‘Kern Under the Influence’: Series highlights local DUI epidemic

February 20, 2019 | 6:00 am


UPDATE: Eyewitness News recently presented a special half-hour program focused on the series highlighted below titled “Under the Influence & On the Road,” sponsored by Chain | Cohn | Stiles. To watch the entire program, click here

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You are more likely to die of a DUI related crime in Kern County than any other county in the state of California.

It’s with that startling fact that Eyewitness News (KBAK-KBFX) recently presented a five-part, in-depth investigation into Kern County’s DUI epidemic titled “Kern Under the Influence.” The series, by reporter Jeff Platt, highlights how deadly Kern County’s roads truly are, how difficult it is to keep repeat DUI drivers off our roadways, how officers try to keep our streets safe, how crash victims are affected, and how we can prevent future DUI crimes.

The series also features Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury lawyer Matt Clark, who shares his experience in representing DUI crash victims, and the suffering that they incur. Clark is a board member on MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board, and his law firm serves annually as the presenting sponsor for the Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash, which raises funds to help innocent victims of DUI crashes, helps raise awareness of the DUI epidemic in our community, and helps fund MADD Kern County programs.

Clark also serves as a speaker for the MADD Victim Impact Panel, a program that has victims and other DUI crime experts speak to first-time DUI offenders in an effort to prevent future and repeat DUI offenders. Clark also took part in a special Eyewitness News Victim Impact Panel segment that followed the five-part series.

To view each of the five parts in the Eyewitness News series and the special Victim Impact Panel segment, scroll down to “Media Coverage” section at the bottom of this post. Here is a breakdown of each of the parts:

 

Part I: Drunk Drivers in Kern County

Every day, drivers in Kern County are sharing the roads with drunk drivers. In fact, local officers arrested nearly 4,300 DUI drivers last year. And that’s just “a drop in the bucket” in terms of how many DUI drivers are actually driving on local streets, local officials say.

According to Eyewitness News, there are 15 DUI drivers on the road at any given moment, with a peak between midnight and 3 a.m., where are nearly 80 DUI drivers in Kern County. And each one of them is a tragedy waiting to happen.

 

Part II: Repeat offenders hardly punished

One of biggest problems involving DUI drivers is that state laws force our county to let them drive drunk over and over again.

In California, drunk drivers get a second chance, a third chance, and in many cases a fourth chance after they are caught before getting any real jail time. As Eyewitness News shows, in between those chances, they’re driving on Kern County’s roadways, and sometimes they claim lives.

Victims are left with little trust in the system, but want lawmakers to address and fix this problem.

 

Part III: Busting drunk drivers

For police, catching DUI drivers sometimes is like finding a needle in a haystack, and other times it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The worry always is how many they are not able to catch.

The fact is, drunk drivers outnumber the police and officers can’t be everywhere at once. But local police use such strategies as check points, saturation patrols, and having every officer DUI-trained to catch DUI drivers. They also hope other motorists look out for DUI drivers and report them to police to keep other drivers safe. A 9-1-1 call with a location and partial plate could be the difference between a fatal crash, or a driver under the influence ending up behind bars.

After all, DUI is a community issue, which will take a community effort to stop it.

 

Part VI: The insurance myth

There is a myth that many victims of DUI crashes get rich in court. In fact, the opposite is true.

A combination of old insurance laws, minimal enforcement of those laws, and rising costs of medical care has created a new normal where DUI crash victims who live end up smothered in debt. In cases of death, victims’ families are sometimes left with nothing.

“Defendants in drunk driving cases often times have no insurance or far too little insurance to cover an injury or God forbid a death,” attorney Matt Clark explained.

Two major issues are at play. One, insurance companies and the DMV don’t communicate, making it too easy to drive without insurance. The second issue is the minimum coverage rates in California barely cover an ambulance ride to the hospital.

Clark suggests increasing your uninsured/under-insured-driver coverage on your policy.

 

Part V: Your choice

Many of the solutions to end DUI driving would take huge government action, including stiffer penalties. But one solution is in our hands: every single one of us deciding to make the right choice and help others make the right choice, too. Impaired driving, after all, is 100-percent preventable.

