Seeking justice, inspiring hope, sharing stories for 2020 ‘Crime Victims’ Rights Week’

April 22, 2020 | 10:39 am


This week — April 19-25 — is Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which promotes victims’ rights and services available to crime victims.

Locally, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office each year hosts a march, speeches, and vigils to mark the occasion. That, of course, is not possible in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic taking place. But MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board wanted to continue to commemorate this occasion by asking victims, advocates, law enforcement partners, community members, and other impacted to record short videos or send pictures that highlight how each person has been impacted, why we should always remember/help crime victims locally, and a call-to-action to support victims this week and beyond. These stories are posted on the MADD Kern County Facebook page throughout the week, and a selection of which can be viewed below. 

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is proud to partner with MADD Kern County throughout the year, including for Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Attorney Matt Clark shared a short video on the impact of DUI crashes on victims.

Clark is the recent recipient of the “Pursuit of Justice” award by MADD California. He is also a founding board member and organizer for MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board and event planning committees, regularly speaks at local Victim Impact Panels intended to prevent repeat DUI offenses, and has done pro-bono legal work for victims of DUI crashes. Chain | Cohn | Stiles has also been awarded a “Community Champion” award for the law firm’s work toward raising awareness locally and helping victims.

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, attorneys continue day in and day out to fight civil lawsuits for victims of crimes and other injustices.

As examples:

  • A Tehachapi teenager was walking home from a friend’s house when she was suddenly struck by a pickup truck on the dirt right shoulder of State Route 202.  She eventually succumbed to her injuries, just 15 days shy of her 15th birthday. The occupants of the truck fled the scene of the crash without calling the police or summoning medical help.  Both were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash.
  • Our lawyers also filed claims on behalf of several students who were victims of sexual misconduct at North High School. Kern County Sheriff’s Office has 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.
  • We represented a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys also represented a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim.

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week was established by Ronald Reagan in 1981. Here are some of the powerful stories shared throughout the 2020 Crime Victims’ Rights Week …

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Kvasnicka Family …

We are John and Mary Jo Kvasnicka, with our beautiful daughter Jaclyn Ann.

Jackie, Pavinder Claire and Jessica Magee were three best friends who all worked for Kern Schools Federal Credit Union. The night of August 30, 2014 they spent the evening enjoying Bakersfield together at a Blaze baseball game. It was the last time Pavinder’s parents, and John and I, would see our daughters. Not just see our daughters alive, but see them at all.

That night a man decided he was able to drive his car, despite being high on drugs and alcohol. He decided to drive at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. He decided to not use his brakes when he came up behind our daughter’s car, carrying the three young women home. He decided to slam into the back of Jackie’s car with absolutely no intention of stopping. And he killed Pavinder on impact. He caused major burns to over 40 percent of Jessica’s body, where she carries scars to this day. And he pinned Jackie behind the wheel, desperately screaming for help to escape the fiery inferno. No one was able to help her. Our daughter burned to death, as did Pavinder. Jessica miraculously escaped with the help of her angels in the form of first responders. But she remains forever scarred, physically and emotionally.

None of this had to happen! Every single part of this scenario could have been prevented! Our daughters could still be alive and with us! Jackie’s daughter, yes she was a Mommy, would have her Mommy here with her, and not just pictures!

We no longer ask God “Why?” Instead we use our time and resources to work to make sure no other parent, child, sibling has to suffer what we suffered. Despite the passing of time, our missing Jackie has not and never will lessen. The pain subsides, memories flood our minds, and God provides peace. But our daughter is forever gone.

Do your part!!!! NEVER, EVER drive while impaired! There is ABSOLUTELY no reason for this scenario to ever happen! Have a plan, and make the right choice, always. Keep our streets safe always. Do your part!!!

God bless

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Embree Family …

Taylor Embree (2/28/84 – 10/17/13) was killed by a repeat drunk driver while on his way to work. He was hit head on at 90 mph. The impact was so great that it sheared off the bolts that held the cab onto the chassis causing the cab to become airborne and land on its rear windshield, where Taylor was killed on impact. He left behind his wife Britney, and son, Clayton.

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Soto Family …

This is Ireli Soto-Jalving, holding a picture of her sister Alba Elliott. Ireli was 2 years old when her mom Gabriela Soto was killed on June 6, 2017. Gabby was 7-months pregnant at the time of her death. Gabby and Baby Alba were victims of a head-on collision that was caused by someone who was determined to be under the influence of marijuana.

