Judge Says He May Dismiss Baldwin Park as Defendant in Deadly Pursuit

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A judge has indicated he is poised to dismiss the city of Baldwin Park as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by relatives of a Covina couple killed during a police pursuit, in which the family members allege the negligent actions of three police agencies and the driver they were trying to pull over led to the 2019 deaths in West Covina.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel M. Crowley issued a tentative ruling Monday granting the city of Baldwin Park’s motion to be dropped from the case, which also names as defendants the city of West Covina, the state and Salvador Gomez, the alleged driver of the car that was being chased. The state has jurisdiction over the California Highway Patrol.

“The pursuit report notes only West Covina officers engaged in the pursuit; (Baldwin Park) officers merely reported the police investigation into the subject vehicle to other law enforcement agencies,” the judge wrote. “The court agrees … the evidence indicates that the BPPD were not involved in the subject event. As such, Baldwin Park has met its burden. Given that this motion is unopposed, the court grants this motion.”

Crowley is scheduled to hold a hearing later Tuesday on whether to finalize his decision. Crowley recently granted a motion by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Rodrigo Suarez of the Law Offices of Jacob Emrani, to withdraw as their representative. Suarez said in his court papers that he and the plaintiffs have had “irreconcilable differences” about the case since May.

The plaintiffs are all family members of Edward Louie Contreras and Gracie Contreras. The 55-year-old Contreras and his 53-year-old wife had recently married and were headed home with Gracie’s son on  Oct. 12, 2019, when Salvador Gomez, allegedly fleeing police in a stolen Jeep, and the pursuing officers ran a red light and crashed into the victims’ vehicle at Glendora and Cameron avenues in West Covina.

All three were ejected. The woman’s son, now 16 years old, survived and is one of the plaintiffs. The suit alleges wrongful death and motor vehicle negligence. The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages.

About 9 p.m. Oct. 11, 2019, Gomez, using a knife, forcefully obtained a woman’s Jeep in Baldwin Park, the suit states. Police were alerted and the Jeep was seen heading toward West Covina, according to the suit.

The woman’s cellphone, which had a GPS system, was left in the Jeep, the suit states. The Jeep was seen about 2 a.m. Oct. 12, 2019, but instead of continuing to track Gomez and avoid a pursuit, the police agencies demanded he pull over even though he posed no threat to anyone and there was no emergency, according to the suit.

“This caused Gomez to panic, refuse to obey the request and proceed to speed away,” the suit states.

Gomez and the pursuing officers, after running a red light, all crashed into the car containing the couple and the woman’s son, the suit alleges.

The plaintiffs believe that none of the police cars had their emergency lights on or their sirens active, the suit states.

The collision caused injuries to Edward Contreras’ spine and neck and he later died, the suit states. Gracie Contreras suffered injuries to her abdomen that also proved fatal, the suit states.

The woman’s son sustained “massive” injuries from the collision and had multiple surgeries at a hospital, where he was placed in a coma for weeks, the suit states. He will spend the rest of his life recovering from his injuries, according to the suit.

The collision occurred due to the “grossly negligent, wanton and reckless conduct” of Gomez and the police officers, the suit states.

Attorneys for the city of West Covina and the state also have pending dismissal motions which are scheduled to be heard on Wednesday and Sept. 30, respectively.

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