Teen drivers, school buses the focus of safety awareness weeks

October 23, 2019 | 11:11 am


Our children’s safety can be one of the most important focuses in our lives, which makes two national observances this week especially vital. This week in the United States we are observing “School Bus Safety Week” and “Teen Driver Safety Week.”

Learn safety tips, statistics, and other important information about these observances below.

“Our children’s safety is a top concern always,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Let’s all remember this week, and moving forward, to be extra careful around school buses, talk to teens about safe driving habits, and follow our laws always.”

 

Teen Driver Safety Week

This week and beyond, parents should speak with their teen children about how to stay as safe as possible behind the wheel. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading causes of death for teens (15 to 18 years old) in the United States, ahead of all other types of injuries, diseases, or violent acts. Teens are also 10 times more likely to be in a fatal car accident than adults.

In particular, there are six dangers that are especially important for teens to understand: alcohol, inconsistent or no seat belt use, distracted and drowsy driving, speeding, and number of passengers. Learn more about them below, courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • Alcohol and Drugs: All teens are too young to legally buy, possess, or consume alcohol.  However, nationally in 2017, 15% of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had alcohol in their system. But alcohol isn’t the only substance that can keep teens from driving safely.  According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.5% of adolescents 12 to 17 years old reported using marijuana. Like other drugs, marijuana affects a driver’s ability to react to their surroundings. Remind teens that driving under the influence of any impairing substance could have deadly consequences.
  • Seat Belts: Wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest ways for teens to stay safe in a vehicle. A total of 539 passengers died in passenger vehicles driven by teen drivers and more than half (60%) of those passengers who died were NOT buckled up at the time of the fatal crash. Even more troubling, in 87% of cases when the teen driver was unbuckled, the passengers were also unbuckled. The chances of surviving a traffic crash are 45% higher when properly restrained in a seat belt.
  • Distracted Driving: Distractions while driving are more than just risky—they can be deadly. In 2017, among teen drivers involved in fatal crashes, 9 percent were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. The use of mobile devices while driving is a big problem, but there are other causes of teen distracted driving which pose dangers as well. They include adjusting the radio, applying makeup, eating or drinking, or distractions from other passengers in the vehicle.
  • Speeding: In 2017, almost one-quarter (27%) of all teen passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash, and males were more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than females.
  • Passengers: Teen drivers transporting passengers can lead to disastrous results.  Research shows the risk of a fatal crash goes up in direct relation to the number of passengers in a car. The likelihood of teen drivers engaging in risky behavior triples when traveling with multiple passengers.
  • Drowsy Driving: Teens are busier than ever: studying, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and spending time with friends are among the long list of things they do to fill their time. However, with all of these activities, teens tend to compromise something very important—sleep. This is a dangerous habit that can lead to drowsy driving or falling asleep at the wheel.

 

School Bus Safety Week

Every school day in this country, 25 million children ride in a bus. The good news: School buses are among the safest modes of transportation. In fact, students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus instead of traveling by car, according to NHTSA. Why? They’re designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in preventing crashes and injuries.

But it’s not inside of the bus we should be most concerned about in terms of safety, but what happens outside. The real risks is in walking to the bus stop, and getting on and off the bus.

Here are some tips to keep students safe, as well as those walking and driving around school buses.

Tips for Drivers

  • Watch out for children walking or bicycling to school when backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage.
  • Be on the lookout when driving through neighborhoods. Drive slowly and watch for children walking in the street.
  • Learn the school bus laws in California.
    • Yellow flashing lights indicate that a bus is preparing to stop to pick up or drop off children. Drivers should slow down and prepare to stop.
    • Red flashing lights and an extended stop-arm signal indicate that the bus has stopped and that children are getting on or off. Cars must stop a safe distance away and not start again until the red lights stop flashing, the stop sign has been folded back, and the bus begins to continue on its way.

