Steahouse in Bakersfield, and the personal injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is joining the cause as a sponsor.

The fundraiser supports the California Association of Highway Patrolmen Widows and Orphans Trust Fund, which goes toward to families when a loved one is killed in or off the line of duty. The fundraiser began in 2010 after the death of beloved CHP officer Mark Ehly.

Last year’s Tips for CHiPs raised close to $20,000, according to The Bakersfield Californian. In all, more than $70,000 has been donated by our community towards the Widows and Orphans Trust Fund.

“The support we have received for the last four years has been overwhelming and very much appreciated,” this year’s Tips for CHiPs flier states.

KERO Channel 23 last year highlighted the family of 35-year-old Curtis Michael Friebel last year, who lost his battle with colon cancer in August 2013. He worked for the CHP for more than 12 years, and left behind three children to raise. His wife told the news station that the support had been crucial for her.

“… A great burden has been lifted off me,” she told KERO Channel 23.

You can join the Bakersfield personal injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles this year to surpass that total. For $25, diners can chose from a menu of steak, chicken or salmon served with bread, bloomin’ onion, salad, vegetables, mashed potatoes and dessert. The lunch will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles for years have supported CHP causes and programs. Many times, the Kern County attorneys represent CHP officers in workers’ compensation*, car accident and personal injury cases.

To join Chain | Cohn | Stiles as a sponsor, or for more information on the event, call Paul Yanez at 661-205-2980 or Shannon Ehly at 661-428-0335.

The trust fund is administered by the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, a nonprofit that represents about 11,000 active and retired California Highway Patrol officers. The group is dedicated to assisting families of CHP officers.

For pictures and videos from recent years’ events, see the media coverage below:

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* NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the values of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.