 

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MEDIA COVERAGE: KERN COUNTY UNDER THE INFLUENCE

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If you or someone you know is injured in a crash due to the fault of a DUI driver, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles partners with Bike Bakersfield, Children First Campaign in bike safety event for kids

August 25, 2015 | 11:21 am


With school back in session for students throughout Kern County, the roads are busy with buses picking up and dropping off kids at school, parents dropping off their children, and students walking to campuses. Many students also ride their bikes to school.

With so much activity on Bakersfield and Kern County roadways, it’s important for everyone to share the road and be cautious of others.

In an effort to keep the roadways as safe as possible for students who happen to cycle to school, the Bakersfield personal injury and workers’ compensation* law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles has partnered with local nonprofits Bike Bakersfield and Children First Campaign to host a “Kidical Mass” event from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Aug. 29, at Williams Elementary School, 1201 Williams St. in east Bakersfield.

The event will feature bike repairs, safety demonstrations, a group bike ride and a barbecue lunch. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has also donated 100 safety helmets for students and bike riders who may be in need of the safety equipment.

Many of the students who attend Williams Elementary and area Bakersfield City School District schools in east Bakersfield come from low-income households, and may not be able to purchase proper safety equipment, including helmets, said Jorge Barrientos, director of marketing and public relations at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

“There are too many accidents in our community that involve bicycles,” Barrientos said. “Hopefully this event with help raise awareness to help better protect our students, and keep them safe.”

KBAK-KBFX Eyewitness News previewed the event during its morning shows recently, which included representatives from Bike Bakersfield, Children First Campaign and attorney Matthew Clark of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. To see the complete coverage of the news preview, including photos and videos of the segment, click on the Little John Photo blog here.

Kidical Mass, first held in 2008 in Eugene, Oregon, is a safe and fun bike ride for kids, kids at heart, and their families. Bike Bakersfield, whose mission it is to promote bicycling as a safe, fun and environmentally-friendly means of everyday transportation, decided to host its very own Kidical Mass to help improve the biking experience in our local communities, said Bike Bakersfield executive director Jason Cater. This year’s Kidical Mass is also focused on teaching children safe riding habits while having fun on their bikes.

Also joining Bike Bakersfield is the Children First Campaign, which aims to ensure all children live in healthy, safe, and nurturing neighborhoods that promote academic achievement and success, and to counter the negative influences of drugs, crime, violence and poverty.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles’ attorneys, along with Bike Bakersfield and Children First Campaign representatives, will be on the Williams Elementary campus teaching students proper safety rules and protocols. The event is free and open to the public. Students in need of bike tune-ups, safety equipment and safety lessons are encouraged to attend.

For more bike and school safety tips and information, please read previous bloggingforjustice.com blog posts below:

— By Jessica Magee for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles gave out 100 bike helmets to children in east Bakersfield on Aug. 29. Each child was fitted properly for his and her helmet, and given a safety lesson on the rules of the road. To see photos and news videos of the event, click the links below.

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If you or someone you know is injured in a bicycle accident, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000 or visit the website chainlaw.com.

Law firm files wrongful death claim in fourth deputy-involved fatal crash in four years

August 18, 2015 | 10:05 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles recently filed a wrongful death claim against the County of Kern related to a Kern County’s Sheriff deputy involved crash with a motorcyclist. Local media covered a press conference hosted by Matthew C. Clark and Neil Gehlawat from the personal injury and workers’ compensation* law firm, which included the release of surveillance video of the crash.

Read below and click the links to see full coverage of the press conference and media mentions.

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(Bakersfield, Calif. – Aug. 12, 2015) For more than 20 years, Larry Eugene Maharrey, 59, worked for Golden State Drilling as a diesel mechanic to provide for his family. At his vigil, friends and family described him as “a good man” who would do anything for anyone in need. He especially enjoyed fishing and riding his motorcycle.

On July 14, Larry Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road, when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Marvin Gomez abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive directly into Maharrey’s path. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with Deputy Gomez’s patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash.

Deputy Gomez violated KCSO policies and procedures by failing to pre-clear the intersection before turning left against a red light. In what has become a tragic and unfortunate trend, Maharrey’s death comes at the heels of another wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the family of Nancy Garrett, who was struck and killed by KCSO deputy Nicholas Clerico.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death claim against the County of Kern on behalf of Maharrey’s wife, Paula, and other family members. Attorneys Matthew Clark and Neil Gehlawat – joined by Maharrey’s widow – will host a press conference to discuss the filing of the claim. A copy of the claim will be provided to media, as well as surveillance video of the crash.

