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Citations not always issued in collisions

SCV deputies typically write tickets for other infractions

Posted: May 11, 2008 1:10 a.m.
Updated: July 12, 2008 5:04 a.m.
Spending time in our vehicles is a way of life in Southern California and the Santa Clarita Valley. All too often, spending time on the road means we will occasionally be involved in a traffic collision.

Regardless of how many vehicles may be involved, under California's vehicular laws, there is generally a presumption of guilt whenever there is a traffic collision. While not an absolute presumption, one driver is usually at fault.

Yet just because someone may be at fault, that driver may not necessarily be cited by law enforcement.

According to Dep. Bob Smoldt, lead traffic investigator at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station, whether a citation is issued to an at-fault driver depends on the circumstances of the collision.

"We would typically give citations for lack of insurance or driving with a suspended license," he said. "However, we typically do not cite for vehicle code violations in traffic collisions."

Smoldt added that the guilty driver would be found at-fault for the collision by auto insurance companies, and a point would be added on their record by the Department of Motor Vehicles regardless of citation. Accordingly, it is not always necessary to cite the at-fault driver.

One caveat is when a deputy personally witnesses the collision. In that situation, a citation would be issued at the deputy's discretion.

The question of whether citations are issued in traffic collisions has been raised on several occasions, particularly in recent reports in The Signal of vehicles colliding with pedestrians.

On April 24, two pedestrians walking on a sidewalk alongside Bouquet Canyon Road were injured after they were hit by a vehicle.

The vehicle that struck them, a Honda CRX, had cut-off another vehicle, a Saturn ION, moments earlier. The cut-off caused the Saturn to collide with the Honda, and the force of the impact caused the Honda to "jump" the sidewalk and strike the pedestrians.

Almost a week later, a Newhall man was injured after a vehicle struck him as he was crossing Sierra Highway at Whispering Leaves Way.

In both instances, citations were not issued, even though the injuries were considered at least moderate.

Robert Mansour, an attorney who represents the parents of a CalArts student who died after a 2006 traffic collision in Valencia, said it is rare for citations to be issued in traffic collisions.

"Unless deputies are at the traffic collision and see it happen, they are not going to be a citation issued," said Mansour, who was a civil defense attorney who worked on collision cases. "The theory is there is enough harm done, there is not going be a citation issued"

Mansour's client, Edward Jourdenais of Antioch, wrote a letter in the May 7 edition of The Signal about his son's death, which occurred when a driver was allegedly racing near the intersection of Orchard Village Road and Wiley Canyon Road in Valencia.

The driver was allegedly driving in excess of 75 miles per hour when he apparently ran through a red light and t-boned the vehicle that Jourdenais' son was driving.

In his editorial, Jourdenais discussed the "decrease in number of citations issued by the Sheriff's Department" in Valencia.

"Edward's primary frustration was the fact that after accident occurred, (the driver) didn't know what color the light was or how fast he was going," Mansour said. "There were no citations given. The driver wasn't even admonished."

According to Mansour, the at-fault driver was allowed to drive despite a poor driving record - which apparently included a drunk driving charge and several moving violations - and lack of insurance.

"These people are allowed back on the street and given their licenses back," he said. "My biggest concern is this guy is out there. He might hurt someone again."

In the meantime, while citations may not be issued in traffic collisions, liability may still be imposed by the Department of Motor Vehicles, auto insurance companies and the criminal justice system.


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