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Former California police officer sentenced in fatal DUI crash

Posted on in Wrongful Death

Police officers may be paid to protect and serve the public by enforcing the law, but that doesn't mean that they're immune to it. Law enforcement officers are just as capable of making the same mistakes that civilians do, especially when they're not in uniform. A former officer with the police department in Newport Beach, California, knows this all too well, having been sentenced in court last week.

The 51-year-old Winchester woman, who no longer works in law enforcement but has been working as a private investigator, was convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter in connection with a fatal car accident that happened in November 2011. She was sentenced to nine years in state prison.

According to California Highway Patrol officers who investigated the crash, the woman was driving fast behind another car on Interstate 15 just before 2 a.m. one night when she rear-ended it. The impact forced both cars off the road, through a guardrail and hundreds of feet down a steep hill. The other driver, a 20-year-old man, was killed in the accident and his two passengers were seriously injured. The woman who caused the crash also suffered injuries.

CHP officers said the retired officer had been drinking before the crash and that her blood-alcohol level registered at .13 and .14 after the accident. At her sentencing Friday, she cried when the judge denied her request to be put on probation. As a former police officer who may have arrested people in the past on similar offenses, she is likely well aware of what life in prison holds in store. But in addition to that penalty, there's a chance she will be held financially liable for the accident if the victims or the family of the driver decide to pursue a personal injury lawsuit.

Like most people who are accused of drinking and driving, the woman knew that it was dangerous and against the law. The fact that she was once responsible for upholding that law makes little to no difference in her liability.

Source: ABC 10 News, "Former police officer, Katherine Ann Heinzel, convicted in fatal DUI crash gets 9-year sentence," Jan. 12, 2013

  • Our law firm handles personal injury cases similar to the one described in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our San Jose wrongful death page.
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