Eight people, including five young children — Carlos Eric Salazar, 8; Jochelyn Grace Salazar, 7; Monique Janae Salazar, 4; Michael Alexander Salazar, 3; and Sienna Rose Salazar, 1 — were killed in a California car accident after a driver fleeing police crashed into a 1997 GMC pickup truck. According to an Associated Press news report, the car accident occurred the afternoon of August 8, 2009 in Dinuba, California. Police were pursing a Dodge Neon that was carjacked near Fresno, California, when the fatal car crash occurred. Four children were ejected from the truck. Officials say none of the children in the truck was wearing seat belts or were restrained in car seats.
The children’s parents, 29-year-old Carlos Salazar and 26-year-old Jennifer Salazar also suffered moderate to major injuries. The three men in the stolen car also died, but they have not yet been identified. Police have not yet commented on whether the pursuing officer knew at that time the Neon had been stolen.
I offer my deepest condolences to everyone who knew and loved the Salazar family. My heart goes out especially to the parents who lost five children in this horrific crash. They will certainly be in my prayers.
Child Car Seats Save Lives
It is also heartbreaking to hear that none of the children was wearing seatbelts or restrained in child car seats. Had they been properly restrained, the children may not have been ejected from the truck and may have survived this car crash. This car accident is a reminder for all of us to make sure that our children are not only placed in car seats or booster seats, but properly restrained so that they are protected in the event of a car accident.
If I were a member of the Salazar family I’d be curious about whether the police in this case did the right thing by getting involved in this dangerous, high-speed chase. Was it necessary for police in this incident to pursue these suspects while posing a serious hazard to the public? News reports have stated that the police officer at the time did not even know that the car was stolen.
California law provides immunity to police departments that have adopted a “vehicle pursuit policy.” This is a written policy, which states that the department has rules and regulations when it comes to police pursuits and trains their officers periodically on these matters. Such police departments are immune from liability for civil damages for personal injury or wrongful death resulting from the pursuit to the suspect or to an innocent bystander.
I don’t deny that police officers have a duty to apprehend dangerous criminals. In most of these cases, police officers do a commendable job. However, in my opinion, there needs to be a balancing test between the danger to the public and the requirement to apprehend a suspect. Families of innocent bystanders who were seriously injured or killed in such car accidents and high-speed police chases would be well-advised to consult an experienced California personal injury lawyer to get more information about their legal rights and options.