Gabby was captivated by all things Irish which is why she named her first daughter, Ireli Gabriela. Gabby had a passion and love for many things, but nothing compared like the love she had for her daughter Ireli. Her love for her daughter really pushed Gabby to be the best version of herself, which she presented to everyone and was truly reflected in her work and life.
Gabby was loved by many. Her beautiful smile and infectious laughter lit up any place she entered. And that smile and sincere soul reeled you in and never let you go.

Take care and stay safe,

Blanca Soto

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Balderrama Family …

My name is Tina. My sister is Leslie Balderrama, and she was hit and killed by an underage drunk driver.

No matter how much time passes by, the pain of not having her here with us every day is heartbreaking. Some days you wake up OK, and by the time you’re done getting ready for work, you are having a meltdown because you think of what mornings used to be like when she was there. Holidays are never as happy or exciting as they once used to be. I try to keep a smile on my face for my kids. My son is 6 years old and every day he tells me he misses his Tia, and every time we pass the cemetery he always asks to go see her. Knowing my daughter will never get to meet her is something I will always struggle with. The hardest part for me is always wondering what she would be doing today, what college she would be attending, how far would she have gotten in her basketball career, where would she be working. Little things like that definitely hurt the most.

This is our last family picture together …

 

Crime Victims’ Rights Week, 2020: The Morales Family …

Sunday, March 25, 2018 was the worst day of my life! My three older children Kaleb, Ethan, and Madysyn were with their father Adam for part of Spring Break. They were headed to their dad’s home in Wasco along with their 11-year-old sister, Jordan, after being at their cousin’s quinceañera practice. They picked up Kaleb from work and then made their last stop at Best Buy, where they purchased a birthday gift for my son, Ethan.

As they were driving Highway 43 (less than 5 minutes from home) a selfish, thoughtless woman decided that she was going to get behind the wheel intoxicated 3 times above the legal limit. She hit the soft shoulder and over-corrected, losing control of her vehicle and crossing over into oncoming traffic, causing Adam to hit her head on from her passenger side of her vehicle with not even a second to react. She was driving her son’s illegal chop shop vehicle. She had no insurance and no license to drive.

According to the CHP report, no brakes were activated and no skid marks were on the road because there was no time for him to react. He was not on his phone. He was not texting. He was not doing anything wrong. He was just driving his children home.

She stole part of my world and forever changed our lives and the lives of many people. My first-born child, Kaleb Adam Garza, was 19 years old. My first-born daughter and sweet baby girl, Madysyn Rose Garza, was 14 years old and a freshman at Ridgeview High School. Jordan Nicole Garza, the kids’ sister & Adam Garza, the kids Father were all were taken away.
Ethan, who was 17 at the time (now 19), was the only survivor. Given the injuries he sustained (2 broken femurs, right ankle, left wrist, right forearm, broken ribs, collapsed lung, a serious injury to his intestines, broken ribs, lacerated liver, and losing his spleen), he is so very, very lucky to be alive. He lost his father and three siblings that night. His scars and physical and mental pain is a constant reminder of his traumatic loss.

This was 100% preventable! It is always 100% preventable! Look what it did to us! It is a never ending healing process and we will never be the same. Please remember to not drink and drive or drive impaired. Please don’t get in the car with anyone who had been drinking or is impaired. Please don’t encourage or underage drink and please, please please, don’t allow anyone to end up like us! It’s forever life changing, an unexplainable loss, and horrible experience no one wants to have!

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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

New state Assembly Bill targets street racing, increasing penalties for dangerous activity

March 11, 2020 | 10:34 am


Outrage had been building in Bakersfield over widespread incidents of street racing, and it reached a boiling point after an alleged street racing crash killed a Bakersfield woman and injured two children riding with her in a minivan.

The issue hits close to home for Chain | Cohn | Stiles, which is representing one of the children who suffered major injuries in that November 2019 crash that killed 58-year-old Maria Blaney Navarro. Reckless driving is a nuisance in our neighborhoods at the very least, but it injures and kills too many innocent people each year.

It’s why Chain | Cohn | Stiles is in full support of a new state Assembly Bill 2565 introduced by Assemblyman Vince Fong of Bakersfield, and co-authored by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman of Glendale, that would bring additional penalties to those who publicly exhibit street racing behaviors.

“I authored this bill in response to what our local law enforcement officials have conveyed as a troubling and problematic trend in our neighborhoods,” Fong said in the statement. “We need to increase the penalties for illegal street racing activities to send a message that this activity will not be tolerated.”

Under AB 2565, acts such as engine-revving and burning out vehicle tires in front of a group of spectators could lead to suspension of a driver’s license. The bill would provide an additional tool for law enforcement as officials look to curtail street racing in Kern County and throughout the state.

