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Health conditions cited as cause of crash that killed Stanislaus deputy and CSO

Stanislaus County deputy, community service officer die in Modesto wreck

The California Highway Patrol is investigating a major accident involving a law enforcement vehicle near Crows Landing Road and Seventh Street in Modesto, California, on Saturday, May 13, 2017.
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The California Highway Patrol is investigating a major accident involving a law enforcement vehicle near Crows Landing Road and Seventh Street in Modesto, California, on Saturday, May 13, 2017.

The Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputy who crashed his patrol car last year, killing himself and a community service officer, was determined not to be at fault in the collision due to health-related conditions, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Deputy Jason Garner’s patrol vehicle was traveling 89 mph when it crashed in a wrecking yard on Crows Landing Road, landing on top of a Dumpster and catching fire on May 13, 2017. He and his passenger, CSO Raschel Johnson, died from blunt force trauma, said CHP Officer Tom Olsen.

He said a 14-month investigation by the CHPs Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team determined Garner was not at fault because he “suffered a health-related condition that rendered him incapable of cognitively controlling a motor vehicle.”

“Through their findings, Deputy Garner was medically diagnosed with anxiety and based on autopsy and coroner reports he had an enlarged heart that could not be ruled out to have caused the collision,” Olsen said.

The report cites the primary collision factor as “other than driver.”

Garner and Johnson were responding to a burglary call not in progress. They were not responding Code 3, with lights and sirens, and surveillance video shows Garner was “driving in a normal pattern prior to the collision,” Olsen said. It was only a matter of seconds prior to impact that the patrol vehicle sped up to 89 mph.

Prior to the crash, the patrol vehicle veered to the left into oncoming traffic, then to the right slightly into the dirt shoulder before veering left again into the wrecking yard, hitting a pole, a corner of the building and car parts on the ground, the force of which sent the patrol vehicle airborne.

It landed on top of the Dumpster and burst into flames.

Olsen was one of the first on scene and said the vehicle was fully engulfed when he arrived.

“I remember being on scene and seeing almost a waterfall of fire coming from the vehicle and there is literally nothing you could do as a first responder to get into that vehicle,” Olsen said. “It was very sad; you felt helpless.”

Olsen said the investigation found that Garner did not take any evasive actions; he did not turn or brake.

That is “consistent with someone who kind of locked up ... and couldn’t control the car,” he said. “Nobody in their right mind would drive a vehicle in that manner, not taking any evasive movement; it was consistent with someone suffering a medical condition at that time.”

While Garner suffered from anxiety and an enlarged heart and had a family history of heart disease, the investigation did not determine whether he was suffering a heart-related issue or anxiety prior to the collision.

The MAIT team determined carbon monoxide poisoning was not a factor and that Garner did not have medication, drugs or alcohol in his system.

Testing for carbon monoxide poisoning was done as part of the investigation into the incident because Ford Explorers, a commonly used patrol vehicle and one that Garner was driving, had been under federal investigation over complaints of exhaust fumes entering the cabin.

Prior to the fatal wreck in Stanislaus County, a Newport Beach Police Department officer alleged he crashed his Explorer patrol vehicle into a tree as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Additionally, an officer in Texas was hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning after becoming ill while driving an Explorer during a recent shift.

Sheriff Adam Christianson said Monday he could not comment on the results of the investigation or Garner’s medical history, which he said would be a violation of his health information privacy rights.

He said all deputies undergo a medical examination upon being hired.

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