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During the press conference, Paula Maharrey, Larry’s wife of 14 years, described him as a “crack-up,” a family man who would give his shirt off of his back to a stranger, and an all-around “good man.”

“I miss him every day,” Paula Maharrey said during the press conference. “I just want the Kern County Sheriff’s Office to take responsibility for their actions, follow their own set rules, and train their staff better.”

This wrongful death claim against the County of Kern follows another wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of Nancy Joyce Garrett’s family. Nancy Garrett was driving home from a Dodgers game when she was struck and killed by Deputy Nicholas Clerico’s Kern County Sheriff’s Office patrol car. Chain | Cohn | Stiles also represented the family of Daniel Hiler, who was struck and killed by Sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin as he crossed the street.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Claim filed against county in connection with fatal crash involving deputy (The Bakersfield Californian)

Family of man who died when his motorcycle hit a deputy patrol car has filed a wrongful death claim (KGET 17, NBC)

Kern County faces wrongful death claim in deputy crash (KBAK-KBFX 29-58, CBS-FOX)

Attorneys release video of fatal crash between KCSO deputy and motorcyclist (KERO 23, ABC)

Oildale man’s death comes as sheriff’s office tries to crack down on speed (The Bakersfield Californian – July 15, 2015)

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

CCS represents family of woman killed in crash with Sheriff’s deputy

October 6, 2014 | 9:07 am


On Sept. 28, 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. Garrett’s family has retained the Bakersfield personal injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Below is the news release sent by CCS to local media, followed by the subsequent various news coverage:

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles represents family of woman killed in crash with Sheriff’s deputy

Bakersfield, Calif. (Oct. 1, 2014) – By all accounts, Nancy Joyce Garrett was a friendly neighbor, a caregiver for our community, an active blogger, and most importantly, the pillar of her family. Nancy, 72, had been a drug and alcohol counselor for the Kern County Mental Health Department, and had also volunteered her time as a substance abuse counselor for STEPS, a local nonprofit that provide DUI awareness services.

Nancy passed away early Sunday morning when Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Clerico collided with the vehicle she was driving at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale. She had just returned to Bakersfield from a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game she attended with her family and friends.

Nancy leaves behind a son, Mark, and a daughter, Deborah, along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Ms. Garrett’s family has retained the Bakersfield personal injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles to represent them in this case. Her family is still mourning and requests that their privacy be respected at this time.

Mark McGowan, her son, stated: “We are all devastated. My mother was the most loving woman that you could ever meet. To see her go like this, under such tragic circumstances, breaks our heart. We hope that with time the truth is revealed and that future tragedies like this never happen again. In the meantime, the family requests that the media and members of the public respect our privacy out of deference to my mother.”

The California Highway Patrol’s MAIT Team is currently conducting an investigation of the collision.

Partner Matthew C. Clark added: “What we know at this time is that Nancy Joyce Garrett was a wonderful human being who had devoted her life to giving back to the community. Our hope and expectation is that the CHP will conduct a thorough investigation of this collision. We will not rush to any conclusions in the meantime, and we ask that the public do the same. But we promise to get to the bottom of what happened, and of course, as we learn more about the collision, we will share that information with the public.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles also represented the family of Daniel Ace Hiler, who was hit and killed by Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy John Swearengin more than two years ago. That case resulted in a combined $8.8 million settlement.


1430 Truxtun Avenue, Suite 100 – Bakersfield, CA – 93301 – Phone: 661-323-4000

CHAIN | COHN | STILES is Kern County’s leading plaintiffs’ personal injury law firm, voted Bakersfield’s “Best Law Firm” in The Bakersfield Californian’s Readers Choice Poll the last two years in a row. Our Bakersfield personal injury attorneys have represented clients from throughout the San Joaquin Valley and California for 80 years. We concentrate our efforts on protecting the rights of individuals who have been seriously injured due to the negligent, reckless or intentional conduct of another. If you have been injured due to the fault of another, you have the right to hold that person or entity accountable, no matter how rich or powerful that person or entity may be. At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, we pride ourselves on having the reputation and resources necessary to overcome the most difficult challenges while achieving the best possible results for our clients.

