Costa Mesa police cleared in DA’s inquiry into DUI suspect’s death after crash

Costa Mesa police officers had no way of knowing that a 65-year-old man who died after they arrested him last year had been in serious need of medical attention, the Orange County district attorney’s office said in a letter released Wednesday.

The letter, sent earlier this week to Costa Mesa Police Chief Rob Sharpnack, clears officers of criminal culpability in the death of Fermin Hernandez, who had been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.

Hernandez was driving a Mitsubishi Mirage west on 16th Street in Costa Mesa around 10 p.m. May 2, 2015, when the vehicle ran a red light at Newport Boulevard and an SUV broadsided it, the letter states.

After the crash, a paramedic examined Hernandez and recommended that he be taken to a hospital, even though his only visible injury was a small cut on a wrist, according to the district attorney’s office.

Hernandez declined medical help and signed a waiver stating he had decided to disregard the paramedic’s advice, according to the letter.

The paramedic reportedly smelled alcohol on Hernandez’s breath, prompting a Costa Mesa police officer to perform a sobriety test and arrest Hernandez on suspicion of driving under the influence, the letter states.

After two officers loaded Hernandez into the back of a police car, he appeared to slump to the left and start falling asleep, according to the district attorney’s office.

When a police sergeant and an officer asked if he was all right, Hernandez said he was tired, complained about the handcuffs and said he couldn’t sit up straight. He also reportedly told them he didn’t think he had been hurt in the crash and that he didn’t have any medical conditions they should know about, according to the letter.

Shortly after, when Hernandez complained that the seat belt was choking him, the officer driving the police car pulled over and adjusted the belt so it wasn’t near Hernandez’s neck, the letter states.

A few minutes later, when the officer asked if he was OK, Hernandez didn’t respond, according to the district attorney’s office. After trying to wake him up, the officer called for paramedics, the letter states.

When paramedics examined Hernandez the second time, they found bruises up and down his body, according to the letter.

Hernandez was taken to Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, where he underwent emergency surgery.

He died there May 13 of internal injuries suffered in the crash, including lacerations to his spleen and liver and fractures to a rib, his clavicle and his lower spine, the letter states.

An autopsy also found chronic conditions such as pancreatitis and cirrhosis of the liver.

Shortly after Hernandez’s death, the district attorney’s office launched an investigation, as it typically does when someone dies in police custody in Orange County.

The letter to Sharpnack officially closes that inquiry.

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck