Two civil lawsuits have been filed against an off-duty Santa Barbara County sheriff’s lieutenant accused of causing a three-vehicle head-on crash while driving under the influence of alcohol on Highway 154 last year. The collision severely injured passsengers, including another law enforcement officer, in one of the vehicles.
The nearly identical lawsuits, filed in late June by attorneys from McCarthy & Kroes in Santa Barbara, named plaintiffs Judith Hall, an off-duty investigator for the county District Attorney’s Office, and co-plaintiff Evelia Dominguez, two injured passengers from another vehicle.
The California Highway Patrol said Antunez was driving eastbound in a BMW with one passenger when he crashed head-on into a westbound Toyota Tacoma pickup truck driven by a Santa Barbara man.
The CHP said the driver of a third vehicle, a 28-year-old Santa Barbara woman at the wheel of a westbound Jeep, could not avoid the wreckage and struck the back of the pickup.
The drivers and passengers from two of the vehicles were transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for treatment of various injuries following the crash, authorities said.
Due to the severity of her injuries, Hall, a passenger in the Toyota, was airlifted by a CalStar medical helicopter to the hospital.
She was among four people injured in the Toyota as they headed to the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez for a concert.
The lawsuits name three other defendants, including Esther Emiko Trejo-Takembaiyee, who owned the BMW driven by Antunez and worked for the county Probation Department. She also was off duty at the time.
The civil complaint contends Antunez and Trejo-Takembaiyee were engaged in an extramarital affair and had spent the day drinking in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Antunez’s wife, Guadalupe Guzman-Antunez, also has been named as a defendant, amid allegations she helped hide her husband’s valuable assets, as well as their community property assets, in an attempt to delay the plaintiffs from collecting compensation for the injuries and other harm related to the crash.
The fourth defendant, driver Talitha Blackwell of Santa Barbara, has been accused of following too closely, making it impossible for her to avoid striking the Toyota pickup after the initial head-on collision.
Civil complaints represent one side of the story, with the defendants expected to file responses to the allegations in the coming weeks.
The plaintiffs alleged Antunez and Trejo “voluntarily consumed intoxicating amounts of alcoholic beverages in the hours prior to the subject incident.”
Antunez was driving “in such an unsafe and unpredictable manner that the BMW erratically swerved from one side of the road to the other, at times veering off the road onto the shoulder, kicking up dirt and rocks, and at other times crossing the solid double yellow lines into oncoming traffic,” according to the complaint.
Trejo, the vehicle’s owner, did not protest, “did nothing to stop Antunez from continuing to drive her BMW in a reckless and dangerous manner while severely intoxicated,” the civil complaint said.
The complaint said the crash left Hall with extensive injuries, including cervical spine fractures, a fractured nasal bone, collapsed lungs, broken ribs, a fractured sternum, a small bowel perforation and more. The damage required multiple surgeries, which kept her from returning to work and ran up medical bills of more than $800,000.
The injuries also have restricted her parental role for her 3-year-old daughter for six months, with ongoing limitations in the future, the suit said.
Dominguez’s injuries included multiple fractured ribs, a fractured sternum, bilateral pulmonary contusions, cardiac contusion, bruising and abrasions on her right hip, quadricep, neck and torso.
Both continue to deal with emotional distress, pain and trauma from the crash.
The lawsuits cite seven causes of action, including negligence, wanton and willful misconduct, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against all or some of the defendants.
The plaintiffs seek special damages, general damages, medical and other expenses, attorney’s fees, and punitive and exemplary damages.
Additionally, they asked for a court order restraining Antunez and his wife from transferring, concealing or disposing of property, and asked for a court to be notified prior to any proposed extraordinary expenditures.
The Toyota’s driver, Enrique Calderon-Mendez, and another passenger, Dolores Gutierrez, are expected to file civil lawsuits, according to the civil complaints.
Antunez has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges in connection with the crash in a case being prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s Office. State authorities are handling the case because of Hall’s position with the District Attorney’s Office.
Antunez faces a felony charge of driving under the influence of alcohol, and felony driving with a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or more, causing injury, in addition to an enhancement for causing great bodily injury to five other people, according the criminal complaint.
He has been ordered back to Santa Maria Superior Court for the criminal case on July 13.