Daniel Hiler ran out of gas during an evening motorcycle ride in Oildale, California on December 16. While walking his bike to a gas station, the twenty-year-old father of two ran into a family friend named Chrystal Jolley. The pair was crossing a street at a widely-recognized intersection when they were fatally blindsided by a vehicle traveling at a speed well in excess of the posted speed limit. Despite the fact that darkness had descended, the driver hadn’t turned on his headlights. The victims were killed instantly.
Within minutes, police swarmed the scene, and arrests were made — none of which involved the driver, Deputy John Swearengin of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. The four people arrested were relatives of the victims, who got into what the Sheriff’s Office described as an “altercation” with California Highway Patrol officers when they attempted to identify the victims.
"I was at home on Friday night working on my car when someone came running over and told me that a deputy ran over my daughter in the street,” recalls Jimmy Clevenger, Jolley’s father. “I ran down here, I was very upset…. The next thing I know, they had me by the neck and threw me to the ground and said I resisted arrest. My daughter was dead in the street and it was their fault.”
The outraged relatives were taken to jail, and face criminal charges. Swearengin, the killer, was taken to the hospital and wasn’t compelled to undergo drug or alcohol screening
The posted local speed limit (for Mundanes, of course) is 45 miles per hour. According to several on-scene accounts from horrified witnesses, Swearengin blew through the intersection at a speed of 75–90 miles per hour. Despite the fact that he was obviously in a hurry, Swearengin didn’t activate his siren or running lights — or, according to at least one eyewitness, his headlights.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood told the Bakersfield Californian that the deputy “was responding to a report of a stolen vehicle with a suspect still at the scene” when he struck his victims. This would mean that he was not involved in a high-speed pursuit. Furthermore, as some skeptical witnesses pointed out, the main office of the Sheriff’s Department is about a mile or two west of the intersection where Swearengin killed Hiler and Jolley — and he was headed that direction at the time of the incident. This suggests that the deputy wasn’t motivated by an urgent call from an isolated and over-matched comrade, but rather engaging in a favorite pastime of uniformed adolescents — “Kickin’ ass and drivin’ fast.”
Some residents of Oildale, a suburb of Bakersfield, describe the Kern County Sheriff’s Deputies as notorious for their habit of speeding through the town’s narrow streets, blithely ignoring speed limits without bothering to activate their lights or sirens.
“They have no consideration for the other public,” objects Michelle Cameron, a distant relative of Jolley. Her assessment is seconded by Forrest Faulkner, an 11-year resident of Oildale who claims to know and be on good terms with most of the department. “They’re great people,” Faulkner maintains, even as he criticizes the department’s habit of putting the public at risk by needlessly reckless driving. “I’ve seen sparks fly from the car’s undercarriage when they hit a dip,” Faulkner recounts.
Under section 192 [c] of California state law, the deaths of Hiler and Jolley resulted from an act of vehicular homicide -- one involving “gross negligence,” and therefore a felony. No charges have been filed against Swearengin, and the deputy faces only an “administrative” inquiry, rather than a criminal investigation. The outcome of the administrative procedure isn’t exactly shrouded in mystery.
“What gets me is we already know the outcome,” complained Anna Rodriguez, one of Hiler’s friends, to a local reporter. “The officer will go on paid suspension. Then they will say he didn’t do anything wrong. And that will be the end of it.”