For more information, go to chainlaw.com, and visit our blog to stay up to date on firm news: bloggingforjustice.com. Find us on Facebook, Twitter (@chainlaw), Instagram, LinkedIn, Yelp, Pintrest and Google+

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This crash has been covered extensively by Kern County media. Below are some of the news articles and videos of the crash, and the coverage following the news release.

Following the release to local media, several local media outlets informed the public of the news.

And lastly, CCS attorney Matthew Clark spoke with The Bakersfield Californian’s CEO Richard Beene on the live streamed news show “First Look with Scott Cox” regarding the case. Catch the coverage here:

CCS associate Neil Gehlawat speaks with media about hazing, provides prevention tips

September 10, 2014 | 10:47 am


* Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

This week, eight members of the Taft Union High School varsity football team in Kern County were arrested for their alleged role in two separate hazing incidents in the locker room on two separate occasions, according to reports.

Police said four students were cited for battery and false imprisonment, three students were cited for battery and one student was cited for sexual battery. Police have not released any more information on the alleged incidences.

According to HazingPrevention.org, hazing is an act intended to cause embarrassment, harassment or ridicule and risks emotional or physical harm to members of a group or team, whether new or not, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.

Bakersfield personal injury attorney Neil Gehlawat, of Chain | Cohn | Stiles, spoke with local media about the case, about hazing, and shared that the school district could be held liable for the hazing depending on the circumstances.

“The charges are serious,” Gehlawat told Eyewitness News (KBAK-KBFX). “The culture of high school football is such that there’s some sort of a ra-ra culture about it, and at times it can get out of hand. It’s the coaches responsibility and supervisors’ responsibility to make sure that this culture doesn’t get out of hand and no one crosses the line.

“If I were a parent, I would want to know what happened, why did that happen, who knew about it, could it have been prevented, and if so, why it wasn’t prevented.”

To view the full news segment with attorney Neil Gehlawat, go here.

Bakersfield and Kern County have seen several hazing-related cases, which also garnered media attention. In 2011, Kern County prosecutors filed misdemeanor hazing charges against three men suspected of brutally beating fraternity pledges for a month. At the time, it was believed to be the first such filing ever in Kern County Superior Court. The personal injury case on behalf of the victim is ongoing.

And in 2009, a bullying/hazing case involving Stockdale High students led to a $260,000 settlement with the Kern High School District and the culprit’s parents. In that case, five students pinned the victim down, encased him ankles-to-shoulders in plastic wrap and bound him tightly with duct tape, including layers over his mouth. They mocked and threatened him for more than an hour. The students and their parents were held financially accountable for bullying allegations.

Hazing is a problem, and there are several things you can do to help prevent hazing, according to stophazing.org.

  • First, understand what hazing is and be able to recognize it.
  • Second, take responsibility, when you see it occurring or when it happens to you, by speaking up and reporting it immediately.
  • Third, make others aware of what hazing is and their responsibility for preventing it.

Coincidentally, Sept. 22 to Sept. 26 this year is National Hazing Prevention Week, which is an opportunity for campuses, schools, communities, organizations and individuals to raise awareness about the problem of hazing, educate others about hazing, and promote the prevention of hazing.

If you suspect hazing has taken place, it’s important to take these tips into account:

  • Never downplay the situation. Treating the issue as a serious situation is very crucial, and will determine how the coaches, students and community will react to this situation.
  • Never assume a case is an isolated incident. The probability of it being isolated is slim to none.
  • Take the opportunity to redefine the coaches, faculty, administrators, and student’s cultural thinking.

At the same time, keep in mind that there are ways to prevent hazing, especially in school settings (courtesy of the Minnesota State High School League).

  • Ask coaches and faculty what you can do to prevent this from happening at your school.
  • Increase supervision, especially in locker rooms. Have the locker room remain locked unless a coach is available to supervise students.
  • Instruct coaches and athletes that locker rooms are not a place for students to hang out.
  • Make the subject of hazing a big part of the pre- and post-season meetings so that all boys and girls in all athletic events will have a chance to discuss it.
  • Have regular meetings with administrators, coaches and faculty to talk about the issue and possible prevention tactics.
  •  Develop clinics that will help coach’s foster positive relationships and respect on their teams.

If you or someone you know has been hurt in a bullying or hazing incident, it’s also important to contact an attorney. If you have any questions about a hazing case, call Chain Cohn Stiles at 661-323-4000, or visit the website Chainlaw.com.