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!


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



Chain | Cohn | Stiles joins MADD to honor local officers, prosecutors fighting to end DUI crimes

June 15, 2017 | 8:27 am

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Kern County recognized and honored local law enforcement officers and prosecutors on Wednesday, June 14, for their valiant efforts in helping stop DUI crimes.

Bakersfield-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles was proud to be a sponsor, supporter and organizer of the event.

In all, more than 70 officers from throughout Kern County agencies were awarded at the 2017 Kern County MADD Law Enforcement and Prosecutor Recognition ceremony, held at Hodel’s Country Dining in Bakersfield. Prosecutors from the Kern County District Attorney’s Office were also honored, with the highest awards going to the top prosecutor, top probation officer, and the top law enforcement officer.

“These local heroes are potentially helping save lives by removing DUI offenders from our streets,” said Carla Pearson, victim services specialist for MADD Kern County. “They deserve recognition for making our communities throughout Kern County safer.”

To view the names of all of the officers awarded, click here. Among the top award winners were:

  • Probation Department Award, Deputy Luis Gomez: While Deputy Probation Officer Luis Gomez does not conduct traffic stops to arrest DUI offenders, he does work hard at keeping the community safe by supervising felony probationers to ensure they are not consuming alcohol. He also works tirelessly to ensure these offenders remain in compliance with the orders of the court. Through funding provided by the Office of Transportation and Safety, Officer Gomez supervises 75 high-risk, felony and repeat DUI offenders. In 2016 alone, Officer Gomez conducted 947 home calls and 855 office conferences with these dangerous offenders. In 2016, he conducted 522 urinalysis tests by ETG device and 1,125 Breathalyzer tests. Officer Gomez has been swift in his responses to those who violate Court orders by arresting them or placing them on monitoring programs in an effort to reduce their alcohol consumption. Officer Gomez’ diligence in supervising these high-risk worst of the worst DUI offenders is commendable and has gone a long way to help keep our streets safer for the citizens of Kern County.
  • Top Prosecutor 187 Award, Kern County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Michael Yraceburn: Michael Yraceburn prosecuted the nation’s first successful murder conviction for driving while impaired by marijuana. That March 2014 crash, in which the suspect was driving close to 80 miles per hour before losing control, killed David Aggio on impact. The suspect was sentenced to 20 years to life.
  • Top Law Enforcement, Bakersfield Police Officer Louis James: Officer James was reassigned to the Bakersfield Police Department’s Traffic Section in July 2015. Since then, he has primarily worked the graveyard shift. As a result, he has been one of the most, if not the most, productive traffic officer in regards to DUI enforcement. Though he was assigned to the traffic section for only a year and a half, he maintained his aggressive DUI enforcement to make the citizens of Bakersfield safer. In 2015, He received an award from MADD California for his efforts, and in 2016 he arrested 247 DUI drivers. This was the most of all traffic units within the department and one of the highest in California.

Prosecutor’s Awards were also handed out by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, and were awarded to Kim Richardson, Garrett Rice and Brad Taconi.

The awards ceremony returned to Bakersfield for 2017 after the loss of federal grant funding and budget cuts prevented the 2016 awards luncheon from being hosted in Kern County. This year, several community sponsors, working with MADD Kern County’s Advisory Board, stepped up to make sure officers from all Kern County agencies were being honored for their work in fighting against DUI crimes.

The MADD Kern County Advisory Board includes Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney Matt Clark and marketing director Jorge Barrientos.

Sponsors for the awards luncheon included anonymous donors, Chevron, Kern Federal Credit Union, Bakersfield Police Officers Association, Greenlawn Mortuary, Raymond’s Trophy, Clifford & Bradford Insurance Agency, Sally Herald CPA, and Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

Since 2009, our community has seen at least 4,000 DUI arrests made each year, with 4,056 DUI arrests in 2016, according to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office. That’s more than 11 DUI arrests per day. Sadly, many impaired drivers weren’t stopped in time, and instead caused major damage to innocent lives.

The awards luncheon is one of two MADD Kern County signature events aimed to bring awareness of the DUI epidemic in our community, and fight toward ending DUI crimes here. Bakersfield’s 2017 Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash — presented by Chain | Cohn | Stiles — will be held on Saturday, Sept. 23, at Park at River Walk.

You, too, can be involved in the fight to end drunk and drugged driving locally. You can help by signing up as a walker, runner (5K or 10K), team captain, or volunteer. Parents: The event also features a kid’s “fun run,” where each child of walk and race participants gets a free superhero cape. You can even get involved if you aren’t able to attend by signing up as a “virtual walker,” or by asking a donation toward a participant or team who has been affected.

For more information on that event, go to

— Alyssa Wood of Chain | Cohn | Stiles contributed to this report. 



