More People Die On Rural Roads Than City Streets. How To Make Kern County’s Rural Roads Safer For All Travelers

January 19, 2022 | 5:00 am


The year 2021 was one of the deadliest years on Kern County’s rural highways, according to California Highway Patrol.

In June 2021, for example, western Kern County saw eight fatal accidents on rural roads when CHP officers normally see 12 to 15 per year. This scary trend is not necessarily a local one: Nearly half of the more than 36,000 traffic fatalities in the United States each year occur on rural roads, even though only about a fifth of the population lives in rural areas, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. More than 16,000 people died in a crash on U.S. rural roads in 2019.

“Improving safety on … more than 20 other two-lane rural roads in Kern is needed,” said Kern County Supervisor David Couch in the Delano Record. “Prioritizing rural road safety helps rural disadvantaged communities that use these roads the most while helping all our family and friends come home safely.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is joining roadway safety advocates and other officials in calling upon our city and county leaders to make Kern County’s rural roads safer for all travelers.

 

RURAL ROAD PROBLEMS

Transportation experts say a combination of higher speeds, narrow shoulders, lack of lighting and lots of curves contribute to the problem. Additionally, emergency responders may be farther away from crashes and can take longer to arrive at the crash scene, and transport injured drivers and passengers to hospitals.

In 2019, the fatality rate on rural roads was nearly twice as high as on urban ones, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, even with the increase in bike and pedestrian incidents. In 2018, 58% of drivers in rural areas died on the way to hospitals compared with 41% in urban areas, according to the federal highway safety agency.

Nine out of 10 rural traffic fatalities occur on two-lane roads, according to a May 2020 report by TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research center.

The statistics are especially alarming for Kern County, which is the third-largest county by area in California. Thousands of county residents live in areas categorized as rural, and the county itself stakes its economic health primarily on two industries in rural areas, agriculture and oil, centered in rural Kern County.

 

WHAT’S BEING DONE

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill the U.S. Senate passed recently touches on the problem. It would require a study of the issue and launch a new rural road grant program that includes $300 million for high-risk rural road safety programs, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.

Relatively simple engineering changes, such as rumble strips, median barriers, pavement markings, better lighting and wider shoulders could make a big difference in rural road safety, transportation experts and advocates say. The idea is to anticipate human errors by road users, then redesign or add safety features to reduce or eliminate risks that result in serious traffic injuries or deaths.

Some states are already tackling the problem. Illinois’ transportation agency agreed to survey and prioritize the most dangerous rural intersections. Kansas, Minnesota and South Carolina are spending significant amounts to upgrade safety infrastructure or come up with ways to prevent rural crashes — installing rumble strips, wider pavement markings, brighter signs, high-friction surface treatments, guardrails and other improvements. In Minnesota, the state transportation department has installed technology at dozens of rural intersections to give motorists real-time warnings about traffic conditions.

In Kansas, where about 90% of the roads are rural and most are owned by counties, officials discovered that roadway departures — anything that causes drivers to unintentionally leave their lane — were the biggest contributor to fatal or serious crashes. So, officials have set aside $4 million a year in federal funds for its high-risk rural roads program to help all of their counties develop safety plans for their rural roads, including flattening slopes, widening shoulders, installing pavement markings and rumble strips and removing trees that may be too close to the road.

 

KERN COUNTY

As indicated by this past summer’s statistics, the rural highway fatality rate appears to be growing in Kern County.

“There are easy things we can do in Kern County to help prevent these crashes on rural roads,” said Matt Clark, attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “Things like rumble strips alert drivers that they’ve made an error, and combined with wider shoulders, could save countless lives.”

Clark added: “Safety needs to be built into every road in Kern County, whether it’s city or rural roadways, and whether it’s for maintenance or new road construction. Our lives depend on it.”

