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UC Santa Barbara chancellor investigated in hit-and-run allegation, but denies involvement

UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry T. Yang.
(UC Santa Barbara)

The California Highway Patrol investigated allegations that UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry T. Yang drove a car that hit a student skateboarding through a campus crosswalk but ultimately said it could not determine what happened and recommended no charges, according to documents and interviews.

The student, who suffered minor injuries, identified the chancellor as the driver. But UC Santa Barbara denied Tuesday that Yang’s car hit the student. In a statement, the university cited the CHP report saying the investigating officer found no physical evidence on the chancellor’s car of damage or contact that would indicate a collision had occurred. The CHP could not substantiate the hit-and-run allegations or the cause of the collision, citing the lack of independent witnesses, physical evidence on the car, video surveillance and some inconsistencies in statements by the student, the report said.

“This was not a hit-and-run,” the university said in a statement. “The Chancellor and his wife were surprised to learn of the allegations and they have always maintained that their vehicle did not collide with anyone. ... The University and the Chancellor took the allegations of this skateboarder seriously.”

CHP Officer Jon Gutierrez said his office is not recommending any charges to the district attorney’s office since it was “unable to substantiate a crime that was committed by any university staff.”

The UC Santa Barbara statement about Yang’s involvement in the investigation came only after The Times emailed Yang and the UC Office of the President on Tuesday, seeking comment and disclosing that a copy of the law enforcement report detailing the investigation had been obtained.

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Earlier Tuesday the university had emailed a statement:

“The Office of the President is aware of the investigation, but is not able to comment on any specific details involving University employees.”

Yang, 81, has led UC Santa Barbara since 1994, the second longest-serving chancellor in UC history. He had refused to directly speak to investigators about the May 16 incident in which a student alleged that he was struck by the front of the car and rolled across the hood, injuring his right hip and left foot, the CHP report said. The student fell to the ground, stood up and got a clear look at the driver and female passenger. The woman made hand motions toward the student, but the car’s occupants made no effort to see if he was hurt, then left the scene, the student told officers.

State law requires drivers of vehicles involved in collisions that result in injuries to stop, give “reasonable assistance” to the person struck and report the incident to law enforcement within 24 hours.

A CHP officer conveyed his request to speak with Yang through the chancellor’s representative on May 18, two days after the accident. On May 26, the representative told the CHP officer that “he had advised his client not to be interviewed because of the potential charges that could result from the nature of this investigation,” according to the CHP report.

UCSB confirmed that Yang, on the advice of his legal counsel, declined to submit a formal recorded interview while the investigation was ongoing. The chancellor directed his counsel to provide to the CHP his insurance information and communicate his belief that he did not collide with anyone, the university said.

The CHP had redacted Yang’s name in the report documents released to The Times on Monday. But two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the case said Yang was the focus of the investigation and that his name had been redacted from the public record.

David Loy, legal director at the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition, criticized the CHP’s redaction, saying the public has a compelling interest to know about allegations made against high-ranking officials..

“Even if the allegation is not ultimately substantiated, the public does have an overwhelming interest in the disclosure of information about allegations against high-ranking officials,” Loy said, adding that a UC chancellor has a “diminished expectation of privacy.”

But they will need to meet comprehensive targets to improve access, affordability and equity under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised budget proposal set to be unveiled Friday.

The Times protested Tuesday the removal of the name from the public record. On Wednesday afternoon, the CHP released an updated report to The Times un-redacting the names of the chancellor and his wife, Dilling Yang.

“As UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry T. Yang’s identity has been published by the Times, and confirmed by the UC Santa Barbara, the Department is providing an updated record in response to the Times’ PRA request,” the CHP said.

The original traffic crash report on May 16 classified the incident as a felony hit and run. In a statement Wednesday, a CHP officer said, “If the suspect driver is positively identified, the case will be submitted for filing as a misdemeanor, not a felony.”

Within hours of receiving the student’s report identifying Yang, university police turned over the investigation to the CHP for a “thorough and unbiased investigation,” the report said.

