Chain | Cohn | Stiles, local authorities focus on school bus safety

September 26, 2018 | 8:18 am


Each school day, school buses carry with them a load of treasure — our children. It’s important for all of on the roadways to make sure we protect them.

That’s why Chain | Cohn | Stiles, along with local and state agencies and community partners throughout Kern County, are urging drivers to be extra careful around school buses. In fact, locally the California Highway Patrol recently conducted an “enhanced enforcement operation” focusing on vehicles illegally passing school buses to improve pedestrian safety. Officers targeted drivers who failed to stop for a school bus with its flashing red lights activated and stop arm extended. CHP officers rode as passengers on the school buses.

When a school bus flashes red lights, the law (California Vehicle Code 22454) requires motorists to stop from either direction until the children are safely across the street and the lights stop flashing. If you fail to stop, you may be fined up to $1,000, and your driving privilege could be suspended for one year. Yellow flashing lights on a school bus warn a driver to slow down and prepare to stop. If the school bus is on the other side of a divided or multi-lane highway (two or more lanes in each direction), you do not need to stop.

In Bakersfield, officers handed out four citations, two warnings, and educated hundreds of motorists, parents, and students on the importance of school bus pedestrian safety, according to news reports. Funding for this program was provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

And in Bakersfield and Kern County, we should all be more careful around pedestrians. Last year, 230 pedestrians were hit by cars in Bakersfield, according to Bakersfield Police Department. Police say walkers and drivers share the blame.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles and local authorities share the following tips to make sure everyone gets home safe:

DRIVERS

  • When school bus red lights are flashing, there is no passing. Children are either entering or exiting the school bus when the red lights are flashing. You must stop from either direction until the children have safely crossed the street and the lights stop flashing.
  • Yellow flashing lights on a school bus warn you to slow down and prepare to stop.
  • Be alert and don’t be distracted when children are standing at a school bus stop. Children are often unpredictable and may dart out in front of traffic, not recognizing traffic hazards or risk.
  • Slow down and use extra caution when pedestrians are present – especially in school zones, and before and after school.

BUS PASSENGERS / CHILDREN

  • Arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes early and stand 10 feet away from the road.
  • Do not let your child play running games, or push, or shove at the bus stop.
  • If your child drops something near the bus, warn them to never, ever, pick it up. Instead, your child should tell the bus driver and wait for assistance to pick-up the dropped object.  If a child bends over to pick up a dropped object, they might not be seen by the bus driver and could be hurt.
  • Remind children to look to the right before they step off the bus. Drivers sometimes try to pass buses on the right.
  • If children must cross the street to get to the bus, remind them to wait for the bus driver to signal it is safe to cross. Do not get on or off the school bus until the bus driver says it is safe to do so.  If you miss the bus, do not run after it.
  • When walking, practice good pedestrian behavior and walk on the sidewalk, if there is one. If there is no sidewalk, walk single file, facing traffic, and stay on the shoulder as far off the road as possible.
  • Before crossing the street: Stop, look left, right and then left again. Cross at corners, crosswalks, or intersections wherever possible. This is where drivers expect to see pedestrians.

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If you or someone you know is injured in a school bus accident or as a pedestrian, please call the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Record numbers to hit the road for Memorial Day weekend, nation’s deadliest travel holiday. Here’s how to stay safe.

May 23, 2018 | 8:51 am


Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, and Americans will kick off the season by hitting the roads over the weekend in near-record numbers.

In fact, according to AAA, more than 41.5 million people in the United States will travel this Memorial Day weekend, which is 5 percent more than last year and the most in more than a dozen years, USA Today reports.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is joining safety advocates, including MADD Kern County and California Highway Patrol, to remind drivers to practice safe driving habits this Memorial Day, which also happens to be the deadliest travel holiday of the year.

And safe driving habits mean driving sober, driving with proper safety equipment, including seat belts and car seats, and focusing on the roads and only on the roads.

“Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor our nation’s heroes who sacrificed their lives for the safety of our country, and ultimately, for all Americans,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “You can honor them by making sure your holiday, and entire summer, is as safe as possible.”

MADD KERN COUNTY

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County, for years in the name of making our streets as safe as possible. This Memorial Day weekend, MADD Kern County is bringing attention to the increase in drunk driving crashes during the weekend.

In 2016, drunk driving claimed 160 people during the Memorial Day holiday weekend. If your celebrations include alcohol, plan ahead and make sure to use taxis, public transportation, rideshare services or call a non-drinking friend. Remember, drunk driving deaths are 100 percent preventable, 100 percent of the time.

MAXIMUM ENFORCEMENT

Kern County’s branches of the California Highway Patrol will be conducting a “maximum enforcement period” during the Memorial Day weekend, where the aim is to educate motorists and enforce traffic safety laws throughout the state to ensure a safe holiday.

Officers will also be watching carefully for those violating seat belt laws, those who are driving distracted, and also for those who are impaired by drugs or alcohol.

About 70 percent of the vehicle occupants who died in CHP jurisdiction in the 2016 and 2017 Memorial Day weekends were not wearing seat belts, according to the department. A total of 45 people died statewide in Memorial Day weekend collisions in 2017. During the same period, there were 921 arrests in California for driving under the influence in 2017.

CHP is also reminding motorists to protect child passengers by placing them in age-appropriate restraint devices, whether a safety seat or booster seat. The law requires that children under age 8 to ride in the back seat, and a child under age 2 is secured in a rear-facing child passenger safety seat.

CHP is taking part in the nationwide “Click It or Ticket” campaign led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that emphasizes seat belt use until June 3. On a national level, nearly half the passenger vehicle occupants killed in collisions in 2016 were not wearing seat belts, the administration reports.

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If you or someone your know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, please call the lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the website chainlaw.com to submit a contact form, or chat with a representative. 

Chain | Cohn | Stiles joins MADD to honor local officers, prosecutors fighting to end DUI crimes

June 15, 2017 | 8:27 am


Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Kern County recognized and honored local law enforcement officers and prosecutors on Wednesday, June 14, for their valiant efforts in helping stop DUI crimes.

Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles was proud to be a sponsor, supporter and organizer of the event.

In all, more than 70 officers from throughout Kern County agencies were awarded at the 2017 Kern County MADD Law Enforcement and Prosecutor Recognition ceremony, held at Hodel’s Country Dining in Bakersfield. Prosecutors from the Kern County District Attorney’s Office were also honored, with the highest awards going to the top prosecutor, top probation officer, and the top law enforcement officer.

“These local heroes are potentially helping save lives by removing DUI offenders from our streets,” said Carla Pearson, victim services specialist for MADD Kern County. “They deserve recognition for making our communities throughout Kern County safer.”

To view the names of all of the officers awarded, click here. Among the top award winners were:

  • Probation Department Award, Deputy Luis Gomez: While Deputy Probation Officer Luis Gomez does not conduct traffic stops to arrest DUI offenders, he does work hard at keeping the community safe by supervising felony probationers to ensure they are not consuming alcohol. He also works tirelessly to ensure these offenders remain in compliance with the orders of the court. Through funding provided by the Office of Transportation and Safety, Officer Gomez supervises 75 high-risk, felony and repeat DUI offenders. In 2016 alone, Officer Gomez conducted 947 home calls and 855 office conferences with these dangerous offenders. In 2016, he conducted 522 urinalysis tests by ETG device and 1,125 Breathalyzer tests. Officer Gomez has been swift in his responses to those who violate Court orders by arresting them or placing them on monitoring programs in an effort to reduce their alcohol consumption. Officer Gomez’ diligence in supervising these high-risk worst of the worst DUI offenders is commendable and has gone a long way to help keep our streets safer for the citizens of Kern County.
  • Top Prosecutor 187 Award, Kern County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Michael Yraceburn: Michael Yraceburn prosecuted the nation’s first successful murder conviction for driving while impaired by marijuana. That March 2014 crash, in which the suspect was driving close to 80 miles per hour before losing control, killed David Aggio on impact. The suspect was sentenced to 20 years to life.
  • Top Law Enforcement, Bakersfield Police Officer Louis James: Officer James was reassigned to the Bakersfield Police Department’s Traffic Section in July 2015. Since then, he has primarily worked the graveyard shift. As a result, he has been one of the most, if not the most, productive traffic officer in regards to DUI enforcement. Though he was assigned to the traffic section for only a year and a half, he maintained his aggressive DUI enforcement to make the citizens of Bakersfield safer. In 2015, He received an award from MADD California for his efforts, and in 2016 he arrested 247 DUI drivers. This was the most of all traffic units within the department and one of the highest in California.

