Local family hoping to spare others the heartache of fatal hit-and-run crashes, help victims and law enforcement

September 15, 2021 | 9:20 am


In the shadow of a hit-and-run tragedy, one local family is hoping to spare others the same grief they felt while helping victims, supporting law enforcement, and honoring their own loved one.

Dawn Elliott knows firsthand what it’s like to lose someone to a hit-and-run crash — her mother Deborah Ann Geneau was killed last year in Bakersfield. And she doesn’t want to see anyone one else to be affected. She and her husband started Helping HART (Hit-and-Run Tragedies), which aims to raise awareness of these crimes, help hit-and-run victims and their families, and help fund law enforcement by providing much-needed resources.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is proud to support the cause by sponsoring  this nonprofit organization. The law firm also represents the family of Geneau, as well as other local hit-and-run victims, and knows too well the devastation caused by hit-and-run drivers.

 

THE CRASH

Stephanie Heninger was arrested and pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and hit-and-run charges connected to the July 22 crash near CSU Bakersfield. The family of Deborah Geneau and Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles had offered a reward to $7,500 for the person who helped identify the driver of a 2013-2019 dark gray Nissan Sentra that was suspected of causing the crash on Stockdale Highway near Don Hart Drive.

Police learned through GPS location data that Heninger had been at the scene of the crash, according to a probable cause declaration reported by KGET-17. Police also obtained a statement from Heninger confirming she was the driver who left the scene, according to reports. The vehicle in the incident was seized in Riverside County, Bakersfield Police reported. While police received several tips, police investigations ultimately led to the arrest. The court case is ongoing.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed lawsuits on behalf of the Geneau family against two other driver’s involved in the fatal crash. Both of those drivers were also speeding 10-15 mph above the 55 mph speed limit at the time of the collision, according to police.

At a press conference in July 2020 at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, Debbie’s husband Rick Geneau and their daughter Dawn shared about their loss, and pleaded with the driver who caused the collision to turn him or herself in. Rick met Debbie met when they were both 14 years old. At the time of Debbie’s death, they had had been married for 45 years. Dawn Elliott told media she feels she’s had to take on her mother’s role and be the strength of the family during this time.

“You’ve not only taken my mom’s life, you’ve taken a piece of all of our lives.”

 

HELPING HART

Dawn and her husband Joe Elliott Jr. founded the nonprofit Helping HART just one year after the crash to honor mother and grandmother Deborah Geneau. And they’re not alone.

In 2019, the United States saw more than 2,000 fatalities due to hit-and-run crashes, according to national statistics provided on the Helping HART website.

“That means 2,005 people have been ripped away from the people who loved them,” the website states. “That is 2,005 men, women, grandparents, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends stolen away in a senseless act of cowardice.”

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, an average of one hit-and-run accident happens in the United States every minute.

“Everyone knows accidents happen, but people should not run from their mistakes by leaving the scene having no regard for doing the right thing,” according to Helping HART.

The nonprofit will offer assistance through home remodels or vehicle modifications to anyone who has developed handicaps as a result of hit-and-run crashes, and offer scholarships to children who lost a parent to a hit-and-run, Dawn Elliott told KGET-17 News.

“I will be able to continue doing things in memory of my mom,” Dawn told KGET. “Therefore, my mom is still with me. Helping me. Really neat that I get to work with my mom for the rest of my life.”

Anyone interested in supporting Helping HART can make a donation by visiting helpinghart.org or by emailing [email protected].

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.

How to celebrate Fourth of July safely, avoid tragedy, and report illegal fireworks

June 25, 2021 | 2:25 pm


This year’s Independence Day is perhaps extra special as our country continues to slowly come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. And what better way to celebrate than with traditional Fourth of July fireworks?

But festivities and fun can turn to a terrible tragedy in an instant without proper safety practices.

In fact, about 11,000 people are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries each year. And in the month surrounding July 4, our nation sees about 200 fireworks injuries per day, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Serious burns, eye injuries, and even death can occur. Injuries to people aside, fireworks start nearly 20,000 fires each year, including 1,300 structure fires and 300 vehicle fires.

“With fireworks, disaster and catastrophe can really happen in an instant,” said David Cohn, managing partner at personal injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We can celebrate our great nation’s Independence, and still be safe by taking steps to keep you and your families safe.”

 

LOCAL FIREWORKS

Locally, Kern County Fire Department received 2,410 reports of illegal fireworks over the Fourth of July holiday weekend in 2020, The Bakersfield Californian reported, with 703 calls coming through their dispatch center and 1,707 reports made online — a large increase over 2019, local fire officials said. Kern Fire also issued 35 citations and seized 2,000 pounds of illegal fireworks during last year’s Fourth of July weekend.

