Orange County Fatal Rollover Collision Involving Police Car Kills Couple
Susanne Antuna, 54 and Charles Antuna, 55, were killed in a La Habra car accident the night of April 5, 2009 after their vehicle collided with an on-duty police car, The Orange County Register reports. The Antunas were traveling east on La Habra Boulevard when their 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser crashed into a police car that was headed north on Euclid Street. The Cruiser rolled over and landed upside down. Susanne Antuna was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash while Charles Antuna was taken to the hospital with injuries. He died the next day. The police officer was also injured and taken to a hospital.
The police officer was apparently speeding on his way to back up fellow officers who were in pursuit of parolee Roary William Gorbea. Gorbea was arrested later that night on suspicion of indirectly causing the fatalities by leading police on a pursuit. The California Highway Patrol is investigating the fatal car accident.
My heart goes out to everybody who knew and loved Susanne and Charles Antuna. I offer my deepest condolences to their family and friends for their heartbreaking loss. Clearly, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Please keep them in your prayers.
Barely a day after this tragedy occurred, there is already controversy about the facts and circumstances of the accident. According to another article in the Los Angeles Times, CHP investigators are saying that the La Habra police officer was driving with his lights and sirens on. But the Antunas’ daughter, Andrea, says eyewitnesses told her that the police car did not have its lights and sirens on at the time of the car crash. Andrea Antuna also said that authorities took the police officer to the hospital while waiting hours before transporting her father who was critically injured. In fact, one witness, 27-year-old Hugo Islas of Rancho Cucamonga says the cop car “flew through the intersection” and hit the Antuna’s PT Cruiser.
In this case, it is clear that the Antunas were “innocent bystanders.” There are many questions and discrepancies between what CHP officials are saying and eyewitnesses are reporting. CHP officials also say based on their preliminary investigation, that the Antunas were not wearing their seat belts. I would treat that with a lot of skepticism. This is law enforcement investigating law enforcement! Are they going to be objective and impartial in their investigation? One can only hope, but there are absolutely no guarantees.
If, as eyewitnesses say, the police officer was driving without lights and sirens and blowing through a city intersection at more than 65 mph, the officer, her department and the city of La Habra need to be held accountable for their actions. The Antuna children lost both parents within the matter of a few hours!
Government entities usually tend to have immunity when it comes to police pursuits. But this was not an incident where police were in hot pursuit of a dangerous felon where they might have immunity from liability for injuries to innocent bystanders. The news reports are conflicting and are short of information indicating who was at fault for the rollover accident. Based on my experience, if the facts indicate that the Antunas were at fault, the police would be quick to share that information with the media. When the facts indicate that the police officer is at fault, the authorities are not as quick or eager to release such information.
The Antuna family would be well-advised to retain the services of an Orange County personal injury law firm, which has a successful track record against municipalities such as the city of La Habra in order to investigate the accident and advise the family of their legal rights and options. Please remember that any claim against a governmental agency in California must be filed within six months of the accident.