Bakersfield Police arrested 50-year-old Ronald Dean Pierce in connection with the death of Navarro, and faces a second-degree murder charge, as well as suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving causing an injury, and participating in an illegal speed contest. Police said he was racing a Mustang against another vehicle in southwest Bakersfield when he lost control of the vehicle and struck the van not involved in the race. The impact caused the van to spin out of control into oncoming traffic, where it was then hit by a crane truck, killing Navarro and injuring two grandchildren.

For years, residents in southwest Bakersfield had complained to police about the prevalence of street racing and parking-lot gatherings. After the fatal crash, police responded with overtime traffic enforcement targeting street racers.

Currently, street racing in California is a misdemeanor with penalties including a jail sentence, fine between $355 and $1,000, community service, suspension of your driver’s license, and impounding of vehicles. However, prior convictions for street racing or if someone is injured in the race could face “enhanced” penalties including more jail sentence, fines, and suspensions.

The Assembly Bill is pending referral to a policy committee for a hearing in the coming weeks.

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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.

New state law gives sexual assault, abuse victims more time to seek justice

January 29, 2020 | 10:21 am


The new year brings with it a new law in California allowing victims of childhood sexual assault more time to file lawsuits, and seek justice.

Assembly Bill 218 gives victims of childhood sexual abuse either until age 40 or five years from discovery of the abuse to file civil lawsuits. The previous limit had been 26, or within three years from discovery of the abuse. It also allows victims of all ages three years to bring claims that would have otherwise been barred due to existing statutes.

“Abuse victims are grateful to get a shot at justice through this new law without a stringent time limit,” said managing partner and attorney David Cohn, who has represented many victims of sexual abuse through his work at the Law Office of Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “It’s important for victims to come forward when they are ready, and ultimately protect our community from future abuse, and obtain accountability.”

Specifically, the new law is a game-changer for childhood victims because it changes how survivors are treated and supported.

In recent years, allegations of sexual abuse have been voiced by victims and conveyed through media reports from Olympic teams, school children, Boy Scouts, and Catholic churchgoers, with media highlighted such allegations. We’ve seen an uprising of women (and men, too) who have gone public with their stories of sexual harassment, assault and abuse, and systemic sexism, particularly in the world of Hollywood.

In fact, the California Catholic Conference in a statement to media described sexual abuse by members of the clergy as a “legacy of shame.”

“It is a legacy of shame for all of us in the Church, and we are aware that nothing can undo the violence done to victim-survivors or restore the innocence and trust that was taken from them,” the statement read. “Ultimately, our hope is that all victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse in all institutional settings will be able to have their pain and suffering addressed and resolved and so our prayers are that AB 218 will be a step forward in that direction.”

California is at least the third state this year to pass such a law, according to reports. Earlier this year, New York and New Jersey raised their statutes of limitations to age 55. New York also suspended its statute of limitations for one year, leading to hundreds of lawsuits against hospitals, schools, the Roman Catholic Church and the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.

“This law puts powerful institutions like the Catholic hierarchy, public schools and sports leagues on notice that they cannot allow predators to molest children, cover up their crimes and escape responsibility,” said Matt Clark, senior partner and attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has been involved in several lawsuits in recent years in representing victims of sexual abuse and sex assault:

  • Our attorneys filed lawsuits in federal court against the County of Kern and a juvenile corrections officer on behalf of a young woman who were sexually abused at juvenile hall.
  • Our lawyers also filed claims on behalf of several students who were victims of sexual misconduct at North High School. Kern County Sheriff’s Office has 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.
  • Chain | Cohn | Stiles represented Karen Frye, who was sexually molested at Lerdo Jail by a Kern County Sheriff’s Department detentions deputy. The law firm filed suit against the county for civil rights violations, conspiracy, sexual assault and battery, negligence, fraud, breach of contract and excessive use of force. The department also attempted to “buy off” Frye by offering her $1,500 in exchange for her agreement to not sue the department. That case settled for $300,000.
  • We represented a woman who was sexually assaulted by Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez in her home in Tehachapi. Lopez sexually assaulted at least two other people as well. He pleaded no contest to two counts of assault by a public officer, two counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to two years in prison. Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys also represented a 79-year-old woman who called the sheriff’s office during a dispute with her husband, who was diagnosed with late-stage Alzheimer’s. She, too, was sexually assaulted by Lopez in a similar fashion to his other victims. The third victim was quietly paid $5,000 by the department, and was unable to bring a civil claim.