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Column: Don’t Make ‘The Worst Legal Mistake Of Your Life’. Why It’s Important To Hire A Local Lawyer

January 11, 2022 | 2:46 pm


When a reader suggested for syndicated columnist and lawyer Dennis Beaver to write an article about why it’s a good idea to hire a local lawyer — as opposed to those salesy TV lawyers — Beaver reached out to Chain | Cohn | Stiles managing partner David K. Cohn to explain the importance. Below is a column by Beaver answering the reader’s question, as published in the Santa Maria Times.

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“Two of my employees were involved in an auto accident that was not their fault. They were about to hire an out-of-town law firm that advertises heavily on television because the attorney in the commercials is a big fan of the same football team they are!

“I told them that’s not a sound basis to retain a lawyer, and to stay local, as our town has many good attorneys. Also, I had them read your December, 2020 article, “Could Your Lawyer Have Cheated You on Your Bill,” which described illegal charges by a TV-advertising, personal injury law firm hundreds of miles away from where your reader lived.

“But they would not listen me, hired them despite horrible Yelp reviews, and now have large unpaid medical bills! Dennis, an article explaining why it is a good idea to hire a lawyer who actually lives in your town would help a lot of people.”

“Fight for You Rights” TV Commercials

We’ve all seen television ads for personal injury and workers compensation law firms that say things like, “We fight for your rights!” What they do not tell you is that hiring one could be the worst legal mistake of your life.

The California State Bar is investigating the fraudulent billing practices of the law firm in my December 2020 article – and they are one of many law firms I am aware of who illegally charge for expenses that the lawyers never incur.

So, Why Stay Local?

I spoke with Bakersfield attorney David Cohn, in practice over 40 years, and considered one of the most accomplished personal injury trial attorneys in the United States. He outlined the risks in hiring a lawyer based on snazzy television commercials.

“In so many instances, the TV ads make it look like the lawyer is local, but that’s deceiving. Many are personal injury mills with a local phone number, and even a local office address. But drop in and you will never find an attorney. You will almost never meet the lawyer in person, only office staff.

“So, you see their commercial, phone, overcomes an investigator who signs you up, and immediately they send you to their out-of-town doctors just to build up huge, unnecessary medical bills in the hopes of a large settlement which seldom occurs. And, you could be left with unpaid bills. I see this often.” Cohn points out, adding:

“When their dissatisfied clients come to us, we often find medical bills that are 10 times what is normal! Clients have no idea what they have gotten themselves into.”

One of the dirty little secrets of these personal injury mills – who spend millions on television advertising – is something clients are also unaware of: “They do not have your best interest in mind and do not ‘fight’ for top dollar! All they want is a quick settlement.”

The TV ads give the impression that the lawyer you see in the commercial —who you will likely never meet — is handling your case. But Cohn notes:

“In reality, it’s an administrative assistant, not an attorney! They take any accident case and hope for one with significant injuries which they broker to a trial lawyer–for a large referral fee — because the lawyers who run these firms don’t try cases!”

Will Your Lawyer Actually Go Court?

In spite of what we see on television and in the movies, few lawyers go to court. Very few personal injury lawyers have ever tried a case. But, does it really matter? And, if it is true that most personal injury cases settle before trial, should it matter at all where my lawyer is located?

You bet it does!

Cohn explains why it is so critical – even for what may seem to be a ‘simple’ case that you would never expect to wind up in court – to be represented by local counsel who are real trial attorneys – who will try a case.

“Insurance companies know which lawyers will go to court and ‘TV’ lawyers who just settle a case without going the extra mile for the client. This allows the company to settle your case for far less — often thousands of dollars less — than what is fair.”

And if your case has to go to trial?

“You want a local law firm that tries cases, knows and is known by the judges in your community, not someone the TV law firm found because they aren’t able to provide their clients with competent professional service,” Cohn underscores.

And Before You Hire the Attorney …

Cohn lists these five important steps before retaining a lawyer.

(1) Research and find out as much as you can about the attorney.

(2) Is that lawyer local?