Local residents are encouraged to fill out a simple form (by clicking here) at any time to report illegal fireworks. You can also email [email protected] The Bakersfield Fire Department is allowing residents to drop off illegal fireworks at their downtown Bakersfield station.

As for other areas in Kern County:

  • Delano residents can report illegal fireworks to the Delano Police Department at 661-721-3377.
  • McFarland residents can report illegal fireworks to the McFarland Police Department at 792-2121. You can also text 428-1265 to report a tip.
  • Tehachapi residents can report illegal fireworks to the Tehachapi Police Department Communications Center at 822-2222.

The City of Bakersfield will hold a fireworks show 9:15 p.m. on July 4 at the Park at River Walk, 11298 Stockdale Highway. Musical accompaniment for the show will be provided by 97.3 The Bull, and attendees can tune in during the fireworks show for a simulcast. The event will also be livestreamed on 23ABC’s digital platforms, including turnto23.com, as well as Roku, Apple TV and Fire TV.

In Delano, a fireworks show — hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Delano and the city of Delano — will be held at dusk on Saturday, July 3, at dusk, from the North end of the Delano Airport.

Buttonwillow Recreation and Parks District is presenting its 14th Annual Fireworks Show on Saturday, July 3, at Buttonwillow Park. The event is free and the gates open at 6:30 p.m., with the fireworks show starting at 9 p.m. Lawn seating will only be available — bring lawn chairs or a blanket. Pre-show entertainment includes a cornhole tournament, music, small business vendors, BBQ, snow cones, cold drinks and other food.

A show at Lake Isabella starts at 9:30 p.m. at Engineer Point.

McFarland will hold its’ annual Fourth of July celebration on Saturday, July 3, with fireworks launching at 9 p.m. You should be able to see the show from any of the parks in McFarland.

In Shafter, a fireworks show is scheduled for Saturday, July 3, at Shafter Recreation Fields next to the high school football stadium. The evening will begin at 6 p.m., with the fireworks setting off at about 8:45 p.m.

In Taft, festivities will take place from 4 to 10 p.m. on July 4, at Franklin Field, featuring bounce houses, games, sports, food and craft vendors, and music. Fireworks begin at 9 p.m. and are free to the community.

Tehachapi will be holding a fireworks show on July 4 as a part of its All-American Festival at the Philip Marx Central Park. That show begins at 9 p.m.

Wasco will hold a fireworks show on July 3 as part of its One Nation Festival at Beale Park.

 

FIREWORKS SAFETY

Chain | Cohn | Stiles offers the following safety tips to make sure your Fourth of July is as fun and safe as possible.

  • Never give fireworks to small children, or allow them to ignite fireworks.
  • Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities.
  • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
  • Only use fireworks outdoors in a clear area, and away from buildings and vehicles.
  • Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
  • Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
  • After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
  • Never use fireworks while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  • Never light them indoors.
  • Never use illegal fireworks.

If someone is injured by fireworks, here’s what you can do:

  • If an eye injury happens, don’t let the injured person touch or rub it, as this may cause even more damage. Don’t flush the eye out with water or try to put any ointment on it. Cut out the bottom of a paper cup, place it around the eye, and get medical care right away — eyesight may depend on it.
  • If someone suffers a burn, remove clothing from the burned area, and call your doctor immediately.
  • If someone is injured due to the negligence of someone else, please contact Chain | Cohn | Stiles immediately to receive legal assistance, be compensated for injuries suffered, and continue to get medical care in the future.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles in recent years has represented victims of fireworks accidents and other burn injury cases. In 2014 attorney David Cohn represented two men who suffered from severe injuries caused in a fireworks accident while attending a party on Fourth of July in west Bakersfield. The two men arrived at the party where party-goers were allegedly setting off illegal fireworks and explosives. A blast injured two people, and the case settled in 2018 for $2.3 million.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

How to identify, report elder abuse and neglect, and raise awareness to end these tragic cases

June 9, 2021 | 9:03 am


It’s hard to imagine that anyone would deliberately want to harm an elderly person — senior citizens, after all, are some of our frailest and most vulnerable citizens. Yet, elder abuse and neglect is a widespread problem.

California sees more than 175,000 cases of reported elder abuse cases each year, according to Kern County Aging & Adult Services. And officials estimate that for every case known to reporting agencies, 24 cases go unreported.

For Elder Abuse Awareness Month, Chain | Cohn | Stiles would like to draw attention to this problem and provide facts, prevention tips, vital resources, and other information to help reduce neglect and abuse (World Elder Abuse Awareness Day this year takes place June 15). The law firm has been at the forefront in fighting for victims of elder abuse and neglect in Bakersfield, Kern County and throughout the state.

Read below to learn more about elder abuse and neglect, and how we can work together to bring these cases to an end.