In addition, the partners at Chain | Cohn | Stiles penned a “Community Voices” article, calling on the County of Kern to cease practices that call for confidential settlements in lawsuits pertaining to victims of sexual assault, as well as paying “hush money” to those victims.

Here’s what you can do if you’ve been sexually assaulted or abused:

  • Call for help: Always call the police, a rape hotline or both following any form of sexual assault or abuse. This can be difficult to do, but 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 scenario. Hospitals often have specialists trained to help in these types of situations and they often have someone on staff that can help with the stress.
  • Contact an attorney: After you have taken all the aforementioned steps, contact a legal professional, who has understanding of sexual abuse law.

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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, or sexually abused or assaulted by someone in authority, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form at chainlaw.com.

News investigation highlights cost of school employee ‘administrative leave’ in Chain | Cohn | Stiles civil lawsuits

October 9, 2019 | 3:26 pm


In the 2018-2019 school year, the Kern High School District had five employees who faced allegations involving sexually inappropriate behavior, including alleged suspects in Chain | Cohn | Stiles civil lawsuits. Eyewitness News, in an investigation, found that those employees, put on administrative leave while they were being investigated for sex crimes, earned a combined $162,000.

Once you factor in the cost of substitute teachers and legal fees, roughly $250,000 of taxpayer money was spent on these educators who were not educating anyone, the KBAK-29 Eyewitness News investigation found.

“As a taxpayer, I’m offended,” said David Cohn in an interview with Eyewitness News. Cohn is the managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles and attorney representing four of the eight families who have filed claims against Edwin Rodriguez and the high school district. “These serious allegations have been made against him with multiple young women. Once he’s arrested why can’t the district judge just fire him at that point?”

Kern County Sheriff’s Office 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. In February, local media reported 10 people came forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction by Rodriguez while he worked as an athletic equipment manager at North High School.

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 is 19 years old, and 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

Under Education Code 44939, schools can suspend school employees without pay in the case of a serious, immoral or criminal conduct, and have an expedited hearing in 60 days. In the case of Rodriguez, KHSD did not immediately fire or remove his pay, and the investigation took much longer than 60 days. The high school district said in a statement during that time that they “fully cooperated with the Kern County Sheriff’s Office as it investigated allegations against Edwin Rodriguez. KHSD placed Edwin Rodriguez on an unpaid leave immediately after he was charged with a mandatory leave of absence offense as required by Education Code.”

In the case of Edwin Rodriguez, he was placed on leave for 102 days starting in September 2018 over allegations of sexually assaulting as many as ten students at North High School. He was paid over $16,000 during that span, according to the news investigation. Rodriguez resigned in May 2019 and is facing 24 criminal charges.

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.”

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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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If you or someone you know is sexually abused by someone in authority, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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PREVIOUS CLAIM FILING MEDIA COVERAGE

PREVIOUS CRIMINAL CASE MEDIA COVERAGE

Fourth of July Safety: Even legal fireworks (including sparklers) can be dangerous

July 1, 2019 | 4:36 pm


As the sun starts to set on Fourth of July, Kern County streets start to shine bright with multi-colored fountains of light and flashes. But a celebration of our nation’s independence can turn tragic quickly without proper fireworks safety measures.

In fact, did you know 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.

Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks: serious burns, eye injuries, structure fires, and even death.

In 2017, for example, eight people died in our country and over 12,000 were injured badly enough to require medical treatment after fireworks-related incidents. Of those, 50% of the injuries were to children and young adults under the age of 20. While the majority of these incidents were due to amateurs attempting to use professional-grade, homemade or other illegal fireworks or explosives, an estimated 1,200 injuries were from less powerful devices like small firecrackers and sparklers, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Injuries to people aside, fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires each year, including 1,300 structure fires and 300 vehicle fires.

Even sparklers, popular among young children, can be dangerous — much more than most people think. Sparklers burn at about 2,000 degrees, hot enough to melt some metals, and can quickly ignite clothing. Many children have received severe burns from dropping sparklers on their feet. In fact, sparklers account for more than 25% of emergency room visits for fireworks injuries, and nearly half of injuries for children under 5 years old, according to the National Safety Council. Alternatives include glow sticks, confetti poppers or colored streamers.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles advises everyone to enjoy fireworks at public displays conducted by professionals. They may be legal in Kern County, but they are not necessarily safe.

But if you do take part and celebrate the Fourth of July with legal fireworks, here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Never allow young children to play with or 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. Plus, fire departments in both Bakersfield and Kern County hand out fines of $1,500 and up for illegal firework activity.

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 clients, and the case settled in 2018 for $2.3 million.

— Alexa Esparza contributed to this report.

