Local News

Thursday, Feb 27 2014 12:25 PM

Deputy rejects plea deal, scheduled for trial in case where two pedestrians killed

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    John Swearengin walks out of the downtown courtroom after his arraignment in October 2012 for two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence in connection with the deaths of Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley. Swearengin pleaded no contest to one count of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter for both victims and was sentenced to 480 hours of community service on Aug. 14, 2014.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

A Kern County sheriff's deputy accused of driving 35 mph over the speed limit when he struck and killed two pedestrians rejected a plea deal Thursday and is scheduled to go trial next month.

Prosecutors offered Deputy John Swearengin a two-year prison sentence in exchange for pleading no contest to the two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence he's charged with. Swearengin faces a maximum of seven years in prison if found guilty.

David A. Torres, Swearengin's attorney, said when prosecutors made the same offer previously he and his client rejected it. He declined further comment.

A California Highway Patrol report says Swearengin, 36, was driving 80.2 mph just before hitting Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley as they were crossing Norris Road near Diane Drive about 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16, 2011. The posted speed limit is 45 mph.

Swearengin's lights and sirens were not on at the time of the crash, according to the report, and he applied his brakes about a half second before impact. His speed was about 60 mph when he hit the two.

The report says Swearengin told investigators he took his eyes off the road just before the crash when he looked down to grab his radio for permission to go Code 3 -- drive with his emergency lights and siren on. He'd been fumbling for the radio because a large drink in his cup holder was in the way.

When he looked, up the motorcycle Hiler and Jolley had been pushing across the road was directly in front of him. Hiler and Jolley were killed on impact.

The CHP's Fresno-based Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team conducted the investigation into the crash. The team's 200-page report concluded Swearengin's "excessive" speed led to the deaths.

Neither Jolley nor Hiler were at fault in the crash, the report said. The area where they were crossing was not a crosswalk, but they were legally allowed to cross there because there were no adjacent crosswalks with traffic control signals.

Deputies have said Swearengin was responding to a call of a stolen vehicle.

The trial is scheduled to begin March 10.

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