DA files felony manslaughter charges against Kern County deputy

District Attorney Lisa Green said Friday she will file felony vehicular manslaughter charges against a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy who crashed his patrol car into two pedestrians 10 months ago.
Felony charges of vehicular manslaughter will be filed against John Swearengin, the Kern County Sheriff's deputy whose patrol car hit two people Dec. 16, killing them both. The charges were requested by the California Highway Patrol after a 10-month investigation into the accident, on a darkened stretch of Norris Road, near Diane Drive.

The CHP found Swearengin was driving at about 80 mph just before the accident. He had his headlights on, but not the emergency red and blue lights on top of the car, the CHP said. Because he didn't have those emergency lights on, he was subject to all the laws applied to civilian drivers, the CHP said, so an 80 mph speed was reckless and the accident was his fault.

The CHP said the pedestrians – Chrystal Jolley, 30 and Daniel Hiler, 24 – had no responsibility for the accident.

The accident was examined by the CHP's Multidisciplanary Accident Investigation Team – MAIT. The team produced a 200-page document that examined every aspect of the accident before recommending charges.

The report says:

Based on the investigation, it is determination of the California Highway Patrol, Party 1 (Swearengin) violated California Penal Code Section 192(c) (1), vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

Swearengin was determined to be the primary cause of this collision. He showed "gross negligence" at the time of the collision, based on the following:
  • Party 1 (Swearengin) drove Vehicle 1 (Ford) 84.9 mph on a roadway posted with a 45-mph speed limit.
  • The collision occurred during hours of darkness.
     
  • The placement of signs in the area clearly indicated the posted 45 mph speed limit.
     
  • The placement of signs in the area clearly warning of possible pedestrian traffic.
     
  • Party 1 (Swearengin) has worked as a Kern County deputy sheriff for five years and had patrolled Oildale (the area of the collision) for four years. He stated he was familiar with the area, and familiar with seeing pedestrians in the area.
     
  • As a sworn Kern County Deputy Sheriff, Party 1 (Swearengin) understood the provisions of California Vehicle Code Section 21055 (Exemption of Authorized Emergency Vehicles) which states in essence the driver of an emergency vehicle is exempt from the rules of the road if he sounds a siren as reasonable necessary and the vehicle displays a lighted red lamp visible to the front as a warning to other drivers and pedestrians.
     
  • Party 1 (Swearengin), while en route to an emergency call, chose not to activate his forward red lamp or his siren to warn other drivers and pedestrians as he drove well above the posted speed limit through a populated residential/business area.

If convicted as charged and sentenced to the maximum term, Swearengin could face six years in prison, but probation could be an alternative. Green told Channel 17's Katey Rusch Monday that Swearengin is expected to surrender to colleagues at the Sheriff's Department and be booked into jail. 

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