Yang Refuses to Cooperate with Hit-and-Run Investigation

New CHP Report Contradicts Earlier Statements from UCSB

UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry T. Yang | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang, accused by a student of striking him with his car on campus then leaving the scene, refused to cooperate with California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers investigating the incident, newly released records show. 

Yang’s attorney advised him “not to be interviewed due to potential charges which could result from the nature of this investigation,” the CHP report states. Yang’s wife, allegedly in the car at the time, also declined to answer officers’ questions or provide a statement.

The report contradicts a previous assertion from UCSB that Yang had been open with investigators. “The Chancellor has cooperated with the investigation into the allegations and has done so professionally and appropriately,” the university claimed. “It is the Chancellor’s view that the University community comes first, including students, faculty, staff, and others on campus.”

On May 16 at around 6:30 p.m., 19-year-old Madden Westland told authorities, he was riding his skateboard through a crosswalk on Channel Islands Road just a few hundred feet from the chancellor’s residence. Yang, driving an older-model Buick, allegedly failed to stop and hit Westland, sending him rolling across the car’s hood and onto the asphalt.

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Westland, who sustained injuries to his foot and hip, said that when he stood up he got a clear view of the driver and female passenger. The woman made a “waving” motion with her hand, as if to shoo him away, but neither occupant checked to see if he was hurt before they drove off, he said. Westland later positively identified Yang and his wife, Dilling, from photo lineups.

During his interview with an officer immediately after the accident, Westland’s “speech was rapid and he was shaking at times,” the CHP report says. “[He] was noticeably shaken from the incident.” When officers initially spoke to Dilling, she told them Yang had been “driving around to many different events” that day. But when they asked her if she had accompanied Yang to any of the events, she ended the interview.

The CHP, which took over the investigation from the UCSB Police Department to avoid a conflict of interest, ultimately recommended no charges be filed against Yang. Officers said when they examined both of the chancellor’s vehicles in the early morning hours of May 17 — Yang actually owns two similar-model Buicks — they found no evidence to suggest a collision had taken place in the manner Westland described. “[The officers] 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.) that indicated a collision occurred, or a body rolled across the surface of the hood,” the report says. Investigators also cited a lack of independent witnesses or video surveillance.

The incident was first reported by the Santa Barbara Independent last month and covered in the Los Angeles Times last week. The negative publicity comes at an especially precarious time for the 81-year-old Yang, the second longest-serving chancellor in UC history, as he faces mounting criticism over the university’s crisis-level housing shortage, the controversial Munger Hall proposal, and a recent 28.4 percent pay raise that brought his salary to nearly $580,000.

UCSB, meanwhile, continues to insist that Westland’s accusations against Yang are unfounded. “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.” Still, UCSB said, “The Chancellor wants to respect the skateboarder’s report of what they believed occurred.”

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