 

WHAT IS ELDER ABUSE / NEGLECT

Some instances of elder abuse are intended to exploit the person financially, including scams targeting seniors. In other cases, it’s simple negligence: Caregivers don’t provide the basic necessities, like nutritious food, appropriate medication, safety, or assistance with hygiene. Abuse can include physical, emotional, financial, abandonment, isolation, and neglect.

Here are five facts about elder abuse:

  1. Elder abuse instances happen mostly in the home where the senior lives.
  2. One in every 10 elder adults experience some form of abuse in their lifetime.
  3. The most common form of abuse is financial exploitation and extortion.
  4. In around 90% of elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member.
  5. Only one of every six instances of elder abuse and neglect is reported.

The purpose of elder abuse awareness is to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed neglect and abuse tragedies in elder care and nursing home throughout the United States, including in Kern County. Local skilled nursing facilities experienced COVID-19 outbreaks that affected staff and residents alike. During the pandemic, Kern County Department of Public Health requested immediate help with staffing shortages at Kingston Health Care Facility in Bakersfield, and healthcare professionals throughout the state were sent to assist the facility.

A report by media agency Al Jazeera English highlighted how an elder care system already in crisis imploded under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic. The coverage included an interview with Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark, an elder abuse and neglect lawyer.

 

REPORTING ELDER ABUSE, NEGLECT

So why does elder abuse go unreported? Many times, elders have no family to report to. They also fear retaliation from “caregivers,” or they feel shame in regards to abuse. Another reason is they fear they will lose independence, or fear they will upset their own family members. Many times, however, victims simply lack understanding of how to report abuse.

Another issue lies is recognizing elder abuse and neglect. In fact, elder abuse can take many forms including:

  • Physical abuse: Inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior (slapping, bruising or restraining by physical or chemical means).
  • Sexual Abuse: Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
  • Neglect: The failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care, or protection for a vulnerable elder.
  • Exploitation: The illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
  • Emotional Abuse: Inflicting mental pain, anguish, or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts (humiliating, intimidating, or threatening).
  • Abandonment: Desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
  • Self-neglect: Characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety.

So, how do you recognize elder abuse and neglect, and what are the warning signs. Here are a few of them:

  • Bruises, broken bones, abrasions and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person.
  • If you notice changes in a senior’s personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on.

It’s important to alert others if you have suspicions, and to retain an attorney. In an emergency, call 9-1-1. To report cases of elder abuse, whether it is on your own behalf or that of someone you know, please call Adult Protective Services as part of the Kern County Aging & Adult Services, or contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

  • Adult Protective Services responds to reports from individuals, concerned citizens, social service and health providers, and law enforcement representatives about developmental disabled adults, physically and mentally disabled adults, and the elderly who may be physically or financially abused, neglected, or exploited. Upon receipt of a referral, APS sends a social worker to make a home visit or contact the elder or dependent adult.
    • 24-Hour Hotline: 800-277-7866 or 661-868-1006
  • Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program investigates elder abuse complaints in long-term care facilities and in residential care facilities for the elderly. The primary responsibility of the program is to investigate and endeavor to resolve complaints made by, or on behalf of, individual residents in these facilities, including nursing homes, residential care facilities for the elderly, and assisted living facilities. The goal of the program is to advocate for the rights of all residents in long term care.
    • Phone: 661-323-7884

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Know the symptoms of abuse: Bedsores, bruises, or chafing could indicate that your loved one is being restrained to a bed or wheelchair, or otherwise physically abused. If he or she has recently lost weight, malnutrition or dehydration could be at play, while poor hygiene is also an indicator of possible abuse. Watch, too, for changes in the person’s mood; if they seem depressed, anxious, agitated, or listless, see if you can discover why. In short, any changes to an elder’s behavior, disposition or physical condition could be cause for concern.

If you suspect something, say something: If you do detect signs of abuse, document them. Take pictures of bruises or injuries, get a statement from the victim or any witnesses, and keep a log of any suspicious behavior or circumstances. You can then address your concerns with the manager or director of the long-term care facility or home care provider; if they do not take action, contact the police or an elder abuse attorney.

Spread the word with social media: There really is no better way to get the word out and foster awareness than through social platforms. Share informational articles and use the hashtag #WEAAD.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Arrest Made In Fatal Hit-And-Run Crash Following 9-Month Investigation, Chain | Cohn | Stiles Reward Offer

May 12, 2021 | 5:00 am


A 42-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of causing the fatal hit-and-run crash last year that killed 65-year-old Deborah Ann Geneau, a case in which Chain | Cohn | Stiles and the Geneau family offered a reward.

Stephanie Heninger was arrested and pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and hit-and-run charges connected to the July 22 crash near CSU Bakersfield. The family of Deborah Geneau and Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles had offered a reward to $7,500 for the person who helped identify the driver of a 2013-2019 dark gray Nissan Sentra that was suspected of causing the crash on Stockdale Highway near Don Hart Drive. That vehicle turned into the bike path parking area across from CSUB immediately after the collision, police said. It had driver’s side damage.

