Los Angeles County Police Lt. Gilbert Valderrama and an 18-year-old man died in a Hacienda Heights auto accident on the 60 Freeway on Wednesday, July 9th. The off-duty police officer’s sport utility vehicle slammed into Ryan Steven Blakeslee killing the teen who had just gotten out of a stalled vehicle, according to a CBS news report.
The 55-year-old police officer was ejected from the car and both he and Blakeslee were pronounced dead at the scene, California Highway Patrol Officer David Porter said.
Apparently, the 18-year-old had stepped out of a stalled minivan probably to get help when the accident occurred. I offer my condolences to both families.
This incident highlights the importance of being careful on the freeway especially if your vehicle stalls. It is best to exit your vehicle, if you can do so safely, if you are stalled on the freeway. Once you exit, it is best to get completely away from the vehicle. Every year, there are numerous deaths and serious injuries caused by a stalled or parked vehicle being hit and pushed into one of its occupants.
The news reports do not provide enough information to form an opinion as to fault. My preliminary sense of this case is that Valderrama will be found to be liable for the death of young Blakeslee. I am always concerned about bias in police reports when a peace officer is involved. For this reason and the obvious reasons of just knowing what their rights and options are, Blakeslee’s family would be well served consulting with a personal injury attorney who has the skill to take on a challenging personal injury case, which this may very well be.
My sense is that the driver of the stalled minivan will share in some of the responsibility for these two deaths, not criminally but civilly.
I would also be curious to find out if Vaderrama was wearing his seat belt at the time of the accident. The report says he was ejected from his vehicle. Defective seatbelts cause numerous fatalities in the United States each year. The officer’s family may want to consult with an auto defect personal injury attorney highly experienced in defective seat belts to determine if there was a seat belt failure.
Although the article says the officer was off-duty, if I was representing the family of the deceased teen, I would look into the police department’s duty records to see if in fact the officer was off-duty . If he was on the job and the accident is determined to be his fault, then the family of the 18-year-old may be entitled to compensation from Valderrama’s employer. Any claim against a governmental agency must be properly made within six months of the injury.