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How fast is too fast?

  • Highway 12 westbound between Farmers Lane and Highway 101 is closed as officials investigate accident involving CHP vehicle and an overturned vehicle Saturday evening in Santa Rosa.

A 46-year-old Santa Rosa woman seriously injured when her pickup was hit by a speeding CHP cruiser is suing the state, claiming the officer acted negligently in driving 104 mph in response to a report of teens with baggy clothing gathering outside the DMV.

Cynthia Dempsey will ask jurors next month to award her damages for the Highway 12 crash involving Officer Blair Hardcastle that left her with memory loss, facial scarring and post-traumatic stress disorder, said her lawyer, Brendan Kunkle.

"We don't think there was danger to person or property justifying an emergency response," Kunkle said. "Even if there was, the officer is required to be aware of others on the road and drive reasonably and safely for the circumstances. We don't believe he did so."

CHP Highway Crash

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A CHP spokeswoman, Fran Clader in Sacramento, declined to comment on the case, citing a policy against discussing lawsuits. A CHP representative said Hardcastle would not comment because of the litigation.

Generally, officers are exempt from the rules of the road in pursuing criminal suspects or responding to emergencies. But they are still obligated to drive with the safety of others in mind, said Officer Jon Sloat, spokesman for the CHP in Sonoma County.

Sloat said the policy spelled out in the vehicle code lets the officer decide the level of urgency based on the circumstances.

"It's up to the officer how he thinks he needs to respond," Sloat said.

The crash happened on a Saturday evening, Sept. 26, 2009, just east of Highway 101 near the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

Hardcastle, 24 at the time, is the son of Superior Court Judge Allan Hardcastle. He was stopped on Farmers Lane near the westbound entrance to Highway 12 with a ride-along passenger, Explorer scout Erik Epting, 19, of Windsor.

At about 6:30 p.m., he received a call that would send him down the freeway at more than 100 mph.


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