Police learned through GPS location data that Heninger had been at the scene of the crash, according to a probable cause declaration reported by KGET-17. Police also obtained a statement from Heninger confirming she was the driver who left the scene, according to reports.

The vehicle in the incident was seized in Riverside County, Bakersfield Police reported. While police received several tips, police investigations ultimately led to the arrest. The court case is ongoing.

“On behalf of the Geneau family, I want to extend their sincerest thank you to Bakersfield Police Department, and especially Officer Chad Ott,” said Chain | Cohn | Stiles lawyer Matt Clark, the Geneau family’s attorney. “It is a direct result of Officer Ott’s persistence and tenaciousness that a suspect has been brought to justice.”

After Bakersfield Police Department completed its report into the crash, which was 165-pages long, officers recommended felony charges against the driver, including hit-and-run, vehicular manslaughter, and unsafe lane change. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed lawsuits on behalf of the Geneau family against two other driver’s involved in the fatal crash. Both of those drivers were also speeding 10-15 mph above the 55 mph speed limit at the time of the collision, according to police.

Bakersfield Police Department released a video of surveillance camera angles. The angles included traffic cameras and footage from a Golden Empire Transportation bus that was in the vicinity of the crash.

At a previous press conference in July 2020 at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, husband Rick Geneau, husband of Debbie, and their daughter Dawn, shared about their loss, and pleaded with the driver who caused the collision to turn him or herself in. Rick met Debbie met when they were both 14 years old. At the time of Debbie’s death, they had had been married for 45 years.

Dawn Elliott told media she feels she’s had to take on her mother’s role and be the strength of the family during this time.

“You’ve not only taken my mom’s life, you’ve taken a piece of all of our lives.”

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

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CRASH MEDIA COVERAGE

REWARD MEDIA COVERAGE

REWARD INCREASE MEDIA COVERAGE

NEW INFORMATION

ARREST COVERAGE

Dog Bite Prevention: Mental State of Dogs Vital in Post-Pandemic World

April 14, 2021 | 10:55 am


Each year, millions of people are bitten or attacked by dogs. Sadly, children make up more than 50% of all dog bite victims.

Last year nearly 18,000 dog bite injury claims were made in the United States, according to the Insurance Information Institute. California had the most claims, and Florida, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Georgia and New Jersey rounding out the top 10.

In commemoration of National Dog Bite Prevention, the focus this year is on the mental state of our dogs, and transitioning pets in a post-pandemic world. Last March at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, State Farm reported its highest month for the number and amount paid for dog bite claims. Experts said they believe pets may have picked up on their owners’ stress and anxiety.

As pet owners return to the workplace or school, pets will be left home alone. This may result in destructive or aggressive behavior due to stress and anxiety. This will be a particular problem for the record amount of dogs adopted during the pandemic.

“By owning a dog, you are responsible if it bites or injures another person,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “And since we know all dogs can bite, and they can bite for many different reasons, owners are responsible for keeping us humans and pets safe in difficult situations.”

 

DOG BITE PREVENTION

So, what can we do to prevent dog bites?

The three most important things as a dog owner, education, training and responsibility, experts share. Educate yourself on dog body language. Take this commemoration as an opportunity to educate your friends, families, and neighbors that any dog can bite, regardless of its breed. Teach the people around you that even well-trained dogs are capable of biting, especially if you disturb them while eating or sleeping, or if they are caught off guard, like by a postal carrier. Learn how to be a responsible dog owner. Schedule regular veterinary-care check-ups, teach children to treat dogs with respect, give your dog some mental and physical exercise, use a leash in public, and keep your dog away or locked in a room if it tends to be aggressive towards strangers and someone visits your house.

Socializing your pet helps your dog feel at ease in different situations. By introducing your dog to people and other animals while it’s a puppy, it feels more comfortable in different situations as it gets older. It’s also important to use a leash in public to make sure that you are able to control your dog. Also educate yourself and your children about how to approach a dog. Lastly, it’s important to know how to avoid escalating risky situations and to understand when you should and should not interact with dogs.

You should avoid petting a dog in these scenarios:

  • If the dog is not with its owner
  • If the dog is with its owner, but the owner does not give permission to pet the dog
  • If the dog is on the other side of a fence—​don’t reach through or over a fence to pet a dog
  • If a dog is sleeping or eating
  • If a dog is sick or injured
  • If a dog is resting with her puppies or seems very protective of her puppies and anxious about your presence
  • If a dog is playing with a toy
  • If a dog is growling or barking
  • If a dog appears to be hiding or seeking time alone

Reading a dog’s body language also can be helpful. Just like people, dogs rely on body gestures, postures and vocalizations to express themselves and communicate. Dogs can give us helpful clues as to whether a dog is feeling stressed, frightened, or threatened.

