Speed apparent factor in DUI crash that led to arrest of Sonoma County sheriff’s wife, police say

Natasha Whittinghill, 47, is suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol and injuring another person in the collision, before which it appears she was traveling at excessive speeds, Santa Rosa Police said.|

The wife of Sonoma County Sheriff Eddie Engram was arrested on suspicion of felony DUI early Saturday after crashing into a Santa Rosa home and injuring a resident.

Natasha Whittinghill, 47, is suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol and injuring another person in the collision, before which it appears she was traveling at excessive speeds, Santa Rosa Police said.

The investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing, Santa Rosa Police Lt. Chris Mahurin said Sunday.

“I’m still traumatized,” said Lori Johnson, 57, who was nursing cuts and bruises inflicted when Whittinghill’s Tesla plowed through her living room wall on Saturday, shortly after midnight.

“I’m very lucky to be alive right now,” said Johnson, standing about where she had been seated on a sectional couch and where she had found herself surrounded by shattered ceramics, lumber and other debris hurled across the room by the impact of the car.

Whittinghill did not suffer any significant injuries.

Engram, Sonoma County’s top law-enforcement officer, issued a statement Saturday afternoon on his Facebook page.

A MESSAGE FROM SONOMA COUNTY SHERIFF EDDIE ENGRAM As Sheriff, I always aim to be open and honest with the community I...

Posted by Sheriff Eddie Engram on Saturday, May 20, 2023

“As a husband, I am greatly concerned about my wife’s well-being,” said Engram, who took office in January. “As a citizen and Sheriff, I am also concerned about the well-being of the person inside the home who suffered injuries.”

Engram also said in his statement: “I understand that our community will have more questions and want answers. So do I. However, because this incident is being investigated by Santa Rosa, in order to avoid any potential conflict of interest, Santa Rosa Police Department will be handing media inquiries.”

According to neighbors, Engram arrived at the scene of the crash about 15 minutes after it happened, before police arrived.

He first spoke to his wife — who, a neighbor said, repeatedly had told firefighters who were the first to respond to “call my husband Eddie, he’s the sheriff.” Then Engram stayed at the outskirts of the scene while emergency crews tended to Johnson and police conducted their investigation, said the neighbor, Jordan Atkinson, who lives across the street from Johnson.

“He had his head in his hands,” Johnson said of Engram, whom she said she could see from the ambulance gurney.

“He was very civil, very calm,” said Atkinson. “He kind of stayed out of the mess of everything and sat over on my side of the property and was making phone calls.”

An investigation on the scene, which included sobriety checks and blood tests, determined Whittinghill was “under the influence at a level that impaired her ability to drive a motor vehicle,“ Mahurin said in a news release.

The crash happened at about 12:50 a.m. Saturday. That afternoon, the scene — a 3-bedroom house on Beaumont Way at the corner of Calistoga Road in east Santa Rosa — seemed to still reverberate with the impact of about 16 hours earlier.

Whittinghill’s car, police and neighbors said, had apparently traveled over the curb, up a bark-covered, boulder-lined slope of earth, narrowly missed a power pole, then slipped between two trees that are about 10 feet apart — shearing off branches from both — through a fence and directly through the corner of the house.

Johnson said her husband had just gone to sleep, and she had been watching “General Hospital” on their 75-inch television, when “I heard the revving of the engine … then I heard this horrific sound and my TV is coming toward me. Then her car was in here, right here. Like the whole front of it, the lights, the blinker.”

Johnson said a 2-by-4 that had been sliced to a point was sitting by her on the couch, and other debris — wood, shattered ceramics and glass — was piled against her. Photographs from her wedding album were sprayed around the room. A portable fireplace was flung into an adjoining hallway, denting the washing machine.

Atkinson said she rushed out of her house after hearing the crash, As she and another neighbor were rushing to check on Johnson, they saw Whittinghill attempting to get out of the car, Atkinson said.

At various points, Atkinson said, Whittinghill attempted to enter Johnson’s house, grew confrontational with another neighbor — saying “I know, I f----- up everyone’s lives right now” — wandered into Calistoga Road, where a car swerved around her, and fell into a bush.

“We just said, ‘It’s clear you’ve had something to drink. Just kind of sit down and wait,’” Atkinson said.

Asked whether the sheriff had been in contact with Santa Rosa police, Mahurin said: “I believe the sheriff at some point did reach out and talk to our chief and let him know his wife was arrested. It was more a professional courtesy.”

Mahurin added: “Obviously these are difficult situations, in general, especially when they are involving other agencies. For us, we just follow what we would do in other DUI investigations. And Sheriff Engram was understanding about the process.”

Whittinghill was booked into the Sonoma County jail on $100,000 bail. Nobody by her name was in the jail Saturday afternoon.

Johnson said she and her husband, Mark, have contacted an attorney. “This is ridiculous,” she said.

Staff writer Madison Smalstig contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 707-387-2960 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jeremyhay

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