CHP: Kern County deputy to blame for pedestrian deaths

CHP: Kern County deputy to blame for pedestrian deaths »Play Video
Deputy John Swearengin's patrol car is seen Friday, Dec. 16, 2011, after it struck two pedestrians in Oildale.
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The California Highway Patrol is recommending that a Kern County Sheriff's deputy be charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence in the deaths of two pedestrians in Oildale.

The report says in part, "Based on the investigation, it is the determination of the California Highway Patrol, Party 1 (deputy John Swearengin) violated California Penal Code 192 (c) (1), vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence."

Eyewitness News obtained a copy of the report after a more than nine-month investigation.

The investigation found that deputy Swearengin was the primary cause of the collision when he struck and killed Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Clevenger Jolley on Dec. 16, 2011.

The pair were crossing Norris Road near Diane Drive at around 7:30 p.m. while pushing a motorcycle that had run out of gas. Swearengin
was traveling westbound on Norris Road responding to a call of a stolen vehicle.

The report found that at one point, Swearengin was driving 84.9 mph on Norris Road, which has a posted sign of 45 mph.

At the point of impact with the pedestrians, the CHP found Swearengin to be traveling at 64.4 mph.

Particularly telling is that Swearengin did not have his emergency lights and siren activated prior to or at the time of the accident. Officers can travel faster than the speed limit if going "code 3" during an emergency, but they must have their emergency lights and or siren activated.

By failing to activate emergency lights and siren, Swearengin was violating the law, said attorney David Cohn, who is representing the family of Hiler.

The CHP report reads, "By choosing not to turn on his emergency equipment to warn others, the surrounding motorists and pedestrians had a reasonable expectation that (Swearengin's vehicle) would be obeying applicable traffic laws and driving at 45 miles per hour."

"They're not above the law, they're supposed to abide by the law," said
James Clevenger, father of victim Jolley.

Other family members said the report spells out what they suspected since the beginning.

"I believe that Officer Swearengin should be held accountable just as you or I ... should be held accountable," said Stephanie Lindley, mother-in-law of Hiler.

The Kern County Sheriff's Office declined to speak on the CHP report, which is under review by the Kern County District Attorney's office to determine whether to file criminal charges.