 

K-9 STUDY & LAWSUITS

The Washington Post recently highlighted the dozens of video-recorded K-9 attacks that have surfaced over the past few years across the country, many showing people under attack even though they are unarmed, have surrendered to police, are already handcuffed or are innocent bystanders

An estimated 40,000 people were treated for K-9 attacks in hospital emergency rooms from 2009 to 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although deaths are rare, the nonprofit Marshall Project news organization found at least three people had died of injuries from police dog bites since 2011.

Today, about 15,000 police dogs are now working in the United States.

Some psychologists say the premise behind the use of police dogs — to subdue and get a suspect to become motionless — is faulty at its core. Humans are hard-wired to actively fight an attack that might lead to serious injuries or death. Many Black suspects also have frightening personal histories of ancestors being hunted by canines.

In some cases, the people who were bitten have received financial settlements through civil lawsuits, including clients of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. The law firm resolved a lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of a Bakersfield woman for $2 million in what was the largest award for a dog bite case against a public entity in California at the time, according to VerdictSearch, a verdict and settlement database. In this case, a 21-year-old was attacked by a K-9 dog accompanying a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy while outside of a restaurant in north Bakersfield. Responding to a domestic dispute, the deputy exited his patrol vehicle and began walking toward Casey. At that time, the K-9 exited the patrol car, ran toward Casey and began biting her for 60 to 90 seconds. Casey suffered several major bite wounds to her leg. Investigation found that the K-9 escaped from its holding kennel in the back of the patrol car due to a mechanical defect inside of the car. The deputy agreed that the K-9 should not have been let out of the patrol car. In addition, the K-9 failed to respond to commands from the deputy to cease attacking.

Most recently, Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a claim on behalf of the family of a second-grade student who was bitten on the face by a dog while in her classroom. Leilani, 8, suffered severe lacerations and tearing to her face when she was attacked by one of two large dogs visiting her classroom at Wayside Elementary School (Bakersfield City School District) in south Bakersfield. The dogs belonged to a volunteer reader from the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office.

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If you or someone you know is bitten or attacked by a dog, please contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolves several cases involving misconduct at North High School

March 9, 2021 | 3:29 pm


Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm has resolved four cases on behalf of students at North High School who were victims of sexual misconduct by an athletic equipment manager at the school.

The cases settled for a total of nearly $2 million.

Kern County Sheriff’s Office had arrested Edwin Rodriguez on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with minors 14 to 15 years old, exhibiting harmful matter to a minor, annoying a child under 18 and false imprisonment. He was sentenced to time served after pleading no contest to a charge of committing a lewd or lascivious act with a 14 or 15 year old, and ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, according to media reports.

Rodriguez resigned from North High in 2018 after a student reported receiving sexually explicit messages from him through social media. A school administrator notified the sheriff’s office, which determined Rodriguez sent inappropriate messages through Snapchat to at least eight juvenile students, and had sexual contact with several of them.

According to the victims, Rodriguez would give students sodas and candy, befriend them on the social media, and send them sexually explicit photos and videos, among other sexual misconduct that took place over several years. One of the women shared that the abuse first occurred when she was a sophomore in high school.

In one instance, Rodriguez sent a photo on Snapchat to two of the girls that showed him wearing shorts and a tank top and grabbing his penis. A number of text messages sent by Rodriguez to the girls told them he thought they were “hot” or commented on various parts of their body he found attractive.

Rodriguez “groomed” the victims, Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorney David Cohn, who represented the victims and their families, told local media. To see full media coverage of the lawsuits and criminal cases of Rodriguez, please see the links below.

The mother of one of the victims has also spoken out.

“This sick man manipulated my daughter. She and I are very close, but she felt she was doing something wrong and was afraid to tell me about it,” said the mother of one of the victims in a statement. “My hope through this lawsuit is to prevent this from happening in the future, and to protect our students through better accountability and scrutiny of school officials.”

“I think all the markers were out there,” Cohn told KGET-17.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys and the parents of the victims advise other parents to talk to their children about boundaries with those authority.

“Take this opportunity to have a discussion with your teenager,” Cohn said. “Students should never have one-on-one conversations through social media or text messages with school personnel, coaches, or other adults in authority. And encourage them to speak up if someone in authority contacts them privately or crosses a line.”

 

OTHER MISCONDUCT CASES

Chain | Cohn | Stiles also resolved several lawsuits on behalf of victims of sexual assault by a Kern County Juvenile Corrections officer while they were housed at James G. Bowels Juvenile Hall. Settlements of $200,000, $250,000, and $400,000 were reached with the County of Kern on behalf of the victims, respectively. The final settlement was reached recently after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the victim, a Chain | Cohn | Stiles plaintiff, who had alleged that in 2015 corrections officer George Anderson made sexual comments to her, groomed her for sexual abuse, propositioned her for sex and watched her shower. The appeals court found that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California erred in its 2016 decision and reversed it.