Prosecutor’s Awards were also handed out by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, and were awarded to Kim Richardson, Garrett Rice and Brad Taconi.

The awards ceremony returned to Bakersfield for 2017 after the loss of federal grant funding and budget cuts prevented the 2016 awards luncheon from being hosted in Kern County. This year, several community sponsors, working with MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board, stepped up to make sure officers from all Kern County agencies were being honored for their work in fighting against DUI crimes.

The MADD Kern County Advisory Board includes Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark and marketing director Jorge Barrientos.

Sponsors for the awards luncheon included anonymous donors, Chevron, Kern Federal Credit Union, Bakersfield Police Officers Association, Greenlawn Mortuary, Raymond’s Trophy, Clifford & Bradford Insurance Agency, Sally Herald CPA, and Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Since 2009, our community has seen at least 4,000 DUI arrests made each year, with 4,056 DUI arrests in 2016, according to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office. That’s more than 11 DUI arrests per day. Sadly, many impaired drivers weren’t stopped in time, and instead caused major damage to innocent lives.

The awards luncheon is one of two MADD Kern County signature events aimed to bring awareness of the DUI epidemic in our community, and fight toward ending DUI crimes here. Bakersfield’s 2017 Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash — presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles — will be held on Saturday, Sept. 23, at Park at River Walk.

You, too, can be involved in the fight to end drunk and drugged driving locally. You can help by signing up as a walker, runner (5K or 10K), team captain, or volunteer. Parents: The event also features a kid’s “fun run,” where each child of walk and race participants gets a free superhero cape. You can even get involved if you aren’t able to attend by signing up as a “virtual walker,” or by asking a donation toward a participant or team who has been affected.

For more information on that event, go to walklikemadd.org/bakersfield.

— Alyssa Wood of Chain | Cohn | Stiles contributed to this report. 

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MEDIA COVERAGE

The wrongful death case of David Sal Silva

May 18, 2016 | 7:41 am


On the night of May 7, 2013, David Sal Silva fell asleep in front of a home in east Bakersfield, across from Kern Medical Center. Several law enforcement officers arrived on scene and proceeded to use unreasonable and excessive force in striking Silva with batons several times all over his body, while he screamed for his life and repeatedly begged the officers to stop.

After being repeatedly beaten, bitten and hog-tied, Silva stopped breathing. And shortly after midnight, Silva was taken to Kern Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

These events and those that followed after this night made international news, including the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of Silva’s family in 2013, to the settlement reached in May 2016.

Below is a chronological order of events and media coverage in the death and civil case of David Sal Silva.

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‘BEGGING FOR HELP’

Early reports from law enforcement officials claimed officers struggled with a man in his 30s for eight minutes in front of a home on the corner of Flower Street and Palm Drive in east Bakersfield. Officers used batons and a K-9 unit before officers noticed the man was struggling to breath, called an ambulance, which rushed him across the street to Kern Medical Center emergency room. He would die shortly after.

The man was David Sal Silva, 33, a father of four.

