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Lawyers paint two pictures of CHP officer's actions before 2009 Highway 12 crash

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.

CHP Highway Crash

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"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.


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