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Tuesday, Mar 04 2014 12:51 PM

'First Look': Family's attorney discusses civil case against deputy

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    Attorney David K. Cohn with Chain Cohn Stiles, left, talks with Californian President and CEO Richard Beene about a civil case settlement on "First Look with Scott Cox."

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By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

Attorney David K. Cohn said the most difficult part of his job is placing a dollar figure on human life.

Cohn is the attorney for 24-year-old Daniel Hiler's fiancee and two young sons. Hiler was struck and killed along with 30-year-old Chrystal Jolley on Dec. 16, 2011, by Kern County Sherriff's Deputy John Swearengin. Both were crossing Norris Road in Oildale when Swearengin's patrol vehicle struck and killed them.

On Friday, an $8.8 settlement was reached between the families and the Kern County Sheriff's Office and county of Kern. The Hiler family will receive $4.8 million; the Jolley family $4 million. The Californian has reported that Kern County will pay approximately $2.3 million of the $8.8 million settlement going to the families; the rest comes from the county's insurance.

"You try to convey that loss of love, society, comfort and protection they (Hiler's kids) will not have," Cohn said Tuesday on "First Look with Scott Cox." "And that's when you ask the jury to consider and put a number on that loss."

This case was settled before a trial.

Cohn, of Chain Cohn Stiles, talked about a 250-page California Highway Patrol investigation report that, he said, found Swearengin was driving in excess of 80 mph just before hitting Hiler and Jolley. The posted speed limit in that area is 45 mph.

As reported in The Californian Monday, Chief Deputy County Counsel Mark Nations said both Hiler and Jolley were intoxicated that night. Hiler's blood alcohol content was .137 and Jolley's was .253, more than three times the legal limit to drive a car, Nations said.

Swearengin was responding to a call of a stolen vehicle in Oildale, Cohn said, but his emergency lights and siren were not turned on.

"Under the vehicle code they are allowed to travel in excess speed with their lights and sirens activated, to warn motorists and pedestrians they are traveling over the speed limit and are responding to an emergency," Cohn said. "But he didn't do that."

Cohn said he had statements from the sheriff's department about teaching policies and procedures about Code 3 -- requiring lights and sirens -- and "it was clear from the sergeant that the deputy had violated every policy and procedure."

While the civil case is settled, the criminal case against Swearengin continues. His trial is scheduled to begin March 10. He is charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and he has pleaded not guilty.

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