Tips for Students

  • Be at the bus stop at least 5 minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.
  • Stand at least 6 feet away from the curb when the bus approaches, and keep the line away from the street.
  • Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says it’s okay to step onto the bus.
  • Remain visible to the bus driver at all times.
  • Never walk behind the bus. You should always make sure that you’re in the driver’s line of sight.
  • Use the handrails to avoid falling.
  • If seat belts are available on the bus, buckle up.
  • Don’t speak loudly or make loud noises that could distract the driver.
  • Stay in your seat.
  • Don’t put your head, arms, or hands out the window.
  • Keep the aisle clear of books, bags, and other objects.
  • Wait for the bus to stop completely before getting up from your seat.
  • If you have to cross in front of the bus after you get off, first walk at least 10 feet ahead until you can see the driver.
  • When the driver signals, look left, right, then left again. Walk across the road and keep an eye out for sudden traffic changes.

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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.

Driving while high on THC? Here’s what you should know

October 16, 2019 | 6:00 am


Marijuana today has become mainstream as voters across the United States approve ballot measures for legalization and medical use. In fact, cannabis is now legal for recreational use in 10 states (including California) and the District of Columbia, and nearly three dozen states have cleared the use of medical cannabis.

As legalization continues to expand, safety officials across the country are more concerned than ever about stoned drivers taking to the nation’s roads and freeways, potentially endangering lives. But while there’s general agreement that driving while high is bad, there is not yet a linear relationship between THC levels and degree of impairment.

Read below to learn about the current state of marijuana laws as they relate to driving, ongoing studies, and what you can do to make sure we are all safe on the roadways.

 

CALIFORNIA LAW

Under California law, marijuana use and driving is still in the works. California DMV states that “the use of any drug which impairs your ability to drive safely is illegal.” The law does not distinguish between prescription, over-the-counter, or illegal drugs.

California also does not have a legal blood concentration limit for THC, unlike for alcohol. That is, there is no stated level at which a person is presumed to be under the influence as a result of marijuana use.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed AB 127 into law, which provides funding and authorization for the California Highway Patrol, and other law enforcement agencies, to study the effects of marijuana-impaired driving.

“One of the open-ended questions (about legal, recreational cannabis), that is a legitimate question, is public safety on the roads,” Newsom said in a statement before signing the bill. ”

 

DRIVING WHILE STONED

Government agencies are now testing ways to ensure the legalization of cannabis doesn’t create new public health risks, including answering the question, “at what point is someone too high to get behind the wheel?” The answer is complicated.

Scientists and pharmacologists don’t know how to measure if and to what extent marijuana causes impairment. The reason is existing blood and urine tests can detect marijuana use, but those tests can’t specify whether the use occurred in the day or month. They also don’t indicate the level at which a driver would be considered “under the influence.”

For alcohol, there is a clear, national standard. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher, you’re considered cognitively impaired at a level that is unsafe to drive. Extensive research supports this determination, and the clarity makes enforcement of drunken driving laws easier, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But setting a marijuana-related impairment level is a murkier proposition.

Eaze, an online cannabis marketplace, recently surveyed licensed Californian drivers who used cannabis within 30 days of responding, and here’s what they found:

  • Nearly half, 46%, who responded were unable to answer whether there exists a legal bloodstream concentration limit for THC, as there is for alcohol.
  • 81% were aware that it is illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis.
  • 62% also were unaware of the legal penalties that come with it. Like a DUI involving alcohol, they can include fines, jail time and license suspensions.
  • 82% stated that driving is the primary method by which most marijuana consumers buy cannabis
  • Almost half, 45%, reported driving after consuming the drug.
  • Of adults who consume and drive, 77% believe it doesn’t affect their driving, and 16% believe it improves their driving.
  • A vast majority said they would not do so if low- or no-cost ride-share options, or delivery, were available.

In the end, the study showed that “few know critical details about cannabis consumption and driving.”

 

BREATHALYZERS?

