The family of two people killed by a wrong-way driver on Highway 101 in 2009 settled last month with Santa Barbara County for $4.8 million, resolving a civil case in which they alleged a Sheriff’s Department deputy didn’t follow proper procedure in resolving the situation safely.
Marcos Arrendondo, 18 years old, was killed, along with one of his passengers, Macrina Ocampo, a grandmother and single mother of eight. Two children in the car sustained severe injuries, according to their attorney, Barry Cappello. Richard Rodriguez pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and, in 2010, was sentenced to 13 years in state prison.
The Tustin resident, now 22 years old, was drunk and high on cocaine when he starting driving north in southbound lanes after leaving an Isla Vista party. At the same time, two vehicles — one driven by Arrendono, the other by his father, Jose — were on the road, returning to Goleta from a wedding in Lompoc. Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Rogers had received a call of a wrong-way driver and slowly entered Highway 101 at Glen Annie Road.
Cappello alleged that Rogers failed to signal or put on his overhead flashing flights to indicate there was an emergency. Both Arredondos — Jose in front, Marcos behind — had to quickly change lanes to avoid hitting the merging Sheriff’s deputy, Cappello said, putting the vehicles directly in the path of Rodriguez’s vehicle. “After the Arredondo vehicles passed Rogers, he finally turned on his flashing lights and siren,” Cappello said.
“Jose assumed he was being pulled over. He moved over to lane two just as Rodriguez’s car zoomed by, barely missing him. Rodriguez then slammed head-on into the vehicle driven by Marcos.” Said Cappello’s partner, Leila Noël, “By his actions, Rogers turned a hazardous condition into a deadly one.”
Sheriff Bill Brown, however, took issue with Noël and Cappello’s characterization of the incident and said his deputy did not violate department policy, nor did the county admit wrongdoing or liability. “While Mr. Cappello blames this tragedy on the county and a Sheriff’s deputy, the real cause of this heartbreaking criminal event was Richard Rodriguez, whose reckless behavior in using illegal drugs, drinking alcohol to excess, and then driving the wrong way on the freeway is the real cause of this tragedy,” Brown said.
He said the reason the county and Sheriff’s Department were included in the suit is because the county has deep pockets, while Rodriguez had no assets. The settlement came after multiple confidential mediation sessions, according to County Counsel Dennis Marshall. He called the settlement “a sound business decision by the County to end the litigation.” The county was facing up to $15 million in potential damages.
Noël said their clients, who have almost no money, were “desperately in need of medical treatment long term,” and the settlement money will be placed in an annuity to help with medical bills over the years.