L.A. County to pay $17.2 million for deputy's wrong-way crash that injured toddler

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors has approved paying a $17.2-million settlement to a family injured in 2020 when a sheriff’s deputy hit their car in a wrong-way wreck while driving twice the posted speed limit.

The hefty settlement announced this week is one of more than 160 payouts in the past three years stemming from car crashes involving deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Those wrecks have cost the county more than $22 million, a figure that has sparked concern among county supervisors and led to a motion calling for measures to address deputy driving safety.

Supervisor Janice Hahn, who co-authored the motion, called the 2020 crash “devastating” and said her proposal would ask the department to analyze its existing policies and review its driver disciplinary system.

“Although it’s an outlier in terms of the high cost,” she said of the 2020 wreck, “it’s unfortunately part of a trend we’ve seen at the Sheriff’s Department — deputies getting into harmful and sometimes fatal car crashes.”

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In an emailed statement, the Sheriff’s Department said it is “actively working to increase” training for deputies, including better driving.

“Ensuring the safety of our personnel and community members on the road is a priority, and every employee that gets behind the wheel plays a crucial role in upholding our safety standards for safe driving,” the statement said. “We recognize the issue of preventable traffic collisions and share the concern of their impact on our community and employees.”

A lawyer for the injured family said they welcomed the payout because their toddler — the most severely hurt in the crash — has struggled through multiple surgeries.

“It was an incredibly tragic event and fortunately nobody was killed but a whole family’s lives were altered,” attorney Ryan Casey told The Times. “There was no reason for the deputy to be doing that speed.”

In the January 2020 incident, Romelia Chaidez was in the car with her three children, driving her oldest son to high school in the city of Paramount. On the way there, two Lakewood Station sheriff’s deputies veered out of their lane to avoid hitting another driver who abruptly turned left in front of them, according to a summary of the incident from the Office of the County Counsel.

The patrol vehicle hit the center median then careened into Chaidez and her children as they drove east on Somerset Boulevard.

According to the lawsuit the family filed afterward in county court, Deputy Nicholas Baudino — who was behind the wheel — didn’t have his lights or sirens on at the time, and was driving more than double the posted 35-mph speed limit.

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Although the county counsel's summary said Baudino had been looking for a vehicle that had evaded him several days earlier, the deputy in the passenger seat said in a deposition that they were not in pursuit of a suspect at the time of the crash. He also said that before the wreck he’d told Baudino he needed to “drive slower.”

The force of the crash caused the seatbelt of Chaidez’s 4-year-old daughter to pop open, and the girl flew out of her booster seat. She was so severely injured that initially her mother and brothers thought she had been killed, according to the complaint.

The family’s lawyer said she suffered “horrific” facial injuries that have left her permanently disfigured and in need of more surgery.

The department’s internal review determined that the deputy had been driving too fast and that his action violated department policies. In its statement this week, the department said “administrative action” was taken against the deputy who was behind the wheel. Officials did not specify what that entailed, but the department confirmed that the deputy separated from the department in March.

Over the past five years, the department's internal review found that Lakewood Station deputies were in 204 crashes, 133 of which were deemed preventable — including the crash with the Chaidez family.

On Tuesday, the county also approved a settlement in another case involving a car crash that happened later that same year, when traffic on the 71 Freeway stopped suddenly and a deputy crashed into the car in front of him. The driver of that car was taken to the hospital with complaints of back, shoulder and arm pain.

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The department determined the deputy responsible didn’t violate any policies. He attended a driver training class and officials said he has not been in any crashes since. The county agreed to settle the case for $285,000.

During the board’s discussion of deputy driving this week, Supervisor Hilda Solis — the motion’s other author — noted that the department’s crash-related payouts have already exceeded the settlement amounts for the last three years combined.

The motion approved during Tuesday’s meeting asks the Sheriff’s Department to develop a plan to reduce the number of traffic collisions, update its traffic collision point system, review its training and policies, and begin providing confidential written reports to the board every 90 days about crashes involving department personnel.

Solis called the number of deputy crashes in recent years "astonishing," and said, “Imagine a call for service being delayed due to a deputy being involved in an accident on the way.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.