In another case, a former McFarland High School basketball coach pleaded no contest to contacting a teenager to commit a sex act. Fernando Pruneda faces two years in prison and sex offender registration after pleading no contest to the felony. Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which represents the teenager and family, said the civil matter can proceed now that the criminal case has been resolved. “Fernando Pruneda attempted to sell a position on the varsity basketball team in exchange for sex, and this disgusting and abhorrent conduct deserved to be charged as a felony,” Clark said in media reports. “We congratulate the Kern County District Attorney’s Office for their perseverance in securing this plea deal. This case is an example of how sexual predators groom their young prey, and that high school personnel, if it were paying attention, would have been aware of this conduct.” According to court documents, Pruneda tried to get sexual favors from a junior varsity basketball player. The boy told detectives Pruneda massaged him — as well as other players — below the waist. When the boy resisted or told Pruneda to stop, the coach told him “you won’t get varsity,” according to the documents. The boy also told investigators Pruneda forced him to sleep in the same bed with him during away tournaments. When deputies questioned Pruneda about inappropriate text messages he sent the boy, Pruneda told them he was just joking around. Pruneda coached boys’ basketball for 15 years and helped coach baseball.

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What to do in a sexual abuse / assault case

Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline, or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. The sooner you get in touch with someone, the sooner justice can be served.

See a doctor: Seek immediate medical care following a rape or sexual abuse. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations, and they often have someone on staff that can help with stress.

Contact at attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a sexual assault and abuse lawyer.

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SETTLEMENT MEDIA COVERAGE

CLAIM FILING MEDIA COVERAGE

CRIMINAL CASE MEDIA COVERAGE

Family of fatal New Year’s Eve crash victim, Chain | Cohn | Stiles speak about dangers of impaired driving

February 23, 2021 | 4:04 pm


The year 2020 is a year many of us are glad is in the past, but for the families of three young people who died in a New Year’s Eve crash, they would give anything to go back in time. And one of those local families is hoping their kind of loss is the last in our community.

The family of Andrew Ortiz – mother Sasha McKeen, stepfather Steven McKeen, and father Michael Ortiz – recently spoke with Jeff Platt at KBAK-29 Eyewitness News about the crash, their son, and the dangers of driving under the influence and unbuckled. They were joined also by Matt Clark, accident and injury attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Adam Teasdale, 21, was charged with three counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and one count of DUI causing bodily injury for the crash at Brimhall Road and Jewetta Avenue in northwest Bakersfield that killed Timothy Michael Wilson, Devin Lee Atha and Andrew Nicholas Ortiz, all 20. A fourth passenger suffered minor injuries.

Police said they believe Teasdale was driving about 60 mph when he swerved and lost control. The car went onto the raised concrete median and slammed into a tree, according to reports. The three people in the back were thrown through the window.

Police found “whip-it” canisters of nitrous oxide — which provide a brief high by inhaling the gas — and a bottle of consumed Fireball Whiskey at the crash scene, according to the media reports. A nitrous oxide canister was also found in one of Teasdale’s pockets.

“I just killed my friends,” he said, according to a witness who lives near where the crash. “Why did I swerve.”

Teasdale refused to take any field sobriety tests at the scene, according to media reports, and would only consent to a blood draw if he was arrested. One officer stated that Teasdale “displayed sings of being under the influence of alcohol.” He also said the devil was inside him.

Teasdale is being held on $1 million bail and is due in court March 26. He has pleaded not guilty.

“You may be lucky 99 times out of 100, but that last time your luck may run out,” Michael Ortiz, father of Andrew Ortiz, said in a statement. “I’m heartbroken by this tragedy. I hope someone will learn from it, and make a good decision to not drive impaired.”

Following the fatal crash, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County also shared with media other dangers and consequences of impaired driving, including hefty fines, court costs, attorney’s fees and suspension of a license. It’s much cheaper, and safer, to call an Uber or Lyft for a ride home.

“No one has to get behind the wheel if they have been drinking or impaired by drugs, it is that simple,” said Michael Yraceburn, board member for the MADD Kern County Advisory Board.

Since 2009, our community has seen at least 4,000 DUI arrests made each year, according to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office – nearly 12 DUI arrests per day. Kern County ranks worst in the state for DUI crashes resulting in injuries, and second most in the United States.

