Jurors on Thursday awarded $1.2 million to a Santa Rosa woman whose face was disfigured in a crash with a CHP officer speeding to a report of people in baggy clothing gathering outside of the DMV.
Cynthia Dempsey, 46, cried and whispered "Thank you" to her lawyer, Brendan Kunkle, as the verdict was read in a Santa Rosa courtroom after about two days of deliberation.
"I don't know what to say," the tearful woman said as she left the courtroom surrounded by friends and family. "I'm grateful."
In a series of verdicts reached on votes ranging from 10-2 to 12-0, jurors found CHP Officer Blair Hardcastle was negligent in the 2009 crash on Highway 12 near the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in which he drove his patrol car at more than 104 mph after receiving the dispatch call.
It later was determined the gathering was of middle school children practicing for a dance event -- a fact not revealed in five days of trial testimony.
Jurors also found negligence on the part of co-defendant Justin Oliver, 37, of Santa Rosa, who was riding a motorcycle in front of Hardcastle and did not yield to his siren or lights.
However, the jury said Oliver was liable for just one-half of a percent of the total damages -- or $6,000 -- and the state responsible for the rest.
Juror Kay Delaney of Windsor said she wanted to give Dempsey more money to compensate her for the scarring.
"She's got a long life ahead of her," Delaney said outside court. "To look at that every day? I wouldn't want that."
At least one juror disagreed.
Greg Goto of Petaluma said Hardcastle acted in good faith when he passed Oliver's motorcycle in the left median strip, lost control and hit Dempsey's pickup.
"I felt like he was within his duties to do that," Goto said. "I don't want to handcuff emergency vehicles in the future."
Goto said Oliver was "blatantly, blatantly negligent."
"He should have moved," he said.
Oliver's lawyer, John Walovich, argued Oliver didn't hear the patrol car and his view was blocked by another car.
A lawyer for the state, Jeff Vincent, declined to comment after the verdict.
The crash happened Sept. 26, 2009. Hardcastle, then 24, was parked near Farmers Lane and Highway 12 when he got the 6:30 p.m. call describing in vague terms the gathering at the DMV.
With a 19-year-old Explorer scout riding shotgun, Hardcastle headed west onto Highway 12 accelerating to triple-digit speeds near the fairgrounds.
Oliver got on the highway at the Maple Avenue onramp and crossed into the fast lane. Hardcastle braked and passed the motorcycle on the left-hand shoulder. He lost control when he tried to get back into the traffic lane. His patrol car crossed both lanes of traffic and hit Dempsey's pickup, which she had pulled onto the right shoulder.