(3) Does that lawyer try cases in court?

(4) What is their success rate?

(5) Go to your State Bar’s website to find out of that lawyer has had any disciplinary issues.

Concluding our interview, I asked, “What has given you the greatest satisfaction from your long career in law?”

“It is doing the best I can to make my clients as whole as possible. That’s my job, but, Dennis, as corny as this sounds, it’s really more than a job. It is a calling.”

Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to [email protected] Also, visit dennisbeaver.com.

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Chain | Cohn | Stiles Provides Insight On Impaired Driving Crimes In Kern County Following Tragic Fatal DUI Crash

December 15, 2021 | 6:00 am


A walk home after school turned into tragedy when an impaired driver took the lives of a 19-year-old and 10-year-old brother and sister.

Lisa Core was arrested on second-degree murder charges when she jumped the curb while allegedly under the influence and ran over the siblings on the sidewalk. She had been arrested several times before for driving impaired, according to media reports.

JJ Malone, 19, and 10-year-old sister Caylee Brown died in the crash. JJ had just met Caylee at the school bus drop-off when Core’s sedan veered across the eastbound lanes of Panama Lane, jumped the curb, and mowed them down on the sidewalk.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles representatives joined the Bakersfield and Kern County communities in mourning the deaths, and in admonishing the DUI driver and ongoing the DUI problem locally. Attorney Matt Clark appeared on several local news media outlets to discuss the criminal and potential civil case, sentencing guidelines for DUI crimes in California, and impaired driving epidemic in Kern County. Clark is a board member for the local chapter of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and is a recipient of the “Pursuit of Justice” award by MADD California.

Law firm marketing director Jorge Barrientos joined Spanish language news media as well — Barrientos is also a board member for the MADD Kern County Advisory Board and is the planning committee chairman for the annual “Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash,” the local chapter’s annual fundraiser of which Chain | Cohn | Stiles is presenting sponsor. Barrientos is also the 2015 “Volunteer of the Year” for MADD California.

Clark shared with local media the following statistics and information about impaired driving crimes locally:

  • “There is only one other county in the United States where you are statistically more likely to be killed by a drunk or impaired driver than you are in Kern County,” Clark told 23ABC News. “That is embarrassing. That is a disgusting statistic.”
  • “When it comes to a death in a drunk driving case or in this instance, a drugged driving case, you can actually charge someone with murder,” Clark told 23ABC News. “We’re one of the rare states where you can do that. That law actually originated out of Kern County.”
  • The penalties can vary for DUI. At a minimum, DUI offender who causes a death and is charged with negligent-vehicular-manslaughter while intoxicated, can face up to a year in jail and a maximum of $1,000 dollars in fines. A conviction of second-degree murder can result in 15 years to life in prison.
  • Clark told local media even with a misdemeanor, “slap on the wrist” may not solve the issue. “In our community, what you typically see happen in a DUI of a misdemeanor case the person receives a minimal sentence, and on that first DUI, it means they are certainly not going to do any jail time, they’re going to pay a fine, they’re going to be placed on probation, their license is likely suspended. The second and third DUI are more severe. But none of it is apparently severe enough to change people’s behavior.”
  • Kern County averages 4,000 arrests per year, an astounding number based on our population. Kern County has the second-highest odds in the country for someone to be killed by a drunk driver while on the road.
  • “In the DUI cases that I have been involved in, it is rare that an injury or a death DUI crash occurs that it’s the persons first attempt. It’s almost always the second, third, the fourth, or the fifth,” Clark said.

You can view all the media reports at the links at the bottom of this page.

According to KGET-17 News, Malone’s and Brown’s deaths were Kern County’s 52nd and 53rd pedestrian fatalities in 2021.

