Local News

Thursday, May 23 2013 02:00 AM

$5 million settlement in San Jose officer driving case similar to one involving a Kern deputy in Oildale

By CALIFORNIAN STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

SAN JOSE -- Santa Clara County is on the hook for a $5 million settlement in a crash involving a sheriff's deputy who allegedly took his eyes off the road while eating a McDonald's hamburger, a newspaper reported.

Deputy Greg Markovic smashed into Diem Van Lam's Honda in January in San Jose, leaving Van Lam with injuries including broken ribs and a skull fracture, the San Jose Mercury News reported Tuesday (http://bit.ly/1a2BT5O).

The case has some apparent parallels to a Kern County deputy-involved collision that killed two people in Oildale in 2011.

In San Jose, Markovic was driving around 4 a.m. Jan. 9 when he allegedly became distracted after biting into the hamburger and putting it down. He was said to have reached for his radio microphone, but fumbled, turning on his rear amber warning lights accidentally.

He crashed into the driver's side door of Lam's car while looking down to turn the lights off, according to police reports.

"The take-home message from this case is that distracted driving can affect anyone, at any time," said Michael Shea, Jr., Lam's attorney.

Shea said the county is self-insured for the first $2 million. Its insurance company covers the rest.

In the Kern case, a sheriff's deputy was charged with felony vehicular manslaughter after his car hit two pedestrians.

Deputy John Swearengin was driving more than 35 mph over the speed limit Dec. 16, 2011 when authorities say he struck and killed the pedestrians on Norris Road near Diane Drive. The victims -- Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley -- were pushing a motorcycle across the road when they were hit.

According to a California Highway Patrol investigation, Swearengin briefly took his eyes off the road just before the crash as he looked down to grab his radio because a large drink in his cup holder caused him to fumble when he reached for it, reports said he told investigators. When he looked up the motorcycle was right in front of him.

The CHP eventually concluded Swearengin's "excessive" speed is ultimately what made him at fault for the deaths.

Prosecutors also revealed Swearengin earlier had been reprimanded for hitting a guardrail and scratching a patrol vehicle. They said that proved Swearengin was aware of the dangers of unsafe driving.

Swearengin is scheduled to go to trial in mid-October.

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