Jose Gilbert Garcia, 42 and his 16-year-old nephew Luis Alberto Garcia were killed in a San Bernardino car accident after their vehicle was struck by a parolee who was trying to get away from the police. According to a report in the Whittier Daily News, police were pursuing 26-year-old Luis Lazalde on February 6, 2010, as he headed west on Orchard Street in Montclair. Lazalde’s car collided with a Ford Contour driven by Jose Garcia. Both Jose Garcia and his young nephew died at a local hospital. Lazalde sustained only minor injuries.
Police apparently set up surveillance outside Lazalde’s girlfriends house after he had allegedly threatened to shoot her. When they saw Lazalde’s vehicle, which matched the description provided by the woman, police tried to pull him over, but he fled. Lazalde was arrested on suspicion of evading police, causing bodily injury or death, participating in a criminal street gang and making criminal threats.
Tragic Car Accident
My heart goes out to the Garcia family for their tragic and devastating loss. Here were two innocent people going about their business and they get caught in the middle of a police chase. Heartbreaking! I offer my deepest condolences to the family. They will be in my thoughts and prayers.
I trust the suspect in this car accident, Lazalde, who initiated the police pursuit will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He not only put himself and other motorists in harm’s way, but also endangered the lives of these police officers by refusing to stop. However, the question that needs to be asked here is whether police did the right thing by getting involved in this pursuit. Was it necessary for police in this case to pursue the suspect endangering the lives of other innocent people?
What Does the Law Say About Police Pursuits?
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 injuries or death resulting from the pursuit to the suspect or to an innocent bystander. This law most likely protects these police officers and their department from liability. But it does nothing to protect the rights of the victims, in this case, Jose Garcia and Luis Garcia.
There is absolutely no question that police officers have a duty to apprehend dangerous criminals. In most of these cases, police officers do a highly commendable job. However, there needs to be a balancing test between the danger to the public and the requirement to apprehend a suspect. Our justice system should not allow officers to engage in high-speed chases without weighing the good that comes from catching a suspect against the safety of innocent bystanders who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In these types of accidents, families of deceased victims, as well as the injured victims, would be well-served by consulting experienced California personal injury lawyers who can give them more information about the law and their legal rights.