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MEDIA COVERAGE

Chain | Cohn | Stiles Responds To Most Recent Arrest Of Former McFarland Coach As Sexual Misconduct Civil Case Continues

December 8, 2021 | 11:13 am


Editor’s Note: A former McFarland High basketball coach was sentenced to state prison after he promised a 15-year-old boy a spot on the varsity team in exchange for sexual favors. Chain | Cohn | Stiles is representing the victim in his sexual misconduct civil case. The former coach, Fernando Pruneda, was recently arrested again for allegedly attempting to contact an underage person for sex. Attorney Matt Clark provided a statement in a press release sent to local media — it is below. For full media coverage, please scroll to the bottom of the page.  

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In light of the most recent arrest and probation violation by former McFarland High School basketball coach Fernando Pruneda for alleged sexual misconduct, Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark provides the following statement on behalf of the victim from Pruneda’s previous arrest regarding the ongoing civil matter:

“We feel it is necessary to bring light to these cases where local school districts are employing sexual predators. In our case, McFarland Unified High School District employed Pruneda, and there are allegations that the school district knew or should have known of his impropriety, including such things as calling the student out of regular class for massages. This should serve as a reminder to all schools that their employees are mandated reporters, and if someone is calling a student out of class without substantial justification, it is cause for concern. It’s incumbent on the schools to investigate any suspicion of abuse, especially sexual abuse by a school employee.

In light of the most recent allegations, it appears Mr. Pruneda has not learned his lesson. Based on our firm’s history of handling these types of cases, Mr. Pruneda’s conduct is consistent with other sexual predators, as he is alleged to have continued with the same bad conduct. The civil case is ongoing, and despite the alleged criminal acts, the McFarland Unified School District has yet to accept any responsibility for its employee’s abhorrent conduct.”

According to reports, Pruneda was arrested by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 13 for allegedly attempting to arrange a meeting with a minor to commit a sexual offense. The civil suit is based upon the same wrongdoing.

In the previous criminal case from 2018, Pruneda pleaded no contest to contacting a minor to commit a sexual offense, was sentenced to two years in prison, and was required to register as a sex offender. Investigations revealed Pruneda was attempting to get sexual favors from a junior varsity basketball player and threatened not to put him on the varsity team if the player resisted. That civil case against the school district is ongoing. A trial date is scheduled for April 25, 2022.

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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.

If you or someone you know experienced sexual assault and is seeking resources, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

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2018 ARREST MEDIA COVERAGE

2021 ARREST MEDIA COVERAGE

Kern County court orders senior care service provider to pay $2 million in local elder neglect, wrongful death case

November 3, 2021 | 6:00 am


A Kern County judge has ordered a defendant in a local elder abuse and neglect civil case to pay more than $2 million in connection with the death of an 80-year-old man, longtime teacher, U.S. Army veteran, and husband of 57 years.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles obtained this judgment on behalf of the widow and children of John Paul Owens against Wade Budney of “A Helping Hand Senior Care Services” for the alleged fraud he committed, which ultimately played a role in Paul’s untimely death.

Well into retirement, Paul Owens began to suffer symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. He fell at home in 2017 and subsequently required surgery on his hip. After surgery, Paul was placed in a skilled nursing facility for the sole purpose of rehabilitation. He was supposed to be given therapy daily to regain the strength to walk on his own, and to be able to independently take care of his regular activities of daily living. Paul and wife Carol always planned for Paul to return to his home after this short period of rehabilitation.

Budney allegedly duped Carol Owens into consenting to the transfer of her husband from a skilled nursing facility to a facility with a lower level of care. In litigation, it was revealed that Budney exchanged text messages with the owner of the lower level facility wherein the owner notified Budney that the facility was inappropriate for Paul Owens’ needs. In light of this, text messages revealed that Budney was arranging to have medical records altered so as to make Paul Owens appear to be qualified for care in this facility. It is believed that Budney did the foregoing for his financial gain, which was solely based upon his successful transfer of Paul Owens from one facility to another.