“We suffer a lot here in Kern County, Bakersfield area from the tragic loss of impaired driving,” Yraceburn said. “Protect yourself and protect those that you love.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles for many years has partnered with MADD Kern County to combat DUI crashes. Since the law firm’s involvement with the first Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash, MADD Kern County has raised nearly $400,000 to help local victims of impaired driving crashes. For its work, Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been recognized and honored on several occasions, including receiving a “Community Champion” award and “Pursuit of Justice” award, among others.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, family increase reward for information leading to arrest in fatal hit-and-run crash

February 16, 2021 | 2:14 pm


EDITORS NOTE / UPDATE (MAY 2021): Stephanie Heninger, 42, was arrested on suspicion of causing the fatal crash. The vehicle in the incident was seized in Riverside County, Bakersfield Police reported. The court case is ongoing. For media coverage, please see the listing below. 

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It’s been more than 6 months since the July 22 hit-and-run crash near CSU Bakersfield that killed 65-year-old Deborah Ann Geneau, and still no one has come forward to take responsibility.

Bakersfield Police Department has finished its investigation and filed its report in fatal crash. With no arrests made as of yet, the family of Deborah Geneau and Bakersfield law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles has increased its reward to $7,500 for the person who helps identify the driver of a 2013-2019 dark gray Nissan Sentra that is suspected of causing the crash on Stockdale Highway near Don Hart Drive. That vehicle turned into the bike path parking area across from CSUB immediately after the collision, police said. It had driver’s side damage.

The family is also hoping any witnesses in the crash – or anyone who was able to take photos or videos – will come forward and provide police with any information they may have, including the driver of the dark grey crew cab pickup truck seen here:

Anyone with information is urged to call 326-3967 or the Kern Secret Witness line at (661) 322-4040.

Deborah Geneau’s husband Rick Geneau and Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark recently held a press conference, and shared the latest on the crash investigation, police report, reward, and more. Among the new developments:

  • Bakersfield Police Department has completed its report and investigation into the crash. That report is 165 pages long.
  • Bakersfield Police Department recommends felony charges against the unknown driver, including hit-and-run, vehicular manslaughter, and unsafe lane change.
  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed lawsuits on behalf of the Geneau family against two other driver’s involved in the fatal crash.
  • Both of those drivers were also speeding 10-15 mph above the 55 mph speed limit at the time of the collision, according to police.

Bakersfield Police Department released a video of surveillance camera angles. The angles include traffic cameras and footage from a Golden Empire Transportation bus that was in the vicinity of the crash, police said. You can view the videos by clicking here.

At a previous conference at Chain | Cohn | Stiles, husband Rick Geneau, husband of Debbie, and their daughter Dawn, shared about their loss, and pleaded with the driver who caused the collision to turn him or herself in. Rick met Debbie met when they were both 14 years old. At the time of Debbie’s death, they had had been married for 45 years.

“You see these lines on my face, they’re not from old age. They’re timelines that I’ve spent with my wife,” Rick Geneau told media. We all miss her deeply … I thought I was the strength of the family. Come to find out she was my strength.”

Dawn Elliott told media she feels she’s had to take on her mother’s role and be the strength of the family during this time.

“You’ve not only taken my mom’s life, you’ve taken a piece of all of our lives.”

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

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CRASH MEDIA COVERAGE

REWARD MEDIA COVERAGE

REWARD INCREASE MEDIA COVERAGE

NEW INFORMATION

ARREST COVERAGE

Burn Injury Awareness: How to prevent burn injuries at home and work

February 10, 2021 | 5:00 am


One person was burned by an air fryer while working at a fast food restaurant. Another person suffered serious second- and third-degree burns when a tank overflowed at work, and hot oil splashed onto his hands. And another person was burned by a cream bought for home use to remove callus.

These are just a few of the people in Kern County who have suffered burn injuries at work, or at the fault of someone else, and came to Chain | Cohn | Stiles for help. They join about 400,000 people who receive medical care for treatment of burn injuries each year.

This week is Burn Awareness Week, a chance for burn care organizations, survivor support groups, public safety officials, injury prevention professionals, educators, and all of us to share prevention messages associated with burn injuries.

Burn injuries continue to be one of the leading causes of accidental death and injury in our country. Children under 5 years old are two times as likely to be seen for burn injuries at a hospital emergency department. The majority of these injuries are preventable, with most burn injuries occurring at home and nearly 10% of all burn injuries taking place in the workplace.

 

ELECTRICAL SAFETY

This year’s theme for Burn Awareness Week is “electrical safety.” The most common risk of electrical burn injuries comes from unprotected electrical outlets, improperly used extension cords, lightning, and workplace electrical injuries. In fact, one can encounter many risks in a household, but we can decrease the dangers of electrical fires and burns by doing the following:

  • Plug major appliances, like space heaters and air conditioners, directly into wall outlets. Don’t use extension cords or power strips with them.
  • Charge laptops and cellphone on hard surfaces. Don’t charge them on soft surfaces like beds or upholstered furniture.
  • Unplug any device powered by lithium-ion batteries once they are fully charged. Don’t overcharge or leave them charging unattended, or overnight.
  • Turn heating pads, electric blankets and space heaters off before sleeping.
  • Learn how to react to a fire in the microwave oven: keep the door shut and unplug it if safe to do so.
  • As a general rule, don’t put metal in the microwave.
  • Keep battery terminals (positive and negative ends) from coming in contact with each other, or with other metals. Tape the ends if you are storing them loosely in a drawer.