Chain | Cohn | Stiles helps raise more than $50K to help local victims of DUI crashes in Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash 5K

September 23, 2015 | 9:24 am

More than 500 Kern County community members — including dozens from the law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles — joined together Saturday morning at the Park at River Walk to help put an end to drunken driving locally, and in the process raised more than $50,000 to support victims of DUI crashes.

The Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash 5K aims to raise awareness in our own community, raise funds to stop drunken driving and underage drinking locally, and provide support to victims and survivors of drunk driving crashes. Saturday’s event brought together surviving victims of DUI crashes, families and friends of deceased victims, local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, first responders, advocates, and other community members rallying and running for the cause.

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

  • Top Friends and Family Team: MADD Dogs
  • Top Individual Fundraiser: Michael Yraceburn
  • Top Corporate Team: Kern Schools Federal Credit Union
  • Kern County Law Enforcement Challenge Winner: Kern County District Attorney’s Office

“We want to thank our advocates, heroes, champions, partners, teams, participants and volunteers for making Kern County’s Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash 5K a huge success,” said Carla Pearson, victim advocate for MADD Kern County. “We hope Kern County will commit to continue alongside us for the next 365 days as we work to prevent this 100 percent preventable crime, and end drunk driving here.”

Chain | Cohn | Stiles joined as the gold sponsor for the event. Several other local businesses also joined the fight to end drunk driving in Kern County, including Chevron and Kern Schools Federal Credit Union. For a full list of sponsors, click here.

The firm brought together more than 40 employees, friends and family members of employees, and a few clients of the firm, who are innocent victims of DUI crashes.

Several friends of the law firm donated to the Chain | Cohn | Stiles team. Their generosity is much appreciated. They included:

  • Dr. Geoffrey Miller
  • Tom Stevenson
  • Chad Barger

Several Chain | Cohn | Stiles employees also competed in the 5K race. Attorney Matt Clark finished in 11th place overall, and a family member of a firm employee finished in the top 10. For a complete race results list, click here. Below is the top 10 finishers, and their times:

  • Kelly Blikre: 20:21
  • Stacy Phelps: 20:39
  • Garrett Sugimoto 20:49
  • Carl Hatley: 21:05
  • Mark Riehle: 22:03
  • Arjan Ynostroza: 22:09
  • Adam Martinez: 22:12
  • Garrett Rice: 22:43
  • Laila Irogoyen: 23:09
  • Vernie Herman: 23:12



Chain | Cohn | Stiles continues fight to end drunk driving in Kern County with MADD

September 2, 2015 | 3:13 pm

California Highway Patrol gave nearly 2,200 citations for driving under the influence in Bakersfield in 2014. CHP officers in Kern County in the same year also noted 312 collisions, 422 injuries, and 14 fatalities – all involving DUI.

They are statistics, arrests and tragedies that are 100 percent preventable – choices were made by people to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. That decision affected families and communities.

In an effort to raise awareness in our own community, raise funds to stop drunken driving and underage drinking locally, and provide support to victims and survivors of drunk driving crashes, the Kern County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving will host its second Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash 5K at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19, at Park at River Walk, 11200 Stockdale Highway in Bakersfield.

For the second year, the Bakersfield personal injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles is supporting MADD and the event, serving as sponsor and key partner in organizing the event. Earlier this year, Chain | Cohn | Stiles marketing director Jorge Barrientos was named MADD California’s volunteer of the year for his work with MADD Kern County.

This second annual event follows the first-ever Bakersfield Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash in which 700 people attended and raised more than $46,000 to fight against drunk driving locally. That event followed a tragic 2013 on Kern’s roadways in which more than 30 deaths and 600 injuries occurred at the hands of drunken drivers.

“The fight is not over,” said Carla Pearson, victim advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Kern County. “People are still making the choice to get behind the wheel after drinking, putting your life and their own life at risk. These are not accidents – they are 100 percent preventable crashes.”

The event ceremony will start at 7:30 a.m. and the race and walk will kick off starting at 8 a.m. In attendance will be surviving victims of drunken driving crashes and their families, supporters, law enforcement officers with their vehicles, a Kern County Fire Department engine and giant flag, A Life Interrupted display vehicle, an activities area for kids, advocates, and other community members rallying and running for the cause.

For more information and to register to participate, go to


The event is supported by local law enforcement and prosecutors, as well as sponsoring local companies. Sponsors include:

Local media is also supporting the cause and helping raise awareness. Media sponsors include:

Several other local groups are assisting MADD Kern County with donations and other assistance. They include:


Several local media agencies have partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to raise awareness of the problems in Kern County, and support the Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash 5K. Stay tuned to this section for coverage of the event.