Local media soon after reported a total of seven Kern County Sheriff’s Office deputies, including a K-9, and two California Highway Patrol officers arrived to the scene. They struck Silva with batons, released the K-9 on him, took him to the ground, restrained him and handcuffed him.

Immediately, witnesses stepped forward and described the incident.

“I watched a man deliberately murdered in my face,” one man who did not want to be identified told KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News. “I see an officer and the K9 dog, with a man detained on the ground, and the man was screaming for help … They were just sitting on him. And the guys, they were holding him down and punching him, too … He wasn’t resisting. He was begging for help, and begging for his life.”

Besides witness statements, media also reported audio and video documented the beating.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATED

Surveillance video obtained by KERO-23 News after the beating death showed Silva being repeatedly beaten with a stick while more law enforcement officers arrive.

A 911 call, too, helped document the incident.

“There is a man laying on the floor and your police officers beat the (expletive) out of him and killed him,” the caller tells dispatchers. “I have it all on video camera. We videotaped the whole thing.”

“He was like a piece of meat,” the caller later told Los Angeles Times. “We were telling them: ‘He’s dead. You guys already killed him.'”

Details also emerged of how officers took witness cell phones that contained videos of officers beating Silva, hogtying him, lifting him and dropping him twice. Witnesses described how they were essentially harassed and held kept captive inside their own home by officers until they released their phones, without a search warrant being presented. Officers promised to return phones the next day, but were told when they inquired about their phones that the Sheriff’s Department was keeping the phone until the investigation was over.

At the same time, the Silva family reached out to and obtained the representation of Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“I have two grieving parents and one grieving brother who want to see the body of their son and brother,” David K. Cohn, managing partner of Chain | Cohn | Stiles told news media. “But we will get to the bottom of this and I ask the sheriff’s department, once again, what are you hiding?”

The public feared a cover up by law enforcement officials was in the making, media reported. Chain | Cohn | Stiles would plan to file a federal civil rights complaint on behalf of the family.

Meanwhile, Silva’s family mourned his death.

“I can’t believe this happened,” David’s father Sal Silva told The Bakersfield Californian at his vigil, sobbing while kneeling down and touching the blood stains left on the sidewalk from the incident. “My son was a family man who loved his kids and family and in the back of my mind I still hold on to the possibility that the body we haven’t seen, might not be my son.”

The beating death of David Silva brought back memories for many of the infamous Rodney King beating, in addition to other high-profile deaths of minorities at the hands of law enforcement. The coverage would continue for years.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

PHONES & THE FBI

Fears that police were attempting to cover up details of the beating death of David Silva grew as Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood revealed that video evidence expected to be found on one of two cell phones confiscated from witnesses was not present on the phone.

The phones were handed over to the Bakersfield Police Department for examination, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was also called upon for a “parallel investigation.”

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

PROTESTS & LOST TRUST 

The beating death of Silva at the hands of police, subsequent phone confiscation, missing videos and other civil rights violations resulted in protests throughout Kern County.

Protesters stood in front of the Kern County Superior Court and held signs that read, “protection of our rights” and “stop police brutality.”

“I believe in my heart that someone has to investigate this and find out why it happened and why it’s been happening, please, just give my brother justice,” Chris Silva, David Silva’s brother, told The Bakersfield Californian.

On May 20, 2013, attorneys for the witnesses who had their phones confiscated and returned by investigators released video footage that showed the final moments of Silva’s life as he screamed while officers held him down.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

‘ACCIDENTAL’ DEATH 

On May 23, 2013, Sheriff Donny Youngblood called the death of David Silva “accidental” due to heart disease, according to a department he leads, the Kern County Coroner’s Office. Youngblood also slammed media for sending “shockwaves all across the United States” in the case.

“They’re trying to say he died of natural causes,” David Cohn told The Bakersfield Californian. “Who would believe that?”

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

CLAIMS, LAWSUITS FILED

In June 2013, Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the Silva family filed wrongful death and federal civil rights claims claim against the nine officers involved in Silva’s death, Kern County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, Kern County, and the state of California.