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If you or someone you know is injured in a fireworks accident due to the negligence of another, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files claim on behalf of family of 8-year-old attacked by dog at school

May 16, 2019 | 10:04 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles has 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 on May 9 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.

The family alleges in the claim that Bakersfield City School District and the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office negligently allowed the volunteer reader to bring into the classroom two dogs, and failed to supervise the dogs in a safe manner. As a result, Leilani suffered severe injuries. The family further alleges that the dog owner is strictly liable pursuant to California Civil Code section 3342 (Dog Bite Statute).

The dogs appear to be similar to Akita or Chow breeds.

This case is a warning to school officials and parents toward allowing animals near young students on school campuses.

“A school should know better than to allow dogs into a second grade classroom.  No matter how gentle the dogs may be, their behavior can be unpredictable,” said Matthew C. Clark, attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Unfortunately for Leilani, she is likely to have lifelong facial and lip scarring, and vision difficulties.  Let this be warning to schools, and to dog owners: Do not bring dogs onto school campuses. The risk is simply too great.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles 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.

UPDATE: AUGUST 2019

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a lawsuit against the Bakersfield City School District on behalf of Leilani Rivera.

“This little girl is scared to go back to school,” attorney Matthew Clark told The Bakersfield Californian. “It’s the last thing you want to see in your kid,” especially someone who “admittedly loved” going to school, Clark added.

A case management conference is scheduled for January 2020, and the trial is expected to be scheduled to begin in the later months of 2020 or early months of 2021.

“We think the system is going to do this young woman justice,” Clark said. “It’s a horribly unfortunate event.”

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If you or someone you know is bitten by a dog, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

CASE FOLLOW-UP

LAWSUIT FILED

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files claims on behalf of 3 students who were victims of sexual misconduct at local high school

March 13, 2019 | 6:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles law firm has filed claims on behalf of three students who were victims of sexual misconduct at North High School.

Kern County Sheriff’s Office has 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. Local media reported 10 people came forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction by Rodriguez while he worked as an athletic equipment manager at North High School.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles, after speaking with victims and investigators, suspects there could be even more victims. 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 is 19 years old, and 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 is representing the victims and their families, told local media. To see full media coverage of the filing of the complaints and the arrest 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.”

Added Cohn: “We want to get to the bottom of how this went on for so long.”

“I think all the markers were out there,” Cohn told KGET-17. “It will be interesting to listen to the district’s explanation for why they didn’t do something sooner.”

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.”

Citing similar cases that have occurred in the past few years, Cohn told local media that a message must be sent to the school district that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated.

“A the end of the day, what really has an impact on the school district is getting hit in their pocketbook,” Cohn said.

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CLAIM FILING MEDIA COVERAGE

 

CRIMINAL CASE MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney provides legal commentary following North High School sexual misconduct allegations

February 27, 2019 | 10:48 am


A local high school athletic equipment manager has been arrested on suspicion of having sexual contact with current and former students. And as yet another local school employee is arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct with a student, Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorney Matt Clark provided insight to media on the ongoing problem, and the effects on victims.

According to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Edwin Rodriguez, 40, who worked at North High School in north Bakersfield, was arrested 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 faces 11 felony counts and 13 misdemeanor counts.

For media coverage of this case with Clark’s legal commentary, see “Media Coverage” at the bottom of this post.

According to media reports, 10 people have come forward to investigators alleging inappropriate physical contact and other unwanted interaction. Rodriguez allegedly sent explicit messages, including photos and videos, to eight juvenile students through the social media platform Snapchat and that he had sexual contact with several of the victims dating back to 2015. One of the alleged student victims at North High estimated they had witnessed over 300 conversations with Rodriguez of a sexual nature involving students, both male and female, according to court documents.

The arrest of Rodriguez comes after several other sexual misconduct cases in recent months. In December, former Liberty High School boys basketball coach was charged on suspicion of annoying or molesting a child under the age of 18. Also, a Kern County jury awarded $10 million to a girl who was allegedly molested by a computer lab technician for the Lamont Elementary School District. A lawsuit was recently filed against a former Highland High School assistant principal who allegedly sexually abused a 16-year-old male student in 2009. And a McFarland High School basketball coach was arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct in October after a male student came forward to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office; the coach had allegedly sent inappropriate text messages to the student, promising him a spot on the school varsity team in exchange for sexual favors.

Matt Clark, who has represented several victims of sexual abuse and misconduct, told local media he has seen these types of cases all too often.

“I don’t think people realize the damage they do to these young adolescents when an adult gets into a relationship with them. It haunts them years and years later,” Clark told The Bakersfield Californian. “Victims don’t necessarily want to come forward. I think they’re in a tough position.”

