Deputy gives glimpse of crash that killed pedestrians

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) A Kern County sheriff's deputy charged in the deaths of two pedestrians in Oildale told lawyers he had no idea how fast he was traveling at the time of the crash.

This and other details are contained in a civil deposition obtained by Eyewitness News.

Testimony given by Deputy John Swearengin offers a glimpse of his defense in his upcoming criminal trial. Swearengin is charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence in the deaths of 24-year-old Daniel Hiler and 30-year-old Chrystal Jolley. The pair were crossing Norris Road near Diane Drive in December 2011.

Swearengin was questioned by civil attorneys in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the families of Hiler and Jolley. Last week, the county agreed to settle the case for a combined payment of $8.8 million.

In the deposition, Swearengin admitted he had the gas pedal at full throttle as he was traveling westbound on Norris Road while responding to a call of a stolen vehicle and foot pursuit. The deputy testified he did not know how fast he was traveling or if he was exceeding the 45 mph speed limit.

A investigative report by the California Highway Patrol found Swearengin was traveling at 80 mph and said Swearingen was to blame in the crash.

As the deputy was responding to the call, he did not activate his emergency lights and siren. He told lawyers that he had not yet obtained permission and was reaching for his radio to do so when the crash happened.

Swearengin said he had been trained and told "multiple times" that it is necessary to obtain permission before turning on emergency lights and siren. But, Kern County Sheriff's Office spokesman Ray Pruitt told Eyewitness News it is not department policy for deputies to obtain permission to activate lights and siren.

Swearengin said it was his understanding that he could drive above the posted speed limit depending on road conditions, even if he is not responding to an emergency.

"I think what you're hearing is a man explaining a tragic accident," said defense attorney Kyle Humphrey, who is not related to the case.

Will Swearengin's version of events be enough to convince a jury that he is not guilty of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence?

"I think a jury is going to have to work that one out. I think a jury is going to have to deal with his demeanor while testifying," said Humphrey.

Swearengin has pleaded not guilty. His trial is set to start April 28.