The judgement was entered in Kern County Superior Court on Oct. 7 against Wade Budney doing business as “A Helping Hand.” After the Court reviewed Carol Owens’ evidence and testimony, it awarded $2,011,297.06 to Carol Owens and two of her children, Sharol Stevenson and Randall Owens.

Paul Owens was born in 1937 in Oklahoma. His family moved to McFarland when he was 4 years old, and he graduated from McFarland High School. After school, he served in the U.S. Army and worked as a paratrooper. In 1960, Paul married Carol. He earned his teaching credential in 1962 and would teach for 38 years. He loved cross country running and working with his hands.

“Ms. Owens’ never-ending love for her husband motivated her to unceasingly pursue this case and give him a voice,” said Tanya Alsheikh, elder abuse and neglect attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We are working to ensure that we hold individuals and companies accountable when they take advantage of a particularly vulnerable portion of our population, when they care more about their profits instead of the dignity and health of that individual who they have a responsibility toward.”

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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.

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 MEDIA COVERAGE

Local Police Departments Receive Hundreds of Thousands in Grants to Improve Traffic Safety

October 27, 2021 | 6:00 am


Local police departments have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to improve traffic safety in Bakersfield and Kern County.

The Bakersfield Police Department received two grants from the California Office of Traffic Safety totaling $433,000 — the Selective Traffic Enforcement Program grant for $400,000, and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Program grant for $33,000. Specifically, the grant money will be used for DUI checkpoints, enforcement operations, community presentations, and much more.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles is highlighting the specific traffic safety programs you’ll likely be seeing locally in the coming year.

  • DUI checkpoints and patrols specifically focused on suspected impaired drivers. 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. And during this pandemic, fatal crash rates have spiked, with speeding, lower seatbelt use, and impaired driving to blame.
  • Enforcement operations focused on top violations that cause crashes: speeding, failure to yield, stop sign and/or red-light running, and improper turning or lane changes. The number of people killed by drivers running red lights has hit a 10-year high, according to a study by Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA). Nearly 1,000 people were killed in a year, according to the most recent statistics available — that’s a 30 percent increase from 10 years ago.
  • Enforcement operations focused on suspected distracted drivers in violation of California’s hands-free cell phone law. Each year more than 400,000 people are injured and more than 3,000 people are killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, making up nearly 10% of all fatal crashes, according to the latest figures from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In California, nearly 20,000 crashes took place that involved distracted driving, which resulted in more than 100 deaths and 13,500 injuries, according to CHP.
  • Bicycle and pedestrian safety enforcement operations focused on driver behaviors that put vulnerable road users at risk. A new nationwide study that lists Bakersfield as the No. 2 most dangerous metropolitan area in the United States to be a pedestrian. The “Dangerous by Design” study by Smart Growth America analyzed government data from 2010 to 2019 to create a Pedestrian Danger Index. In that time period, 260 pedestrians died in Bakersfield.
  • Community education presentations on traffic safety issues such as distracted driving, DUI, speeding, and bicycle and pedestrian safety. The increase also comes at a time of another sobering statistic: From 2016 through 2018 in California, more cyclists died in traffic accidents across the state than during any three-year period in the past 25 years, according to California Healthline. Surging popularity of bike shares and fitness cycling are part of the reasons.

Meanwhile in northern Kern County, the Delano Police Department also received a grant to combat dangerous and illegal driving behavior. Delano Police received $50,000 from the California Road Safety Authority for DUI checkpoints, patrols catch drivers who violate California’s hands-free mobile phone law, bicycle and pedestrian safety, community education presentations on road safety issues, and officer training or recertification. These efforts will continue through September 2022.

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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.

Statistics show women are more likely to be injured, die in motor vehicle crashes, and auto designs may be to blame

October 13, 2021 | 2:08 pm


10,000 women die in car crashes each year because of bad auto design.

That’s the headline from a new report published in Fast Company, which highlights the fact that women are 72% more likely to be injured, and 17% more likely to die in a car crash than men. The report also reveals that crash tests by government agencies are only performed using a male driver, and there is no mandated test that simulates a female driver.