The student was identified in the report as Madden Cade Westland, 19. Reached by The Times on Tuesday by phone, Westland said he was not going to speak publicly about the incident at this time. He said he had not seen the CHP report and is “surprised” the CHP could complete the investigation without talking to the chancellor. He declined to say whether he has retained a lawyer.

After the incident, Westland returned to his dorm room and began to have soreness in his right hip and noticed minor abrasions, the report said. He also had an abrasion on his left foot. He told his dorm resident director what had happened, and the director told him to call the university police, who took the first report. Westland declined medical attention when he first called university police, the report said. It does not indicate whether he later sought treatment. Westland was shaking and spoke rapidly when he talked to the officer, who noted he “was visibly shaken from the incident.”

Westland told UCSB Officer Derrick Manzano that he was riding his skateboard across Channel Islands Road about 6:30 p.m. when he saw a tan or silver vehicle. But the car did not slow or stop and hit him, Westland told Manzano. When Westland stood up, he recognized the driver and passenger. He estimated to police the car was going 5 to 10 mph when it hit him, the report said.

Shortly after midnight, nearly six hours after the incident, CHP Officer Ricardo Ayala went to Yang’s home, where he found a Buick LaCrosse and Buick LeSabre in the driveway registered to the chancellor. The officer examined the cars using ambient light and a flashlight, the report said.

A thin layer of dust covered both cars’ hoods along with several dried bird droppings. He said when he ran his finger over the portions of the right fenders, he was quickly able to smudge the surface.

Investigators were “unable to locate any damages (dents, scuffs, scratches, etc. or any other physical evidence (clothing fibers, fingerprints, areas of skin oils transfer to the vehicle surface, etc. (sic) to either vehicle that indicated a collision occurred or a body rolled across the surface of the hood,” the report said.

“Based on these and other indications, he formed the opinion neither vehicle was involved in a crash in the manner described by the student,” he wrote.

The officer said he requested Westland meet at the home at 6 a.m. the next day to look at the vehicles.

Once there, Westland initially pointed to the LaCrosse. But when he saw the LaSabre, “he seemed doubtful and unsure as to which of two vehicles was one that struck him,” Ayala wrote.

UC Riverside and UC Merced enroll the highest share of low-income students of color in the UC system. Legislation aims to help them succeed with more funding.

Westland told investigators that after seeing the woman passenger, he looked her up online to make sure of her identity.

“If it wasn’t them, you could probably like ask them to see if they were driving the car?” Ayala recorded Westland as saying. “I actually don’t want anybody to get into trouble if it wasn’t him, obviously.”

A second CHP officer, D. Ayala, spoke to Yang’s wife that same morning, May 17. The officer asked if the security cameras at the house worked and she replied, “some of them worked, and some did not.”

Asked to recall her husband’s whereabouts the previous evening at about 6:30 p.m., she replied, “he was driving around to many different events” that day. Ayala told her about Westland’s accusation and that she was being identified as a passenger. She responded that “she did not wish to answer any more questions,” the CHP report said.

The officer said he confirmed with UC police that there were “no cameras installed on campus that would have captured footage of the crash.” But records do not indicate whether security cameras at the chancellor’s home showed any potential evidence.

CHP officials did not get a search warrant for the cameras at the chancellor’s home. In a statement Wednesday to The Times, a CHP official said investigators consulted with the Santa Barbara County district attorney’s office and concluded they did not have probable cause for a search warrant, given that the alleged victim’s injuries were minor.

On May 18, Westland made positive identification of the driver and passenger using a photo lineup at the CHP office, the report said.

Yang “wants to respect the skateboarder’s report of what the skateboarder believed occurred,” UCSB said in its statement, adding that “resources were made available to the skateboarder, if he requested them, no matter what the source of the injuries.”

“The students are the reason we are all here on the campus. Our students’ health, well-being, and safety are our campus’ top priority,” Yang said in the statement.


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