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Officers Counter Crash Lawsuit

Law on pursuits shields CHP partners involved in a fatal accident, their attorney says.

January 25, 2003|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

Married California Highway Patrol partners who are being sued over an on-duty crash last year that killed an Oxnard teen are immune from civil liability under a state law that protects police during pursuits, the couple's attorney said.

Officers Jack and Christina Raughton are named in a lawsuit filed in November by the family of 18-year-old Jessica Mohorko, a Hueneme High School senior who was killed March 23 when the car in which she was riding was struck by the officers' cruiser.

Attorney Robert Parris of Lancaster maintains the CHP officers are protected by a section of the vehicle code that shields police officers from damages that occur while "in immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator."

"We believe that not only are the officers immune under state law, but also that they did nothing wrong," Parris said. "They were following all policies and procedures and doing what every police officer does every day on the job."

Mohorko and her boyfriend, 18-year-old former Hueneme High School football captain Christopher Haynes, were driving from their senior ball in Oxnard to a local Denny's when Haynes attempted a U-turn on Oxnard Boulevard near Gonzales Road.

According to Parris, Haynes pulled in front of the cruiser, which struck the passenger side of his car and killed Mohorko instantly. Haynes, who now attends Cal State Fresno, suffered serious injuries to his left arm.

The officers, meanwhile, have maintained that they were in pursuit of a driver who ran a red light. Witness accounts vary, and attorneys on both sides disagree on whether the cruiser's red emergency lights were on at the time of the crash.

The Mohorkos' attorney, Andrew Dawson, declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation into the crash by the Ventura County district attorney's office. Prosecutors are trying to determine whether the officers should be charged criminally.

In the family's lawsuit, Dawson has said that Jack Raughton, 36, and Christina Raughton, 32, overreacted to a minor traffic violation and were speeding recklessly down Oxnard Boulevard.

Dawson also contends it was improper for a married couple to work as partners and that CHP officials have withheld critical evidence.

A decision on criminal charges and the results of a CHP crash team investigation are expected to be made public by the end of the month.

Parris believes that not only are the Raughtons free of civil liability, but that the crash was the fault of Haynes and the driver who allegedly ran the light, identified in court papers as 41-year-old Adrian F. Sedeno of Ventura.

"It is our feeling that the accident was created by a violator who was attempting to flee the officers and, unfortunately, by Chris Haynes, who was an inexperienced driver who, for whatever reason, made a turn directly in front of the officers," Parris said.

Parris, a former CHP captain, has filed a cross complaint naming Haynes and Sedeno as defendants in the suit.

In addition to wanting Haynes and Sedeno held responsible, Parris wants damages for his clients, both of whom were injured in the crash. Christina Raughton has since returned to work but her husband remains on leave with orthopedic injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Attorneys say a trial could start as early as November.

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