The complaint sought damages on behalf of David Silva’s four young children, his significant other, his parents and his brother, for the loss of love, affection, society, service, comfort, support, right of support, expectations of future support and counseling, companionship, solace and mental support, as well as other benefits and assistance of David Silva.

“David Sal Silva was a loving young man who cared deeply for his family and his four young children,” David Cohn said in a statement to media. “On May 7, 2013, David died as a result of unreasonable and excessive force used by nine law enforcement officials, who repeatedly struck him with batons and hog-tied him despite his numerous cries for help. Those cries will forever be heard by his family, and in particular his four children, who will now have to grow up without their father. While this lawsuit will certainly not undo what happened, my hope is that it will serve as a catalyst for serious change amongst local law enforcement agencies. It is time that we put this longstanding ‘strike first, ask questions later’ culture to rest once and for all.”

A month later, local media described inconsistencies between information provided by Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood and information found in the Kern County Coroner’s autopsy report, including the use of the hogtie restraint. The tactic has been banned altogether by law enforcement agencies, including the Bakersfield Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department.

Cohn stated the manner by which Silva was restrained may have played a role in Silva’s death by causing “positional asphyxiation.”

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

NO CRIMINAL CHARGES

In April 2014, Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green announced that her office would not be seeking criminal charges against the law enforcement officers involved in the death of David Silva.

“This is the reason we need an independent advisory panel evaluating these types of cases,” David Cohn said in a statement at the time. “Kern County District Attorney’s Office personnel work with these agencies every day, and they’re the ones in charge of prosecuting cases for them. Apparently, the way it works in Kern County is that unless they catch the officers red-handed, nothing will happen. It appears that they look for ways not to prosecute.

“Given that we do not have an independent panel in place to investigate, that’s the reason we filed a lawsuit in this case on behalf of the Silva family. Through this lawsuit, we believe the truth will come out. We have the ability to question these officers under oath. We’ll be more thorough in this investigation than any investigation that the Kern County District Attorney’s Office has done thus far. We won’t just rely on the investigative reports prepared by the Sheriff’s office, which are self-serving, one-sided versions of the events leading up to David Silva’s tragic death.”

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY 

Dozens chanted for justice in downtown Bakersfield on the one-year anniversary of Silva’s death, including representatives from Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“We remain committed to obtaining justice on behalf of David and his entire family, especially his four children, who will be without a father for the rest of their lives,” attorney David Cohn said on the date. “The road to obtaining justice will be a difficult one; however, we are confident that in the end, the truth will prevail and justice will be done. This case is certainly about David Silva and about what happened to him, but it is also about much more than that. It is about changing the culture of local law enforcement in this community, and holding law enforcement officers who use unreasonable and excessive force accountable for their actions.”

Protests and rallies would continue throughout Kern County.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION 

In late October, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Civil Rights Division determined there was not sufficient evidence to sustain a federal criminal prosecution of officers involved in the death of David Sal Silva, which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and the investigation was closed.

“To maintain the public’s trust and fulfill the high obligations undertaken by all law enforcement, it is critical that we diligently evaluate such allegations,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. “We undertook a careful evaluation of the evidence in this case, and we appreciate the assistance we received, particularly from our partners in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I extend my condolences to the entire Silva family for the loss they suffered with the tragic passing of Mr. Silva.”

The Silva family now looked to the civil courts for justice.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

PROTESTS FOR CHANGE

In the months and several deaths at the hands of police throughout the United States — Michael Brown in Furguson, Miss. and Eric Garner in New York — sparked protests and riots nationwide. In Bakersfield, police shot unarmed Ramiro James Villegas (James De La Rosa) in November 2014, which helped advance the chants for more accountability locally. In Kern County, the Silva family led the charge.

“Police brutality is an issue here and we won’t let it go away,” Chris Silva said at a December 2014 rally.

