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Santa Barbara County OKs $250,000 to Defend Sheriff’s Department in Wrong-Way Crash Suit

County counsel to team with L.A. law firm against lawsuit filed by family of Highway 101 collision victim Marcos Arredondo

Santa Barbara County supervisors have authorized a $250,000 contract for outside legal counsel to defend the Sheriff’s Department from a lawsuit filed by the family of a victim of a wrong-way Highway 101 collision.

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 drunken driver on southbound Highway 101 south of Storke Road. In the backseat of Arredondo’s car were his two younger sisters, Yessika and Karina, who suffered permanent injuries in the fiery crash.

The wrong-way driver, Richard Rodriguez, then 20, of Tustin, was later convicted of driving under the influence and traveling the wrong way on the freeway. He was sentenced last summer to 13 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution to the victims’ families.

The basis of the civil complaint from the Arredondo family 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.

“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,” the Arredondos’ attorney, Barry Cappello, told Noozhawk in May.

“That’s what this case is all about. ... There would never have been an accident.”

The Sheriff’s Department has denied the allegations outlined in the lawsuit. Department spokesman Drew Sugars has said that Rodriguez’s decision to drive the wrong way on Highway 101 with cocaine and alcohol in his system led to tragic consequences.

“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 in May. “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.”

Last week, the Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with attorney David Lawrence of Los Angeles-based Lawrence, Beach, Allen & Choi so the county Counsel’s Office can work with Lawrence’s firm on the defense in the case.

In a letter to the board Tuesday, County Counsel Dennis Marshall outlined why the department was seeking help.

“Mr. Lawrence and his firm have previously represented the county in litigation and regularly represent the county of Los Angeles and other Southern California public entities,” Marshall’s letter said. “He and his firm bring additional special expertise to assist in the defense of this matter.”

No more than $250,000 can be spent on the contract, and the money will come from a special county fund used “to pay claims, settlements and cost of litigation, including outside counsel, when necessary, for civil liability cases,” read Marshall’s letter, which added that the contract would allow the county to prevent hiring more staff attorneys.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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