Agents and Deputy Blamed for Fatal CrashJOE BIGHAM , Associated Press
Mar. 14, 1985 4:03 PM ET
FRESNO, CALIF. FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ Two Secret Service cars were partly on the wrong side of the road just before a collision that killed three agents during Queen Elizabeth II's 1983 visit to California, a federal judge ruled. But he assessed most of the blame to a speeding sheriff's deputy.
The Secret Service cars drifted halfway across the center line while rounding a curve, but both got back into their own lane before the collision between the second car and a Mariposa County sheriff's vehicle, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Coyle said in a decision released today.
The county had argued during trial that the Secret Service cars were on the wrong side of the road.
The driver of the sheriff's car, Sgt. Roderick Sinclair, also was negligent for speeding because he was driving 64 miles an hour on a curve posted for 35 mph, Coyle ruled.
The judge thus assessed 70 percent of the blame for the accident to Sinclair and 30 percent to the Secret Service drivers - Max Phillips and George P. LaBarge, of Springboro, Ohio, who was one of the victims.
The grinding crash after a light mist on State Route 132 near Coulterville 140 miles southeast of San Francisco also killed two other agents in LaBarge's car - Donald A. Bejcek of South Springfield, Ill., and Donald W. Robinson of Andover, N.J.
They were driving through the Sierra Nevada foothills March 5, 1983 en route to Yosemite National Park as an advance team for the queen's visit there.
Coyle's ruling means that the federal government will have to reimburse Mariposa County's insurers $1.2 million - 30 percent of a $4 million settlement reached in a civil lawsuit won by the families of the dead agents against the county.
''I'm pleased that the judge found in our favor and found that there was fault on the part of the Secret Service,'' said Charles Brunn, who represented the county.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James White argued in court that Sinclair held complete blame for the deaths. But Brunn claimed the agents' car crossed the center line and got back in its own lane just before the collision.
''We are studying the decision carefully,'' White said.