In March 2015, hundreds of family members, friends and supporters of people who have lost loved ones in confrontations with local law enforcement took to the streets of Bakersfield in a march that revisited the scenes of some of the deaths, including the scene of the death of David Silva.

“I’m here to support the Silva family and all the other families who have lost loved ones because of mistakes made by the police,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Neil Gehlawat told The Bakersfield Californian. “We’re not saying all police officers are bad people,” Gehlawat said. “But on occasion, police officers cross the line, and when that happens it’s important the officer be held accountable so that it doesn’t happen again to another family.”

In July, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office announced it would be reviewing all officer-involved shootings resulting in injury or death, and all uses of force resulting in death, for all law enforcement agencies throughout Kern County. Protesters contended the DA’s office has already shown that it cannot provide truly independent oversight of the Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

‘AMERICA’S DEADLIEST POLICE’ 

In December 2015, The Guardian — a renowned British national daily newspaper that also covers issues in the United States —unveiled its five-part series that examines the use of deadly force, rough justice, sexual misconduct cases and other issues involving “America’s deadliest police” of Kern County.

“Police in Kern County, California, have killed more people per capita than in any other American county in 2015,” according to The Guardian’s report. “The Guardian examines how, with little oversight, officers here became the country’s most lethal.”

Among the cases highlighted by The Guardian was the death of David Sal Silva, and other Chain | Cohn | Stiles civil rights and wrongful death cases. The series featured how the brutal tactics of officers in Kern County have ended lives, cost the public millions, and prompted claims of a police force out of control.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

TRIAL 

In March 2016, a federal judge refused to dismiss most claims, including those involving allegations of excessive force and wrongful death, in the lawsuit filed against Kern County in the death of David Silva.

“This is a resounding victory for us because the judge ruled in our favor in almost all of the claims, both federal and state,” attorney Neil Gehlawat told The Bakersfield Californian. “We’re very pleased with the judge’s ruling in that respect, and believe his ruling is consistent with the evidence in the case.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles worked together on the civil case with the Law Offices of Dale Galipo, as a lead trial attorney. The trial was set to begin in U.S. District Court in Fresno on May 12, 2016.

MEDIA COVERAGE

 

SETTLEMENT

On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, a settlement was reached for $3.4 million.

“The settlement today, nearly three years to the date of Silva’s death, is a vindication of a three-year campaign by the Silva family for justice, which brought national and international media attention to police brutality in Bakersfield,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles said in a statement announcing the settlement.

Attorneys from Chain | Cohn | Stiles and Law Offices of Dale Galipo hosted a press conference for media on May 5, 2016, along with Silva’s family. You can watch the complete press conference here.

“This case is now over, and this settlement is a bittersweet end to a long journey to achieving justice,” said attorney Neil Gehlawat during the press conference. “It’s bitter in that David is not here with us, and he is not here today to be a father to his children, to be a brother, to be a son. But it’s sweet because we know that the money that we’ve obtained in this case is going to go a long way to helping David’s children secure a bright future.”

 

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files lawsuit in case of Tehachapi teenager killed in DUI hit-and-run

February 17, 2016 | 10:41 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the hit-and-run death of a pedestrian — a Tehachapi teenage girl — in which the driver was driving under the influence, according to California Highway Patrol reports.

Local media covered a press conference Wednesday morning hosted by Matthew C. Clark and Neil Gehlawat from the personal injury and workers’ compensation* law firm. They were joined by the mother and sister of Leslie Balderrama, who was killed in October last year.

Read the news release and click the media links to see full coverage of the press conference and criminal case.

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Bakersfield, Calif. – Leslie Elaine Balderrama was a freshman at Tehachapi High School who excelled in school and out of school, including on the basketball court and through various volunteer endeavors. Add her contagious smile and bright personality, and Leslie was in a league of her own, her family says.

