A Costa Mesa man whose car collided with a Newport Beach police patrol car has been charged with felony vehicular manslaughter and felony drunk driving in connection with the death of his passenger and business partner, authorities said Monday.
But an attorney for the dead man's widow on Monday called the police officer "equally culpable" because the patrol car was traveling at an excessively high speed--46 to 54 m.p.h. in a 25-m.p.h. zone when the crash occurred, according to a report by the California Highway Patrol.
Kent G. Hindes, 32, was driving on Balboa Peninsula on Oct. 2 when he allegedly made a left or U-turn in front of a patrol car driven by Officer Joseph Thrasher, 32, a seven-year veteran of the force.
Hindes' passenger and business partner, Jake S. Finney, 39, was killed in the 12:20 a.m. crash. Both Hindes and Thrasher were seriously injured in the accident.
Finney, a developer from Newport Beach, had just received his "first big break" in a business partnership with Hindes, a relative of Finney said. The relative said the two may have been celebrating their success that night.
" . . . He would not be dead at a 25-m.p.h. impact," said Theodore S. Wentworth, an attorney for Finney's widow, Vickie Finney. "I think they should also charge the police officer. He is equally culpable."
Vickie Finney has filed an $11-million claim against the City of Newport Beach, charging that the police car was being driven "at an excessive rate of speed and with reckless disregard for public safety."
Deputy Dist. Atty. Delbert L. Wright said the charges were filed against Hindes on Friday after completion of a California Highway Patrol investigation.
At the time of the crash, Hindes was booked on suspicion of drunk driving. Police said that they detected an "odor of alcohol" on Hindes' breath and that a blood-alcohol reading was positive.
Police reports show that Hindes had a blood-alcohol content of .27%, more than twice the legal limit of .10%.
Wright said Monday that the officer was in pursuit of a speeding vehicle at the time of the accident, although a Newport Beach police investigator said Thrasher did not have either the flashing lights or siren on in the police cruiser.
Wentworth said Monday that he was disturbed about a private meeting between Newport Beach police and the CHP investigators last Thursday at the time that the CHP report was completed.
But Newport Beach City Atty. Robert H. Burnham said the meeting included "nothing unusual, to my knowledge."
"The decision to file the charges was made by the D.A.," said Burnham. He said he could not comment on charges filed by the district attorney, adding, "We're not going to try this case in the media."
Police Chief Charles Gross could not be reached for comment.
Hindes' arraignment was set for Dec. 1 in Harbor Municipal Court on charges of felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and felony drunk driving, Wright said.
McInnis said Officer Thrasher returned to light duty last week and is expected to fully recover.
Gary L. Moorhead, an attorney representing Hindes, said his client also is recovering but declined comment on the case Monday, citing the pending litigation.