Social media and text messaging have played big roles both in allowing such relationships to start; they also help prove that misconduct has actually taken place.

“It gives the sexual predators the means to make contact and to groom their prey,” Clark said. “However, it’s also actual documentary evidence that a school employee sent inappropriate messages or material to a minor. Before we had that technology it was just verbalization, which was difficult to prove.”

Several times a year, Clark speaks at the Kern High School District “Coaches Clinic,” which trains school employees on various legal issues to watch out for.

“One of the rules that I give to the coaches during the training is do not text message a student one on one,” Clark said on KGET-17 News. “There should never be a situation where you are text messaging a student one on one.”

Clark said that while some predators believe deleting their correspondence with students will protect them from being caught, that is not the case.

“If you put something in a text message, it’s saved forever, even if you delete them,” Clark said. “If you’re having inappropriate contact with a student and you don’t know that, that’s really playing with fire.”

If you or someone you know is sexually abused by someone in authority, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

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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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MEDIA COVERAGE

Big rig explosion, elder neglect, wrongful death lawsuits among Chain | Cohn | Stiles active cases

January 23, 2019 | 9:08 am


The personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles are involved in some of the most significant cases in the Central Valley, ranging from police misconduct cases/civil rights to industrial accident cases, big rig, wrongful death, product liability cases, and more. And while every case handled by Chain | Cohn | Stiles is an important one for the lawyers, paralegals, and staff, the cases that follow represent just some of the diverse cases we’re working on currently.

For more on these cases, go to chainlaw.com/current-cases.

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McGowan v. County of Kern

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of 72-year-old Nancy Joyce Garrett, who was killed when a Kern County Sheriff’s Office patrol car operated by Deputy Nicholas Clerico struck and killed her.

The filing of the lawsuit came on the heels of the release of the California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) report regarding the crash that occurred on Sept. 28, 2014, at the intersection of North Chester Avenue and China Grade Loop in Oildale. The report found Deputy Clerico at fault in the crash, and the CHP report recommended that a vehicular manslaughter charge be filed against the deputy.

Nancy was a friendly neighbor, a caregiver for our community, an active blogger, and the pillar of her family. She was a drug and alcohol counselor for the Kern County Mental Health Department, and also volunteered her time as a substance abuse counselor for STEPS, a local nonprofit that provides DUI awareness services. At the time of the crash, she was returning home from a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game she attended with her family and friends.

Nancy left behind a son, Mark, and a daughter, Deborah, along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 

Doe Big Rig Tank Explosion

A big rig truck driver was filling his tank with fuel at a Valero gas station west of Bakersfield when a tank ruptured in a catastrophic release of pressure. The explosion severely injured the driver, and collapsed the gas station.

Kern County Fire Department responded with a Hazmat team, as did Kern County Public Health Services.  Crews secured the utilities by operating all emergency fuel shutoffs, and rescue efforts focused on the truck driver who was treated on scene, and transported to a local hospital, according to media reports.

The investigation into the explosion continues.

 

Ojeda v. Animal Health International, Inc.

On the morning of Aug. 26, 2015, Steven Ojeda was driving to Wasco State Prison, where he worked as an associate warden, when a cloud of dust enveloped the roadway on Kimberlina Road, obscuring the vision of Ojeda and other drivers around him.

Just a few miles from his work, cars suddenly slowed as the area was covered in dust from people working in the fields. Ojeda crashed into the back of a vehicle, and was subsequently rear-ended by another vehicle. Tragically, Ojeda was killed in the crash.

“It is an extremely hard loss for our instruction and for our staff. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time,” Wasco State Prison officials said in a statement at the time of the crash.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed a wrongful death claim on behalf of Ojeda’s family.

 

Acosta v. Sunny Gem

The plaintiff, a truck driver, was eastbound on Kimberlina Road near Wasco when the defendant, also a truck driver, heading northbound on Wildwood Road ran a stop sign, causing the plaintiff to collide with the defendant truck trailer, resulting in substantial injuries.

Garcia v. City of Delano

On April 17, 2018, Fernando Garcia, a maintenance worker for the city of Delano, was helping move boxes to a storage room. As he was moving the second set of boxes in the storage room, he collapsed.

He was taken to the hospital, and died three days later. He was married to his wife Elizabeth for 12 years, and he left behind three children.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the Garcia family in their workers’ compensation death benefits case.

 

Avalos Lopez v. Jaguar Contracting

Francisco Avalos Lopez was a first assistant foreman, which included the supervision of a crew of about 50 people, and was responsible for the production and output of his crew. The physical job required him to provide water, shade, and clean the portable toilets for his crew before the start of the workday.