On Oct. 10, 2015, Leslie was walking home from a friend’s house when she was suddenly struck by a pickup truck on the dirt right shoulder of State Route 202.  She eventually succumbed to her injuries, just 15 days shy of her 15th birthday.

The occupants of the truck – Issac Macias, 20, and passenger Ibrahim Essa Gomes, 19 – fled the scene of the crash without calling the police or summoning medical help.  Both Macias and Gomes were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash.  After the pickup collided with Leslie, Gomes got out of the pickup and looked at her, telling CHP officers later that “she didn’t look like she got that messed up,” despite her not moving. Macias never got out of the pickup.

Despite driving under the influence of alcohol, killing Balderrama, and fleeing the scene, Macias to this date has not been charged with a crime. Gomes, too, has not been charged.

On Wednesday, Chain | Cohn | Stiles will file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Leslie’s mother, Evelyn Denise Natividad, against Macias and Gomes, as well as Exelon Generation Company, LLC and First Solar, Inc., who employed Macias at the time of the collision and entrusted him with the pickup.

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During the press conference, attorney Matt Clark called the suspects in the crash “despicable” and said he has confidence that the Kern County District Attorney’s Office is working on filing criminal charges against the two.

“In my opinion, that is truly despicable conduct. They have every obligation to summon medical help,” Clark said of the hit-and-run under the influence that left Leslie dead. “I have every reason to believe charges are coming. In this type of case, there really needs to be an example set.”

Additionally, mother Denise Natividad spoke about her daughter, and her commitment to school, sports and her community.

“It’s hard every day I have to live without her.”

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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MEDIA COVERAGE (FATAL HIT-AND-RUN)

MEDIA COVERAGE (PRESS CONFERENCE / WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT)

MEDIA COVERAGE (SENTENCING)

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.org/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

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.

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.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney David Cohn comments on L.A. Times update of Silva wrongful death case

November 25, 2014 | 10:16 am


“This was a beat down,” Chris Silva told the Los Angeles Times in an article updating readers on his brother’s wrongful death case. “Seven deputies and two CHP officers failed at their jobs.”

The newspaper’s columnist Robin Abcarian provided an update last week on the infamous David Silva case, which is being represented by the Bakersfield personal injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

In the column — which you can read by clicking here — Abcarian outlines what happened on the night of May 7, 2013, when officers approached David Silva as he lay on the grass across the street from Kern County Medical Center in east Bakersfield.

When Silva woke up, officers tried to arrest him and released a police dog on him. Over 20 minutes, six more Kern County Sheriff’s Office deputies and two California Highway Patrol officers arrived. Silva was hit with batons, bitten dozens of times, hobbled with a hog-tie-like restraint and sat on by the officers, Abcarian described.

“He vomited, then stopped breathing,” Abcarian wrote. “He was pronounced dead at 12:44 a.m. on May 8.”

David Silva left behind four children, and a loving family who is now advocating for an end to police brutality.

Silva had gone to the hospital that night seeking help. After he fell asleep on the grass outside of the hospital, a security guard escorted him away. Officers were called after he fell asleep again across the street.

The Sheriff’s Office stated Silva was on drugs.

“How high could he have been?” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney David Cohn told The Times, who is representing the Silva family in a federal wrongful-death lawsuit. “He was sleeping. That hardly sounds like someone who is amped up on methamphetamine.”

The case received national media attention, including the aftermath when officers confiscated witness’s videos of the incident.

Nearly a year after Silva died, Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green declined to file charges against the officers. And last month, the U.S. Department of Justice also refused to file criminal charges.

Still, the wrongful death lawsuit continues.

Last week, Bakersfield personal injury lawyer Neil Gehlawat, who is also assisting with the Silva case as part of Chain | Cohn | Stiles, appeared on The Groove 99.3 with Sheri Ortiz to discuss police misconduct cases, as well as the Silva case.

Click here to listen to that show.

* Editor’s Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

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To read all about the Silva case represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, read the media coverage below: