Oxnard is sued in death of sunbather

Times Staff Writer

The family of a woman killed when an Oxnard police beach patrol vehicle ran over her as she was sunbathing has filed a $10-million negligence lawsuit against the city.

The civil suit, filed Monday in Ventura County Superior Court, accuses the city and its police force of seven counts of negligence in the death of Cindy Conolly of Sioux City, Iowa.

The counts include lack of a beach-driving policy, insufficient training of officers to drive on the beach and failure of officers to sound their sport utility vehicle's horn every 30 seconds to warn beach-goers of an approaching vehicle.

Conolly, 49, who had attended her son's ocean-side wedding the previous day, died June 12 while lying on a public beach adjacent to the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Resort in Oxnard. She was run over twice by a Chevrolet Tahoe driven by Officer Frank Brisslinger, who was patrolling the beach with Officer Martin Polo.

City officials said after the incident that Conolly's death was the first in the 35-year history of Oxnard beach patrols.

Mark O. Hiepler, the Oxnard attorney representing the woman's family, said Tuesday that the city had already accepted blame for the accident but refused to provide him or his clients statements from the officers involved.

"The family wants to understand what was going on inside that 6,500-pound Tahoe -- why they were on the beach?" he said. "What were they doing? And how could they run over her twice and fail to realize it until they were called back 20 minutes later?"

Hiepler filed the suit on behalf of Conolly's children, Ronnie Bassett, 31, and Tammy Krieger, 27.

"We will do whatever it takes to find out the truth," Bassett said in a written statement.

City Atty. Gary L. Gillig said the city had nothing to hide and had told the family months ago that it would share details about incident once the county district attorney's office concluded its investigation.

"I'm optimistic that the parties will be able to find a resolution through mediation or some sort of settlement discussion," Gillig said.

Police Chief John Crombach said the department immediately ended the practice of using SUVs to patrol beaches and off-road areas. The department, which is in the process of buying a pair of specialty vehicles for beach patrols, also has instituted mandatory training for all patrol officers on the proper ways to drive off-road.

"We hope that we can prevent this from ever happening again," Crombach said. "I've been doing this almost 30 years, and this is right at the top of tragic events .... How do you adequately compensate a family for a loss like this?"



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