In all, 10,420 women died from motor vehicle crashes in 2019, and over 1 million suffered injuries.

“None of this is surprising to car manufacturers or the government agency responsible for car safety standards, both of which have known these statistics for decades,” the author writes. “While bias plagues many of our nation’s institutions, perhaps none are as shocking as a government- and industry-sanctioned practice that protects men and kills or seriously injures the other 50% of the population. The government’s long-acknowledged negligence bears the responsibility, while women and their families carry the consequences.”

The report continues: “The sisterhood of vehicle-crash victims is farther reaching than we realized. Mothers and daughters are bonded not by stories and laughs, but by traumatic brain injuries, permanent scars, and moments of horror sealed into memory.”

 

TESTING & DESIGN

The National Highway Safety Transportation Association (NHSTA) is the nation’s safety rating agency, which rates every manufactured car in our country. The agency recreates impacts of frontal, rollover, side, and side pole crashes.

But according to the Fast Company’s report, for tests with women in the passenger seat, the dummy used to represent women is a scaled down male model that lacks anything else that distinguishes between sexes, including bone densities, muscle structures, and abdominal and chest differences. Perhaps this is the reason women are 22% more likely to suffer a head injury than men, and while reducing 70% of whiplash in men. For women, the seatbelts and airbags that protect men can actually cause additional injury, leaving women with “permanent scars from the seatbelts we were raised to believe would save our lives, but which also nearly ended them.”

Among other reasons women are at a greater risk to suffer injuries and deaths, according to the author:

  • Men tend to drive smaller, lighter vehicles, while men gravitate toward bigger cars and trucks.
  • Heavy vehicles are also a greater threat to pedestrians than small cars, and pedestrians are more likely to be women or people of color.
  • Women are often excluded from critical design decisions. The people sitting around the table in most transportation, engineering, and automotive conversations are usually men.

 

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE

To start, the country’s INVEST in America Act would require updated, equitable dummy crash testing. The Senate version of this same infrastructure bill does not include this, however. In addition, more women should be included in production design, experts agree.

“This is the moment to make this historic and needed change in vehicle safety,” the author writes. “We will no longer be ignored, left out, and endangered. It is time for our government to stand up for the most vulnerable.”

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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.

Bakersfield’s Walk Like MADD – presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles – raises $57,000 to fight impaired driving in Kern County

September 29, 2021 | 11:28 am


Hundreds of crash victims, family members and friends, law enforcement officers and first responders, community leaders, and supporters came together Sept. 25 at the Park at River Walk to walk, run, and call for an end to impaired driving crashes in Kern County.

In the process, the eighth annual Bakersfield Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash – presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles – raised more than $57,000 for local educational programs and prevention services, and to support local crash victims. The event was help in-person this year after a virtual ceremony last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even during the pandemic, impaired driving crashes continue to tear apart the lives of local residents at record rates in our community,” said Carla Pearson, victim services specialist for MADD Kern County. “Kern County came together Saturday with three goals in mind: to remember victims, to inspire change, and to commit to a future of ‘No More Victims’.”

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. And during this pandemic, fatal crash rates have spiked, with speeding, lower seatbelt use, and impaired driving to blame.

At the state level, the “MADD Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving” calls for high-visibility law enforcement, ignition interlocks or in-car breathalyzers for all convicted drunk drivers, and support for the development of advanced technology.

Bakersfield’s Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash featured an opening ceremony with statements from representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, victims of DUI crashes, Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, Assemblyman Vince Fong, and others. It was followed by a kid’s fun run presented by Capital Dental Group, a timed 5K run, and a march by victims, their families and supporters from our community.

