A lawyer for the California Highway Patrol on Tuesday defended an officer who disfigured a Santa Rosa woman in 2009 when he crashed into her truck during a high-speed response to a report of people gathered outside DMV offices wearing baggy clothing.
Jeff Vincent told jurors that Officer Blair Hardcastle was thinking about two things when a dispatcher summoned him that evening with a report of 25-30 people outside the Corby Avenue offices. The DMV building was closed at that hour, and it was located near a neighborhood that Hardcastle perceived was concentrated with gang members, Vincent said.
Hardcastle raced down Highway 12, reaching speeds of more than 100 mph, before careening into a truck driven by Cynthia Dempsey, now 46.
"There was a lot of baggy clothing," Vincent said in closing arguments after five days of trial testimony. "That may not seem threatening. Maybe an average person wouldn't think of that as an emergency. But Officer Hardcastle isn't an average person."
However, Dempsey's lawyer argued the then 24-year-old Hardcastle's suspicions were unfounded. The gathering was a group of middle school students practicing for a dance event, attorney Brendan Kunkle said.
Kunkle argued in his closing that Hardcastle had no cause to exceed the 65 mph speed limit. His reckless driving left Dempsey with scars from deep facial lacerations and a partially severed ear that can never be corrected.
He asked jurors to award the single mother $1.2 million in damages, in part for emotional distress, and another $35,000 for medical bills.
"When Cynthia Dempsey looks in the mirror, she doesn't recognize herself," Kunkle argued. "This is the way she will look the rest of her life."
Jurors were expected to begin deliberations late Tuesday after final instruction from Judge Mark Tansil.
The crash happened on Sept. 26, 2009. Hardcastle, the son of Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Allan Hardcastle, was parked near Farmer's Lane and Highway 12 when he got the 6:30 p.m. call, which described in vague terms a gathering at the DMV.
Hardcastle was regularly assigned to the area and had significant gang training, his lawyer said.
"Officer Hardcastle reasonably concluded there was a potential for gang violence," Vincent said.
With a 19-year-old police scout as passenger, Hardcastle headed west onto the freeway where a "black box" device inside his car recorded him at 104 mph near the Sonoma County fairgrounds.
A motorcycle got on the freeway at the Maple Street onramp and crossed into the fast lane. Hardcastle, who was coming up behind, braked and then passed the motorcycle on the left-hand shoulder. He lost control when he tried to get back into the traffic lane, hitting Dempsey and flipping her pickup truck.
His 2-day-old patrol car was destroyed.
CHP lawyers blamed the motorcycle driver, accusing him of cutting in front of Hardcastle despite his sirens and emergency lights.
But Dempsey's lawyer argued the man didn't know Hardcastle was behind him, in part because another car blocked his view. Even if there was trouble at the DMV, Hardcastle was obligated to use reasonable care in operating his vehicle, Kunkle said.
In fact, there wasn't any need for an emergency response. Kunkle said at least one other CHP officer drove to the DMV at normal speeds.
"Nonetheless, Officer Hardcastle proceeded to the DMV at speeds up to 104 mph," Kunkle said. "As we know, he never made it."
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