Sadly, accidents happen even when taking precautions. Here’s what you should do in the case of a burn injury:

  • Treat a burn right away by putting it under cool, running water. Cool the burn for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Cover a burn with a clean, dry cloth. Do not apply creams, ointments, sprays or other home remedies.
  • Seek immediate emergency medical care for more serious burns to prevent infection and other complications.

 

CHAIN | COHN | STILES BURN INJURY CASES

Over the years, the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles have helped numerous burn injury victims, as well as given back in an effort to raise awareness and make sure victims are properly cared for. In fact, when San Joaquin Community Hospital (now Adventist Health) established a burn center to help Bakersfield and Kern County residents in need of specialized burn care, the law firm’s partners donated $200,000 toward the center and it was named the Chain | Cohn | Stiles Burn Center.

Here are just a three recent notable cases:

  • Lawyer David K. Cohn helped resolve a lawsuit for $10 million after a man was burned over 80 percent of his body in an oilfield accident.
  • Attorney David Cohn represented two men who suffered from severe injuries caused in a fireworks accident while attending a party on Fourth of July in west Bakersfield. The two men arrived at the party where party-goers were allegedly setting off illegal fireworks and explosives. A blast injured two people, and the case settled in 2018 for $2.3 million.
  • In June 2012, David was watering his yard in Ridgecrest when he heard a sizzle and a pop sound. A raven had landed on a power line, which then failed and caused the electrical wire to fall on a fence three houses away. As the fence caught fire, David ran to try to put it out, not knowing a power line was down in the area. While focused on fighting the fire, David didn’t notice that his son, 3 years old at the time, followed close behind. When he noticed his boy, David ran to move him away, but it was too late. The boy tripped over the electrical wire, which caused an electric jolt that burned both of his legs. Attorney Matt Clark helped settle the family’s lawsuit, which argued that a connector on the power line failed when the raven landed near it. The failure caused the wire to fall to the ground, putting residents there in danger.
  • The law firm was involved in several cases of exploding e-cigarettes where the victims suffered major burn injuries when electronic cigarettes, or “vapes,” they were using failed and exploded spontaneously.

For more on these types of cases, see the “Results” page on chainlaw.com.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

Lawsuit: Dangers of Highway 99 through Bakersfield should be addressed for safety

January 13, 2021 | 5:00 am


In November 2019, a big rig driver slammed into the back of a pickup truck on Highway 99 at Rosedale Highway, killing both the pickup’s driver and passenger, Kathy McNutt and Luther Harold Goldman. A year later, at nearly the same location, a 10-year-old boy died when a big rig crashed into the back of the car he was riding in.

The stretch of Highway 99 through Bakersfield has seen in its share of crashes in recent years, particularly in central Bakersfield, which is currently is under construction. Officials should take extra steps to make sure it’s safer for drivers.

That’s the message from Jimmy McNutt, son of Kathy McNutt, who died in the November 2019 crash. Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the McNutt family in their wrongful death lawsuit against the big rig driver, his company, and Caltrans, and helping raise awareness of the dangerous roadway.

California Highway Patrol reported in that November 2019 crash that there was no evidence of tire friction marks from the semi, showing the driver did not attempt to brake, and leading them to believe negligence could have played a role. The driver of the pickup, Luther Harold Goleman, was Kathy McNutt’s boyfriend. Kathy McNutt was a loving grandmother, mother, daughter, and sister, Jimmy McNutt said.

“There is a big increase in accidents there, for sure,” Jimmy McNutt told KGET-17 News. McNutt works as a tow truck driver, and regularly assists and responds to accidents locally. “We respond to quite a few. It seems like if not every day, every other day.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark suggested Caltrans could increase the number of warning signage to make sure drivers are aware they are in a construction zone, or install “rumble strips” in the area to alert inattentive drivers of potential dangers, which cause a vibration and audible rumbling.

In the case of the fatal crash involving the 10-year-old in November 2020, CHP reported that traffic had come to a complete stop on the southbound lanes of Highway 99 just north of Rosedale Highway. A driver of a semi-truck was unable to stop in time and crashed into the rear of the vehicle, pushing the car into the rear of another trailer.

UPDATE (APRIL 28, 2021): A 33-year-old motorcyclist died in a crash on southbound Highway 99 near Rosedale Highway.

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