On July 28, 2017, the crew was having an early morning meeting when Avalos collapsed holding his chest, and said, “heart.”

He left behind a wife and had three children. Days before his death, he had told his wife that he wanted to leave the job at the end of the season due to stress.

 

Jane Doe v. Domino’s Pizza

A juvenile girl working at Domino’s Pizza in Bakersfield was struck by gunfire during an altercation at the restaurant.

A 20-year-old was taken into custody in connection with the shooting, facing multiple charges including robbery, burglary and negligent discharge of a gun. Bakersfield Police Department reported that the man argued with employees, began to forcibly take food, began assaulting employees and a struggle ensued. During the struggle, police say a gun possessed by the man fell to the floor and discharged, striking the girl.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the worker in her workers’ compensation case.

 

Owens v. Brookdale Senior Living

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed an elder abuse and neglect lawsuit against a Bakersfield senior rehabilitation center that resulted in the death of an 80-year-old man, longtime teacher, U.S. Army veteran, and husband of 57 years.

The elder abuse, elder neglect, wrongful death, and fraud complaint was on behalf of the widow of John Paul Owens against Brookdale Senior Living, Silvercrest Manor, and Wade Budney of “A Helping Hand Senior Care Services.”

Well into retirement, Paul began to suffer symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. He took a fall at home in 2017 that required him to have surgery on his leg and hip. After, Paul was placed in Brookdale Senior Living for daily care.

“So he could walk again, take care of himself again, so he could go back home and live with his wife of 57 years, that was the goal,” Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark told KGET News.

That didn’t happen. Paul developed large bed sores, pressure ulcers and received inadequate care. As an example, he was bathed just four times over a span of 35 days.

“Mr. Owens was continually denied the benefit of those interventions necessary to prevent the formation and progression of pressure ulcers,” according to the complaint.

Soon, Carol Owens was told Paul could no longer be housed at Brookdale, and needed to find another facility due to insurance issues. Brookdale contacted “A Helping Hand Senior Care Services,” ran by Wade Budney, to be discharged to Silvercrest.

“Budney puts [Owens] in his personal vehicle, this is a guy with two stage three pressure ulcers, a urinary catheter, a broken leg, hasn’t had rehab yet,” Clark told KGET.

Carol Owens added: “I was told if he wasn’t transferred that Wade would call and report me for elder abuse.”

The inadequate care continued at Silvercrest. Ultimately, the event prompted an investigation by the California Department of Public Health. The department found that Brookdale failed to prevent Paul Owens from developing ulcers, prematurely discharged him, and failed to safely discharge him to another facility.

Additionally, Budney falsely and misleadingly stated that Paul Owens would receive appropriate and adequate care at Silvercrest. He also concealed the fact that he would receive monetary compensation from Silvercrest.

Shortly after being admitted to Silvercrest, Paul Owens was taken to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital. He died shortly after in January 2018.

“The main reason I’m doing this is I don’t want other people to have to go through this with loved ones, that’s the whole goal,” Carol Owens told KGET News.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, please call the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.

Wrongful death, civil rights, elder abuse cases among notable cases resolved by Chain | Cohn | Stiles in 2018

December 26, 2018 | 6:00 am


As 2018 comes to a close, Kern County’s leading accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles takes a look back at noteworthy resolved cases, some of which you may have seen in local media.

 

Wrongful Death: $3.4 Million

In April, Chain | Cohn | Stiles reached a settlement with the County of Kern on behalf of the family of a motorcyclist who was killed in 2015 when a Kern County Sheriff’s patrol car abruptly made a turn against a red light directly into his path.

The crash involving 59-year-old Larry Maharrey garnered media attention as it was the fourth fatality in as many years involving a Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle.

The parties agreed to a $3.8 million settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit.

“These are tragic cases where you have individuals who are completely innocent who were killed in traffic collisions. Those are the types of accidents that shouldn’t happen, especially involving officers who are trained to protect these very same people,” said Matt Clark, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney for the family.

On July 14, 2015, Maharrey was driving his motorcycle eastbound on Norris Road in Oildale, when the deputy abruptly made a left turn against a red light onto Airport Drive directly into Maharrey’s path. Maharrey was unable to avoid the collision with the patrol vehicle, and died as a result of the crash.

The California Highway Patrol determined that Sgt. Marvin Gomez and Maharrey did not become visible to each other until 0.87 seconds before the collision because other vehicles blocked their view. CHP had recommended a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge against Gomez, but the District Attorney’s office declined to file a criminal charge. Chain | Cohn | Stiles contends that Deputy Gomez violated KCSO policies and procedures by failing to pre-clear the intersection before turning left against a red light.

