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L.A. County to pay nearly $5 million in deputy's SUV crash

The deputy was drunk when his sheriff's SUV collided with a smaller car, seriously injuring the other driver — who was high on methamphetamine and opiates.

May 23, 2011|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

On the morning of June 29, 2008, Robert Moran made a $4.75-million mistake.

He had knocked back a couple of beers hours earlier, dressed for work, jumped into his employer's SUV and headed off on an important assignment. He was drunk and allegedly speeding when he collided with a smaller car, seriously injuring the other driver.

Moran, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, was convicted of drunk driving and sentenced to six months in jail. He managed to keep his job with the Sheriff's Department, but his conduct still exacted a costly toll — at least for county taxpayers who have to pay the multimillion-dollar settlement approved by the Board of Supervisors last week.

The payout might have been even steeper had the other motorist not been intoxicated himself, high on a cocktail of methamphetamine and opiates.

That man, drifter Elias Aldana, then 33, had just pulled out of a motel parking lot with his companion, Savanah Kirifi, said Moran's criminal attorney, Vicki Podberesky. The driver's side of their car was smashed, knocking both unconscious, according to court records. Aldana's injuries were severe: traumatic brain damage, internal organ trauma, and rib and pelvic fractures.

He had meth on him, according to prosecutors. Tests showed he was high on the drug, along with opiates and benzodiazepines.

With both men driving intoxicated, and conflicting witness accounts of the incident, it's still unclear who ran the red light and caused the crash.

Moran was arrested and pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor drunk driving charges. Podberesky said she got a deal with prosecutors that allowed the deputy to keep his job. He served most of his jail sentence in home confinement.

She said Aldana's companion was a transient who disappeared during the deputy's criminal proceedings.

"She was not to be found," Podberesky said. Still, last year, she too settled with the county, receiving a $50,000 payout.

Podberesky said the deputy had worked a late shift the night before the accident and drank a couple of beers before going to bed. He was driving to an assignment in Orange County about 5 a.m. the next day and was still intoxicated.

The deputy was given a breathalyzer test, and prosecutors concluded that he had a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit at the time of the accident.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore confirmed that Moran is still a patrol deputy.

"There's always mitigating circumstances to any case," Whitmore said, declining to elaborate. "He received the appropriate action."

County lawyers declined to comment, and attempts to reach Moran were unsuccessful.

The department's watchdog released a report last year addressing the Sheriff's Department's ongoing issues with drunkenness.

Among incidents mentioned in the report were a deputy who fired a handgun into the air on the Redondo Beach pier after drinking at nearby restaurants, and another deputy who was found to be drinking vodka while helping with evacuation efforts after the deadly Station fire.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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