The family of a young man killed in a 2009 wrong-way collision with a drunken driver on Highway 101 in Goleta has filed a lawsuit against the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department alleging negligence.
Goleta residents Marcos Arredondo, 18, and Macrina Ocampo, 58, were killed Nov. 8, 2009, after the vehicle Arredondo was driving was struck head-on by a car driven by Richard Rodriguez, then 20, of Tustin. The fiery crash occurred on southbound Highway 101 south of Storke Road, and Rodriguez was later convicted of driving under the influence and traveling the wrong way on the freeway.
In the backseat of Arredondo’s car were his two younger sisters, Yessika and Karina, who suffered permanent injuries in the crash.
Last June, Superior Court Judge James Brown sentenced Rodriguez to 13 years in prison and ordered him to pay restitution to the victims’ families. On Wednesday, the Arredondos’ attorney, Barry Cappello, was back in Brown’s courtroom as the judge upheld his tentative ruling on the case.
The basis of the complaint alleges that the Sheriff’s Department has been negligent in training its deputies on how to deal with wrong-way drivers, and that the lack of training led to the deaths of Arredondo and Ocampo. The plaintiffs are alleging negligence, negligence per se, wrongful death, negligent supervision and training, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The complaint details the night of the crash, and begins with Arredondo’s father, Jose, driving on southbound Highway 101 with Marina Murrillo as his passenger. The senior Arredondo was followed in another vehicle driven by Arredondo, with his sisters and Ocampo, a family friend, as passengers. Rodriguez entered the highway south of where the Arredondos were driving and began driving north — the wrong way — toward them.
“Rodriguez was driving in the No. 1 lane, the ‘fast’ lane, the lane closest to the center divider … and driving under the influence of alcohol, cocaine and other drugs,” the complaint states.
Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Rogers was in the vicinity of the overpass at Glen Annie and Storke roads in Goleta when he received and responded to a report of a wrong-way driver on the freeway.
“Rogers, and Santa Barbara County deputy sheriffs generally, are not trained to respond to wrong-way drivers on the freeway,” according to the complaint.
The deputy took the on-ramp onto southbound Highway 101, and “not knowing how to proceed, Rogers slowed dramatically and began to merge into the No. 2 lane (the ‘slow’ lane). Rogers entered at such a low rate of speed as to present a hazard to vehicles traveling at normal freeway speeds,” according to the complaint, which added that he “did not activate his left-turn signal, overhead lights or siren.”
The freeway is within the jurisdiction of the California Highway Patrol, which has its own protocols for dealing with wrong-way drivers.
“Rogers’ actions were a violation of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department protocol,” the complaint alleges.
While Rogers was entering the freeway, the Arredondos were driving at normal highway speeds, according to the complaint.
“As Rogers unexpectedly merged into the Arredondos’ lane, Jose Arredondo was forced to change into the No. 1 lane to avoid colliding with him,” the complaint says. “Marcos Arredondo followed Jose Arredondo into the No. 1 lane. Jose Arredondo was puzzled at the behavior of Rogers and signaled to him as he passed, to which Rogers did not respond.”
After Jose Arredondo passed Rogers, Rogers turned on his flashing lights. Jose Arredondo thought he was being pulled over, so he turned on his right-turn signal and began to change back into the No. 2 lane in front of Rogers, the complaint states. Just as Jose Arredondo moved into the No. 2 lane, Rodriguez’s northbound vehicle collided with the Marcos Arredondo’s car in the No. 1 lane.
“Marcos Arredondo had no chance to avoid Rodriguez,” the complaint states.
“What we plead was that the deputy entered the freeway in a manner in which caused or contributed to the death of Marcos and grievous injury to his sisters,” Cappello told Noozhawk on Tuesday. “That’s what this case is all about. … There would never have been an accident.”
The lawsuit was filed March 8, with Jose Arredondo, Marina Murillo, Karina Arredondo and Yessica Arredondo listed as the plaintiffs. Three days later, the family filed an amended complaint naming the five causes of actions against the Sheriff’s Department and Santa Barbara County, and asserting four of those causes of action against Rogers individually. According to the tentative ruling, however, the plaintiffs recently settled that action with Rogers.
The case is related to a similar action filed by the family against Rodriguez, but in May, the court ordered the two cases consolidated. Brown’s ruling on Wednesday ordered the plaintiffs to amend their allegation that the county was negligent in its supervision and training. Cappello now will have to decide whether to drop the complaint of negligent training and supervision or to amend the complaint so it could withstand any future demurrers. Cappello told Noozhawk on Wednesday that he will decide which route to take over the next week or so.
Cappello said the Sheriff’s Department does “a tiny little bit of training” to deal with wrong-way drivers, but that CHP protocols, which apply on the highway, weren’t being used when Arredondo was killed. Calls to the CHP to confirm details of those protocols weren’t returned Tuesday evening.
Of Arredondo’s family, “they’re just destroyed over this,” Cappello said. “They’ve got these two beautiful girls who are permanently injured for the rest of their lives. It’s amazing the family is even together after something like this.”
Ocampo’s family is not listed on the lawsuit, and Cappello said his firm was never contacted by her family.
Sheriff’s Department spokesman Drew Sugars said the department’s condolences are with each person affected by the crash. He added that Rodriguez’s decision to drive the wrong way on Highway 101 with cocaine and alcohol in his system ultimately claimed two innocent lives, injured two others and resulted in a 13-year state prison sentence.
“It’s important to note that this tragedy is the result of a severely intoxicated individual who chose to drive impaired, despite being arrested for a separate DUI less than 10 days before,” Sugars said. “The Sheriff’s Department denies any fault on the part of the sheriff’s deputy who responded to the emergency call of a wrong-way driver on the 101 freeway.”