Medals and trophies were awarded to the fastest runners in their respective age categories, and as well to top fundraisers. They were:

  • Top Friends and Family Team: Punjabi Golf Association of Bakersfield
  • Top Individual Fundraiser: RoseMary Wahl
  • Law Enforcement Challenge: Kern County District Attorney’s Office
  • Corporate Challenge: Valley Strong Credit Union
  • Overall 5K Winners: Emma Mann and Troy Guess

Presented by the local law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles, the event was also supported this year by Chevron, Valley Strong Credit Union, Kern County Prosecutors Association, Sally Herald Accountancy Inc., Helping HART (Hit-and-Run Tragedies), STEPS Inc., and others. Since the first Bakersfield Walk Like MADD in 2014, thousands of local residents have made their voices heard while raising nearly $500,000 for MADD Kern County.

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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 Panels, and law firm marketing director is the planning committee chairman for the annual. Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash. For its work has been recognized and honored on several occasions:

  • MADD Kern County honored Chain | Cohn | Stiles with a “Community Champion” award during the 2018 Kern County MADD Law Enforcement and Prosecutor Recognition luncheon ceremony for the law firm’s work toward raising awareness locally and helping victims.
  • The law firm was also nominated in the “Corporation of the Year” category for a 2018 Beautiful Bakersfield Award, which recognizes a company whose volunteer hours and/or financial donations have made a meaningful difference.
  • Jorge Barrientos, director of marketing and public relations for Chain | Cohn | Stiles, was awarded California’s “Volunteer of the Year” award by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, California, at the “Celebrating California’s Heroes” law enforcement and community recognition event in Sacramento.
  • Matt Clark received the “Pursuit of Justice Award” during Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s 2019 “Tie One On for Safety” Gala Awards. The event annually recognizes supporters of MADD Southern California – the regional area for MADD Kern County – which also includes Los Angeles and San Diego chapters.

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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.

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.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney selected to 2021 Bakersfield Life Magazine’s “20 Under 40 People to Watch”

September 1, 2021 | 5:00 am


Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Tanya D. Alsheikh has been selected as one of the 2021 “20 Under 40 People to Watch” in Bakersfield Life Magazine.

The magazine’s annual “20 Under 40 People to Watch” highlights outstanding young men and women whom Bakersfield can be proud of, who possess a hard work ethic, dedication, and a passion for volunteering.

“Bakersfield has always had an electric group of talent, from artists and musicians to lawyers and entrepreneurs. This year’s 20 Under 40 selections are no different,” the magazine stated in its introduction. “In this 2021 issue, we also celebrate the eighth year of recognizing 20 individuals who are rising stars in their professions and leaders in their places of business, as well as in the community. … (W)e are grateful to the class of 2021 — all their hard work and what they bring to the table.”

Alsheikh joined the law firm 5 years ago and focuses on accident, injury, and elder abuse cases. She was raised in Bakersfield and received her bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount, and her Juris Doctorate from University of San Diego School of Law. Tanya is involved in various activities at Saint George Greek Orthodox Church in Bakersfield. You can find her, for example, serving food at the annual Greek Food Festival, which benefits church and other community projects. She is also an Executive Board Member of the Bakersfield Christian High School Alumni Association. She is fluent in Arabic.

In the magazine’s editor’s note, Editor Shelby Parker writes: “Our 20 Under 40 selections have exemplary resumes and are making a difference in our community with their hearts and souls. They are leaders, business owners, givers, and change-makers … Those featured in this issue remind all of us, no matter what age you might be, no matter what you might have going on, that you can still go after your dreams and pursue your passions for what you really want in life.”

Alsheikh’s inclusion on the list now makes six people at the law firm who have been selected for this honor. And of the seven lawyers in the law firm, four of them have been selected. The six are:

The following profile was published in Bakersfield Life Magazine as part of the recognition

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Name: Tanya Alsheikh

Age: 30

Occupation/Business: Attorney at Chain | Cohn | Stiles

Hometown: Bakersfield

Tell us how you got into your field. Since I was pretty young — I’d say 10 years old or so, I decided I wanted to become a lawyer. When I was a freshman at Bakersfield Christian High School, I joined the debate team and automatically felt driven to learn how to properly research arguments and persuasively present them. I never really escaped that drive and I only became more passionate about my dream of becoming an attorney (despite my mom’s best efforts to convince me to become a doctor instead). I attended Loyola Marymount University, where I graduated a year early just so I could take that year to work at a law firm and verify that was the job environment I was looking for. After that year, I went straight to law school and never looked back or regretted it for one moment.