Breathalyzer tests for alcohol are a quick and non-invasive way to tell if a driver is drunk. Testing for stoned drivers isn’t as straightforward. And there is no known correlation between blood THC concentration and impairment, and testing requires a blood or saliva sample. These complications have made it a challenge to gauge whether legalization makes the roads more hazardous. Some areas have laws that define a predetermined concentration of THC in the blood as illegal whether or not the driver appears impaired.

One company, called Hound Labs, is working on a breakthrough in creating a marijuana breathalyzer.

The company says its device can accurately detect whether a person has smoked pot in the last two hours. The device also doubles as an alcohol breathalyzer, giving police an easy-to-use roadside for both intoxicants.

Other tools now on the market to determine marijuana test blood, saliva or urine can take days for a result.

For now, law enforcement agencies rely mostly on roadside sobriety tests by officers to make an initial determination on impairment. In California, every highway patrol member learns to administer “field sobriety tests” — undergoing an extra 16 hours of training to recognize the influence of different drugs, including marijuana.

 

RESEARCH

Studies do show that marijuana does, in fact, weaken a driver’s ability to maintain focus, and it slows reflexes. But more research is still needed, experts say.

Research by the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University showed that half of young drivers, age 16 to 25, who died in car crashes were under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or both. In 2015, 43 percent of all drivers killed in vehicle crashes who were tested, tested positive for legal or illegal drugs, according to the NHTSA. In California, 19 percent of all drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes who were tested, tested positive for legal or illegal drugs. And those percentages have been increasing each year.

Drugged driving is known as “a silent epidemic,” because there is a misconception that it’s OK and is safe to drive after smoking pot, as NPR reported. And the public — especially teenage drivers — are not well aware of some of the hazards of drugs such as marijuana on driving.

A major study underway on driving impairment at University of California San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research is scheduled to wrap up next year. Other groups, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., are working on creating standards for a marijuana DUI detection test.

 

STAYING SAFE

The advice for pot users and driving is the same for all substances that cause impairment: never drive while under the influence!

Just like drunk driving, driving under the influence of drugs is a crime – even if impairment is due to prescribed medications, illicit drugs, over-the-counter medications or marijuana – medical or recreational. The dangers and legal consequences are the same.

Here’s what you need to know about driving while under the influence of marijuana:

  • Marijuana slows your reaction time and ability to make decisions. Marijuana affects the part of the brain that controls body movement, balance and coordination and can impair judgment and memory. Studies show that driving while under the influence of marijuana negatively impacts attentiveness, perception of time and speed. Impaired memory can affect the ability to draw from past driving experiences, especially in emergency situations.
  •  The higher you are, the more risks you take while driving. Studies show that drivers with only a small amount of THC in their blood can feel the effects. They often try to be more cautious, driving slower than normal, even sometimes too slow. However, greater problems arise when increasingly larger doses of THC are present in the blood. These drivers tend to weave in and out of lanes more, react slower to traffic lights and unexpected obstacles and are less aware of their speed. Overall, higher doses of marijuana tend to cause greater impairment when it comes to driving.
  • The effect of marijuana is strongest during the first 30 minutes after consumption. People who drive immediately after using marijuana may increase their risk of getting into a crash by 25 to 35 percent. The impairing effect rises rapidly and remains for some time. These affects can be delayed if the marijuana is ingested rather than smoked.
  • Combining alcohol with marijuana or impairing medications is even more dangerous than any used alone. Alcohol is a depressant and works by slowing down the central nervous system, which means that normal brain functions are delayed. It also impairs hand-eye coordination and how you process information. When marijuana or the long list of impairing prescription medications and illicit drugs are mixed with alcohol, the combination can heighten the effects of both on the body and brain.

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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.

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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MADD Kern County’s sixth ‘Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash’ – presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles – raises $60,000 to fight against DUI crimes

October 2, 2019 | 6:00 am


Kern County came together Saturday morning at the Park at River Walk to support victims of DUI crashes, call for an end of drunk and drugged driving, and raise more than $60,000 in the process.

