The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has agreed to pay $4 million to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the families of a couple killed four years ago when a sheriff’s deputy raced into a Palmdale intersection and struck their car, records show.
Sara Paynter and Robert Delgadillo were killed in December 2013 when the Ford Explorer they were riding in was struck by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department cruiser that had moments earlier been traveling at about 83 mph, according to a district attorney’s memo. The posted speed limit was 50 mph.
The deputy, Kamal Jannah, was not responding to an emergency call and did not have his lights or siren on at the time of the wreck, according to a report released by the county.
Paynter, 20, of Van Nuys, and Delgadillo, 31, of Palmdale, were ejected from the backseat of the SUV and pronounced dead at the scene. The deputy and two other people riding in the Explorer were injured.
The couple had recently decided to get married and were on their way to their parents’ home to tell them about the engagement, said Arnoldo Casillas, one of the attorneys who sued the county on behalf of the families.
A spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department said Jannah “separated” from the agency in September 2016. She declined to comment on the settlement and said she was barred by state law from disclosing whether Jannah had been fired or voluntarily resigned.
Investigators from the California Highway Patrol determined that the deputy’s speed was the primary cause of the crash. The collision would not have occurred if the deputy had obeyed the posted speed limit, the CHP found, according to the county report.
The deputy was responding to a request for assistance at the scene of a fight in progress but failed to turn his lights or sirens on, according to records. As he was driving, a dispatcher clarified that the request was not an emergency, and that there was only a witness to a fight at the scene he was driving toward.
The county’s corrective action plan also placed some blame for the crash on the dispatcher’s initial request for an emergency response. The department has since implemented increased training on proper radio procedures and launched an initiative aimed at reducing deputy-involved traffic collisions at the Palmdale station, according to the county report.
Jannah was writing reports in his cruiser about 4 p.m. on the day of the crash when he heard a dispatcher relay a call for assistance that may have involved a violent clash, according to the district attorney’s memo. After “some confusion” over who was responding to the call, Jannah began traveling at speeds in excess of 55 mph without turning his lights or sirens on, the memo said.
As he approached the intersection of East Avenue R and 17th Street, Jannah noticed the vehicle the victims were riding in, but said it did not have its turn signal activated, according to the memo. When it began to enter his lane of traffic, Jannah forcefully applied his brakes but still collided with the truck. At the moment of collision, Jannah was traveling about 57 mph, the prosecutor’s memo said.
The district attorney’s office considered filing misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges against the deputy, but could not, in part, because the case was not presented to prosecutors until February 2015. The one-year legal deadline for filing a misdemeanor charge had expired, according to the memo.
Because the district attorney’s office could not prove the gross negligence required for a felony charge of vehicular manslaughter, it chose not to prosecute, according to the memo. It was not immediately clear why CHP investigators waited until 2015 to present the case to prosecutors.
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7:15 p.m.: This story was updated with additional information provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
This article first published at 3:05 p.m.