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Ventura County

Family Sues CHP Over Crash That Killed Teen

Jessica Mohorko died after being struck by a patrol car in Oxnard in March. The action alleges the agency is blocking investigation.

November 05, 2002|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

Filing suit Monday against the California Highway Patrol, an Oxnard family whose 18-year-old daughter was killed by a CHP cruiser claimed the agency has withheld evidence and skewed its investigation to favor its officers.

The daughter of an Oxnard police chaplain, Jessica Mohorko died instantly March 23 when a patrol car collided with a car driven by her boyfriend.

The two had left their senior ball and were going to a restaurant.

The suit, for unspecified damages, is the latest legal action filed jointly by Jessica's parents, Edgar and Marta Mohorko, and her boyfriend, Christopher Haynes.

Twice they went to court to force the CHP to turn over accident reports, taped witness interviews, diagrams and other evidence that could be important to their case.

The suit claims that CHP officers Christina and Jack Raughton -- a married couple who were on patrol together -- overreacted to a minor violation by an unknown motorist and sped recklessly down Oxnard Boulevard just after midnight.

"There was no evidence of a crime or wrong greater than the one they created by their high speed," the suit said.

Robert A. Parris, a Lancaster attorney representing the Raughtons, disagreed.

He said the officers had spotted a speeding driver weaving through traffic and running a red light -- a motorist, he said, who later came forth as a witness in the case.

"The Raughtons were doing exactly what they were trained to do," said Parris, a former CHP captain.

"They were correctly following policy by pursuing a suspected drunk driver."

Parris said the plaintiffs' attorney, Andrew M. Dawson of Woodland Hills, "is either inaccurate by choice or not aware of all the facts."

He disputed Dawson's claim that the Raughtons were not flashing the appropriate emergency lights before the crash.

Dawson said the officers acknowledged as much in taped interviews recently released by the CHP.

On those tapes, Jack Raughton, who was driving the patrol car, estimated he was going 85 mph in a 45-mph zone, Dawson said.

The suit also takes the CHP to task for allowing married couples to patrol together.

The practice disrupts the chain of command, creating "a situation where neither partner was in charge," the suit said.

A CHP spokesman declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

At a news conference outside the Ventura County courthouse, Dawson was flanked by Haynes, his parents and members of the Mohorko family.

"Our life is shattered," said Edgar Mohorko, senior pastor at Messiah Foursquare Church in Oxnard. "We lost our daughter."

Mohorko held back tears as he described Jessica boisterously coming home from school, greeting the cat, calling her brother "Chubs" and joshing her dad.

"She was basically the life of the house," he said.

Intent on pursuing a law enforcement career after high school, she was direct and outspoken.

At the dance she attended before the accident, she grabbed a drunken student's car keys and alerted a teacher, her father said.

Haynes, captain of Hueneme High School's football team before he graduated, said he's had tough times since the accident. With his left arm held together by a dozen pins and two plates, he no longer plays football.

A freshman at Cal State Fresno, he is studying health and nutrition with an eye on becoming a hospital dietitian.

On a chain around his neck, he wears Jessica's gold ring.

The Raughtons also have suffered, said their attorney.

Christina Raughton has returned to work, but her husband still is out with orthopedic injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, Parris said.

"It was a terrible, tragic accident," he said. "The Raughtons are very sorry for the loss to the Mohorkos."

Even so, Dawson charged, the CHP's investigation has been nothing more than "an opportunity to manufacture a defense."

He said investigators interviewed Haynes hours after the accident as he lay in a hospital bed under medication.

But they did not interview the Raughtons for three days, giving the couple time, he said, to rehearse their accounts.

Dawson also contended that investigators were quizzing witnesses months after they had given their initial accounts.

The practice is an attempt to build inconsistencies into testimony that might damage the Raughtons, he said.

Edgar Mohorko, said accidents involving CHP officers should not be investigated by their colleagues.

"They know there was wrongdoing," he said, "that proper safety procedures weren't being followed."

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