The sixth annual Bakersfield Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash – presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles – is aimed to raise awareness of the DUI problem in locally, raise funds for MADD Kern County’s educational programs and victim services, and support local victims and survivors of drunk and drugged driving crashes. Bringing out more than 800 walkers and runners for this cause, the event featured a kid’s fun run, 5K and 10K in what has become one of the largest fundraising walking and running events in Kern County, according to Bakersfield Track Club.

The morning featured an opening ceremony with statements from representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, victims of DUI crashes, outgoing Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, and Assemblyman Vince Fong, among others. It was followed by a kid’s fun run presented by Adventist Health and Bakersfield Active 20-30 Club, timed 5K and 10K runs, with medals awarded in age categories, and a march by victims, their families and supporters from our community.

“On this day, our community together to fight a serious in Kern County, and remember the victims of these crimes,” said Carla Pearson, victim services specialist for MADD Kern County. “If we all keep our passion for change for another 364 days, we will see a future in Kern County with no more victims.  Let’s make sure we all drive safe and sober, always.”

Making the event possible were sponsors Chain | Cohn | Stiles (presenting sponsor), Chevron, Kern High School District, STEPS, Sally Herald Accountancy Inc., UBS Financial, Clinica Sierra Vista, Kern Schools Federal Credit Union, Kern County Prosecutors Association, Strata Credit Union, Wells Fargo, Vince Fong for Assembly and more. A kid’s fun run was presented by Adventist Health and Bakersfield Active 20-30 Club.

Medals and trophies were awarded to the fastest runners in their respective age categories, with results being posted on the Bakersfield Track Club website. Awards were also given to the following top fundraisers:

  • Top Friends and Family Team: Madysyn & Kalebs Keepers ($3,113)
  • Top Individual Fundraiser: Laura Melton ($1,595)
  • Law Enforcement Challenge: Kern County District Attorney’s Office
  • Corporate Challenge: Kern Schools Federal Credit Union

Kern County is averaging nearly 12 DUI arrests per day. Each year in Kern County, dozens of innocent lives are lost – plus hundreds more injured and thousands of friends and families affected – from this 100 percent preventable crime. Kern County ranks worst in the state for DUI crashes resulting in injuries, and second most in the United States. This year alone (as of Sept. 10), CHP-Bakersfield officers have reported 288 DUI traffic collisions, with 11 resulting in fatalities.

Since 2014, the annual Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash has raised more than $350,000, including this year. It’s not too late to donate – donations are being accepted through October at www.walklikemadd.org/bakersfield.

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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.

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles sponsors scholarships during annual ‘El Grito’ ceremony in downtown Bakersfield

September 25, 2019 | 6:00 am


Hundreds came together on Sept. 15 at the Liberty Bell in front of Kern County Superior Court to celebrate the annual “El Grito de Dolores,” a major celebration in Mexico that marks the country’s fight for independence against Spanish rule.

The evening included folkloric dancers, mariachi and banda music groups, and a scholarship recognition ceremony led by a representative from Chain | Cohn | Stiles honoring 16 Kern County students and scholarship recipients. Learn more about the scholarship program below.

The featured entertainment included Sonora Explosiva, Banda Orgullosa, Mariachi Toro’s de Mexico, Brian Anaya (La Vox Kids), Ballet Folklorico Huaztecalli, Floreo de Soga and more. Other attractions included face painting by Fabulous Faces by Nallely! and a street fair with food vendors and informational booths.

The celebration also included a live feed from the Mexican city of Dolores where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador led a reenactment of El Grito. Mexican Independence Day is Sept. 16. The Grito, which occurred in the small Mexican town of Dolores, was the rallying call made by a Roman Catholic priest in front of his church to the battle against Spain.

