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Family of killed Lake County woman sues county, alleges deputy had been drinking

The parents of a Lake County vineyard worker who was killed last fall in a head-on crash with a sheriff's deputy filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Tuesday claiming the deputy was driving under the influence of alcohol.

Gabriela Rivas Garcia, 26, of Clearlake, was killed Oct. 3 when her car was struck by an SUV driven by Dep. James Scott Lewis, then 53, who was rushing to the scene of a home-invasion robbery.

Four robbery suspects were arrested and later indicted on murder charges under a theory that Garcia's death was a byproduct of their crimes.

But Garcia's parents allege real blame lies with Lewis, who they said had a "significant" amount of alcohol in his system.

Test results disclosed in secret grand jury proceedings show Lewis had a blood-alcohol level of .01 percent at the hospital about 1 1/2-hours after the crash and up to .05 percent when the crash occurred, according to the lawsuit.

The levels were below the legal limit of .08 percent but his judgment and reaction time were impaired, the lawsuit said. Also, he violated department policy that prohibits deputies from reporting for work with any detectable amounts of alcohol in their blood, the lawsuit said.

He failed to report the alcohol consumption in part to avoid telling his supervisors of his condition and risking discipline, the suit said.

"Lewis placed his own interests ahead of the people of Lake County," the family's lawyer, Jeremy Fietz, said in the lawsuit.

Lewis, who was seriously injured in the crash, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. It was unclear if the onetime firefighter and military veteran had returned to active duty after recuperating from his injuries.

Neither Sheriff Frank Rivero nor County Counsel Anita Grant returned calls.


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