Maharrey’s death came at the heels of another wrongful death lawsuit filed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles on behalf of the family of Nancy Garrett, who was struck and killed by KCSO deputy Nicholas Clerico in 2014, also in the Oildale area. This case is ongoing. Less than four years before Maharrey’s death, Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley were killed when Kern County sheriff’s deputy John Swearengin struck and killed them as they pushed a motorcycle across Norris Road. Swearengin was traveling at more than 80 mph in a 45-mph zone, without activating his emergency lights or siren. The case, also represented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, settled in March 2014 for $8.8 million.

For more than 20 years, Maharrey worked for Golden State Drilling as a diesel mechanic. At his vigil, friends and family described him as “a good man” who would do anything for anyone in need. He especially enjoyed fishing and, of course, riding his motorcycle.

In another case involving law enforcement, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved in 2018 a wrongful death case on behalf of the family of Donald Hill, a 30-year-old Central Valley man who died in December after being restrained by police officers.

Hill, a civilian employee at Naval Base San Diego, died on Dec. 31, 2016 while he was being restrained by Lemoore police officers near the 1100 block of Pine Court. A “spit hood” was placed over Hill’s head, he was restrained chest down with weight on his back, and he vomited and stopped breathing. After he became unresponsive, he was transported to Adventist Medical Center in Hanford, where he was pronounced dead.

 

Trucking Accidents: $3 Million

Jesus Garcia-Santana was travelling on Highway 101 just north of Paso Robles to his son’s home in Bakersfield when his car became inoperable. He pulled to the side of the road, exited his car, opened the hood, and called for assistance. He then sat in his car on the passenger side, and waited for help. As he waited, a Stevens Trucking tractor pulling two trailers full of carrots veered onto the shoulder and struck Garcia-Santana’s car. As a result, Garcia-Santana suffered significant life-threatening injuries.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles has filed negligence claim, alleging that the truck driver was not paying attention, not scanning the road ahead of him, when he overreacted to a car changing lanes in front of him. In November, the case settled for $3 million.

In another big-rig accident case that settled for $3 million in 2018 (Medeiros v. Triple T Trucking, Inc.), our plaintiffs were in a pickup truck on Highway 99 that slowed to a stop due to a lane closure, and was rear-ended.

 

Motorcycle Accident: $3.4 Million

Jason Travis Harvey, 42, was riding his motorcycle near Wible and Planz Roads in southwest Bakersfield when a California Water Service pulled out in front of Harvey, and the motorcycle his the side of the pickup. He was rushed to the hospital where he later died.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved the motorcycle accident, wrongful death case for $2.4 million.

 

Premises Liability: $2.3 Million

Russell Lester and Bryan Walls were attending a party on Fourth of July 2014 in west Bakersfield, celebrating our nation’s independence and wedding reception. By the end of the night, they were in local hospitals.

The two arrived at the party where party-goers were allegedly setting off illegal fireworks and explosives. Lester and Walls were asked to hold the balloons while they were filled with acetylene gas, which is very unstable, highly flammable gas. The balloons were being taped to a pole when they exploded. It’s possible static electricity ignited them.

Four people were severely injured in the blast, including Lester and Walls. The two suffered burns to their face, chest and arms. Lester lost all the hearing in his right ear and partial hearing in his left ear, and lost peripheral vision in his left eye. Walls suffered hearing loss, too, and Lester’s burns were so severe that he was taken to a Fresno burn center.

In June 2018, Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved the premises liability case for $2.3 million.

 

Elder Abuse / Neglect

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved several elder abuse and neglect cases, including one case that received media attention.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed a lawsuit against Valley Convalescent Hospital in Bakersfield on behalf of the family of an 80-year-old patient who died as a result of neglect at the facility. Robert Hopkins fell from his bed in February while housed at the facility after a nursing assistant failed to ensure a guard rail was properly set. He suffered a fracture in his vertebrae below the skull, spent a week in the hospital, returned to Valley Convalescent Hospital on Feb. 28, and died the following day.

The California Department of Public Health determined Hopkins’ death was a result of his fall. The Department fined the facility $100,000 and it received the most severe penalty under California law (Class AA Citation). Chain | Cohn | Stiles filed an elder neglect and wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Hopkins’ family.

The case resolved in June for $450,000.

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If you or someone you know is injured in an accident, contact the accident and injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles by calling (661) 323-4000, or chat with us online at chainlaw.com.