The was the seventh year of El Grito celebration in Bakersfield, organized by the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Business Education Foundation, which includes foundation chairman and Chain | Cohn | Stiles marketing director Jorge Barrientos.

 

SCHOLARSHIPS

The Bakersfield accident, injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles each year sponsors student scholarships presented during El Grito celebration. This year, joining Chain | Cohn | Stiles in funding scholarships was Kern Schools Federal Credit Union, Rabobank, Valley Republic Bank, Beautiful You Medical Aesthetics, and XM Garcia Law.

The sponsors, in partnership with the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Business Education Foundation, awarded 16-$250 scholarships to local students in pursuit of higher education, and who are giving back in various ways to our community. This year, the foundation received more than 250 applications from students throughout Kern County.

“We were thoroughly impressed by the students’ dedication to education, community service, and promising future outlook,” said KCHCC Business Education Foundation chairman Jorge Barrientos. “Many of them are first-generation U.S. students, and the first to attend a university in their families. Some of them are even DREAMers, pursuing their dreams regardless of obstacles in their way. We award scholarships to help them pursue their educational goals.”

Here are this year’s student scholarship recipients:

  • Carlos Alberto Aguilar
  • Christopher Aldaco
  • Monica Ascencio
  • Rafael Castellanos
  • Jazmin Jimenez Castro
  • Serina Ishida
  • Destiny Jimenez
  • Alondra Macario
  • Nancy Maldonado
  • Karen Martinez
  • Angel Daniel Mendoza
  • Audrie Michael
  • Andres Ramirez
  • Guadalupe Sanchez
  • Nimsy Soto
  • Omar Vences Vergara

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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.

Sixth Bakersfield ‘Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash’ presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles

September 18, 2019 | 6:00 am


Each year, too many innocent people die in Kern County from crashes caused by people who choose to get behind the wheel while under the influence. Those local lives lost – plus hundreds more injured and thousands of friends and families – are affected from this 100 percent preventable crime.

In fact, Kern County is averaging nearly 12 DUI arrests per day. In addition, Kern County ranks worst in the state for DUI crashes resulting in injuries, and second most in the United States. This year alone (as of Sept. 10), CHP-Bakersfield officers have reported 288 DUI traffic collisions, with 11 resulting in fatalities.

MADD Kern County – together with victims, local businesses and community supporters – are coming together to say, “Enough is enough!” and “No More Victims!”

The sixth annual Bakersfield Walk Like MADD and MADD Dash – presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles – will be held Saturday, Sept. 28, at Park at River Walk. It’s aimed to raise awareness of the DUI problem in our local communities, raise funds for local MADD Kern County educational programs, and provide support to local victims and survivors of drunk and drugged driving crashes.

Since the first Bakersfield Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash in 2014, thousands of local residents have made their voices heard while raising more than $300,000 for MADD Kern County. In what has become one of the largest fundraising walks and runs in town, the event brings together people from our community – surviving victims of crashes, families and friends of injured and deceased victims, law enforcement and prosecutors, first responders, advocates, and other community leaders and members – to march, rally and run for the cause.

It’s also supported this year by Chevron, Kern High School District, STEPS, Sally Herald Accountancy Inc., UBS Financial, Clinica Sierra Vista, Kern Schools Federal Credit Union, Kern County Prosecutors Association, Strata Credit Union, Wells Fargo, and more. A kid’s fun run is presented by Adventist Health and Bakersfield Active 20-30 Club.

“Kern County has a serious DUI problem, and it’s going to take every single one of us to make an impact,” said Carla Pearson, MADD Kern County’s Victim Service Specialist. “We can come together to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ prevent future DUI arrests and crashes, and see a day with no more victims.”

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles for many years has partnered with MADD Kern County to combat DUI crashes. Attorney Matt Clark sits on the MADD Kern County Advisory Board and regularly speaks to DUI offenders during the MADD Victim Impact Pa