Neighbors who rushed outside just after an accident in which a West Covina couple were killed by a police car say that the officer hadn't turned on his siren or flashing lights and that he may have been speeding.
The California Highway Patrol was continuing its investigation Wednesday into the accident early Monday in which Johnny Daniels, 42, and his wife, Barbara, 38, were killed. The couple and their 5-year-old son were returning to their apartment on Sunset Avenue when the police car broadsided their Volkswagen Rabbit.
The son, Johnny Daniels II, was injured in the accident and was reported in fair condition Wednesday at Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina.
When the accident occurred, just after midnight, Officer Jim Witt, 40, a 20-year veteran of the West Covina Police Department, reportedly was rushing to the aid of another officer who was under gunfire attack. Witt has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, Lt. Dan Leonard said. Though Sunset Avenue residents said they did not see the accident, several said they heard it, and came out immediately.
"There were no lights on but the street lights," said Levon Chambers, 29, whose apartment faces the site of the accident. "I heard the tires screeching and the collision. When I looked out the window, all I saw were two cars banged up."
Robert Habeger, 25, said he was in his bedroom when he heard the police car speeding down the street. "He was going at least 100 or 110 m.p.h., I bet," he said. When Habeger went outside, he said, "He didn't have flashing lights or the siren on."
The Danielses' three other children are being cared for by relatives, said Eric Ferrer, the family's lawyer. "All the children are taking it very hard," Ferrer said. "They were a close family; they loved Barbara and Johnny (Daniels). Since the funeral hasn't occurred yet, there's a lot of time for bereavement."
The three older children are from previous marriages. Johnny Daniels' twin daughters, Stacy and Tracy Daniels, 16, are in Glendale with their mother, Ferrer said. He said Barbara Daniels' son, Randy Griffin, 14, is living with Barbara Daniels' mother in West Covina. The grandmother will care for young Johnny when he is released from the hospital, Ferrer said.
He said an eyewitness, whom he declined to name, saw the police car without its emergency lights or siren on, going in excess of 80 m.p.h.
Ferrer is investigating further and plans to file a claim for damages. If a settlement cannot be reached, a lawsuit will be filed, he said.
Meanwhile, neighbors swapped memories of the family.
"They were real nice people," said Marcus McCray, 14, a friend of Randy Griffin's. "When a group of kids were causing trouble at the basketball court, (Johnny Daniels) would come out and tell them to go away. Every once in a while, he would give us lectures, ranging (on topics) from AIDS to cursing."
Jennifer Moreno, the apartment manager and a friend of the family, termed the Danielses "wonderful people," saying they had lived in the complex four years. "They always did everything as a family," she said. "They went to church together."
Johnny Daniels participated in the Neighborhood Watch program and would drive around the 250-unit apartment complex at night to make sure everything was safe, Moreno said.
Last year at Christmastime he photographed about 85 children at the complex with Santa Claus and gave the pictures to the youngsters' parents, she said.