What is your “why?” (Why do you get out of bed every morning and do what you do?) It is extremely rewarding to wake up, walk into work, and know that I am really “standing up for the little guy.” I work on both personal injury and elder abuse/neglect cases. As one can reasonably expect, when someone is involved in an accident they become overwhelmed by all the paperwork the insurance companies start sending them and forget what is most important: getting better.

When I get involved in a case, I take away that element of stress associated with dealing with an insurance company. Insurance companies handle these claims daily and sometimes forget that there is an injured human being on the other end of the case and take advantage of that person. We allow the injured person to focus on his or her care and treatment, while we deal with the insurance company.

With respect to the elder abuse/neglect cases, we are representing elders or dependent adults who were entrusted into the care of nursing homes that took advantage of these people by receiving payment for services that were promised, but never provided. Sometimes, those failures end up resulting in very serious injuries, painful conditions requiring hospitalization, or death. We give a voice to a vulnerable population that can’t stand up for themselves. Honestly, when I’m describing the work we do, “rewarding” seems like such a small word.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Never lose track of your goals, but remember to be flexible. Face the challenges that come along the way head-on even if it leads you down a path you never expected to go.

What is the biggest challenge in the marketplace/business that you’ve overcome? I actually think this is a big obstacle all young attorneys face: being taken seriously as an attorney. When people think of lawyers, they usually think of someone who has the white hair to prove their level of knowledge and experience, but all those attorneys started out like me and there is no shame in being a young attorney. It was a matter of me making the conscious choice to feel comfortable and proud of the fact that I became an attorney at 25 years old, instead of trying to avoid the subject altogether.

What is your proudest achievement of your career thus far?

This is a tough one because it is hard to pinpoint just one specific instance.

Something I did not expect when I was starting my career is that the law is not always clear and sometimes the courts have not had any reason or opportunity to interpret that law. When you run into that situation, you feel like you’ve reached a total dead-end, but giving up is not an option. Every time I’m able to push through that feeling and find an answer or craft an argument despite the lack of case law is a time I feel accomplished.

What’s next for you in your career?

Continue to learn and grow. Regardless of your status as an associate or a partner, there is always something new to learn and I plan to push myself to the fullest extent to become as knowledgeable as I can to better serve my clients and community.

What advice would you give to other young professionals and entrepreneurs in Bakersfield? 

Don’t get discouraged or feel like you’re not successful because you ended up in a city like Bakersfield and not Los Angeles or New York. It is a lot easier to find opportunities for growth and the ability to have a real work-life balance in a place like Bakersfield than if you were in one of those big cities where you’re competing with thousands of people and your entire paycheck goes to your cost of living.

How do you hope to help improve Bakersfield, or bring to the community overall? 

I feel like Bakersfield really gets an undeserved reputation of being a terrible place to live, but in all reality, it has so much to offer that gets overlooked — whether it’s the cost of living or that small-town feel despite being a rather large city. I’m so happy to call it home. I am always on the lookout to give back to a city that has been my home for nearly 75 percent of my life. I love to get involved with organizations or groups that are looking to improve the city and provide a tangible reason for people to change their perception of the city. For instance, I was involved with The Innovation Lab, which is part of The Hub of Bakersfield — a team of individuals who work together to contribute to the betterment of downtown Bakersfield to make it a more desirable place to live and enjoy. Groups and organizations like that see the value that I do and what to share that with the community.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before starting your career? Loan forgiveness counts as income! (haha) and deadlines are everything and procrastination is not an option.

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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.