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WHOOPS! Lawsuit says delays in searching for Corona mountain bikercontributed to his death (CA)
Lawsuit says delays in searching for Corona mountain biker contributed to his death
Andres Marin called home to say he was injured Â* there was no search until the next day.
By RICHARD K. DE ATLEY |
PUBLISHED: January 2, 2019 at 3:03 pm | UPDATED: January 2, 2019 at 4:43 pm
Christyna Arista, left, last heard from her husband, Andres Marin, about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 1, 2014, when Marin called to say he had gotten lost while bicycling Santiago Peak in the Cleveland National Forest near Corona.
A Corona family spent a night anxiously waiting for Riverside County sheriffâs deputies to organize a search for Andres Marin after he called his wife just before sunset, injured and sounding disoriented after he said he fell while mountain biking on Santiago Peak, a lawsuit says.
But there was no search by authorities for Marin, the father of four, on that chilly and rainy night of March 1, 2014, his 34th birthday.
Outfitted for a daytime ride in moderate temperatures, he was found on a mountain fire road the next morning, dead from hypothermia, according to the Riverside County Coronerâs office. Another listed significant condition, though not related to the cause of death, was a blunt-impact injury to his head.
His wife, Christyna Arista, and her attorneys say there was another cause of death for her husband: Negligence, because there was no authorized and sworn search-and-rescue team within the Riverside County Sheriffâs Department for emergencies such as this.
That helped to create to a shambolic evening, with the family believing deputies would soon organize a search, only to learn late at night that they would not, she says in a lawsuit. Further, the suit says, Arista had to endure overhearing a sheriffâs lieutenant comment at her home that perhaps Marin was actually out cheating on her. One of Aristaâs attorneys, John E. Tiedt, called the comment âpure speculationâ and said there was absolutely no reason for such a conclusion.
Turned down in Riverside County Superior Court, the familyâs wrongful-death lawsuit was recently revived by an appellate court ruling.
The night Marin called, Arista contacted various authorities to report her husband as missing and in danger, with sheriffâs personnel assuming command of the incident and arriving at the family home at around 8 p.m. But the family was told, two hours later, there would be no organized search for him until morning, court papers say.
In the days after Marinâs death, authorities told the Southern California News Group, that steady rain that night prevented a helicopter rescue, that heavy rain the day before left the clay soil too slick for rescue vehicles, and conditions made hiking to look for Marin dangerous.
The family said it had been asked by deputies not to look for Marin on its own, but after learning there would be no organized search that night, Arias and six other family members hiked into the Cleveland National Forest at 3:45 a.m.
âWaiting at home was the hardest part,â Arista said in a phone interview. âI felt I should have been out there looking for him..â
When she raised fear about hypothermia as the evening grew chilly, the lawsuit says, she was told by a sheriffâs lieutenant that Marin was âa grown manâ and could survive the night. She was told a helicopter would be sent Â* if Marin were a child, according to the suit.
âThe defendants let Marin die on their watch,â the lawsuit claims.
Marinâs body was discovered the next morning by a Good Samaritan, Aristaâs lawsuit says, who had learned that the biker was missing from another member of the volunteer Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit. He rode a motorcycle on the Santiago Trail to look for Marin, discovering the body âbefore âsearch and rescueâ could even finish their briefing,â the suit says.
It was unclear when Marin died.
The Sheriffâs Department and a county official, Ray Smith, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Despite an internal study dated less than a month before Marinâs death that advocated for the creation of a department-wide Search Management and Rescue Team, Arista and her attorneys said in an interview, the Riverside County sheriffâs search-and-rescue command structure has remained unchanged. That study noted search-and-rescue calls had gone from 115 in 2011 up to 237 in 2013, the final full year before the study was issued.
While some sheriffâs stations have search-and-rescue teams Â* Hemet, Palm Desert and Colorado River Â* others use such teams made up of volunteers and reserve deputies. The study said there was no agency-wide team of sworn search-and-rescue personnel, so training and coordination is often lacking.
The Sheriffâs Department, in a statement, has said that while the agency âdoes not have a dedicated search management and rescue team,â it does have sworn personnel who are formally trained in search-and-rescue techniques and stationed throughout the county. The department also has several internal teams and bureaus to aid in search-and-rescue operations, as well as volunteer groups, and uses mutual aid from outside counties.
Riverside Countyâs defense
In court papers, Riverside County has argued that its employees had no duty to rescue Marin, that it did nothing to put him in danger, nor did it prevent a qualified person from performing a rescue, adding that there is no constitutional duty to provide trained rescue employees. The county also denied creating a âspecial relationshipâ in which Arista and her family might have expected its employees to search for Marin.
A Riverside County Superior Court judge upheld the countyâs arguments in April 2017. Arista appealed, and on Nov. 21 the Fourth District Court of Appeal Division Two reversed most of the lower courtâs ruling, saying Arista could indeed seek damages for wrongful death, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress, but not for a civil rights violation.
The appeals court noted that sheriffâs deputies had, on March 1, 2014, pinged Marinâs cell phone to ascertain that he was at Santiago Peak; collected information about Marin from Arista; instructed Verizon personnel in the Santiago Peak area to be âvigilantâ for Marin; placed deputies at trailheads; set a time for a search; and appointed an incident commander.
âAssuming the foregoing facts are true,â the appellate court wrote, âSheriffâs Department personnel (the deputies), through their actions, undertook the responsibility of rescuing the victim.â That included âusing reasonable care not to increase the risk of harm.â
The case would return to the lower court, although Riverside County has asked the California Supreme Court to review it.
The family was ready to go out and search for Marin at 6 p.m. the night that Marin was missing, but that was delayed because the group felt assured authorities would take care of it, said Marc S. Hurd, one of Aristaâs lawyers in a phone interview.
While the lawyers seek compensation for the family, they also seek improvements on how the search-and-rescue efforts are structured.
âMy goal is that they get a search-and-rescue team that is effective and in place, so that no other family goes through what we went through, to save some other life so that my husbandâs life was not lost in vain,â Arista said. âThat is my goal.â
The fatal ride
The mountain bike that Andres Marin was riding when he died sits next to a memorial shrine in his familyâs Corona home on March 3, 2014.
Marin, a forklift operator, had left the family home in Corona at 6:30 a.m. for a birthday bike ride up 5,689-foot elevation Santiago Peak, taking a fire-service access road that starts at Foothill Parkway and Skyline Drive in Corona. His plan was to ride to the peak, then return on fire-access roads that end at Indian Truck Trail and De Palma Road, making it back for a 2:30 p.m. return to his home and a family celebration.
Marin and Arista used Google Maps to calculate the distance of the ride, about 55 miles, and printed out maps before the ride. Marin, the lawsuit says, was an experienced mountain biker with several previous rides of 70 miles or longer.
Temperatures in Corona were in the 50s to 60s when Marin left. He was wearing knee-length bike shorts, bike gloves, a mountain bike jersey, calf-length socks, shoes and a helmet. He had $10 in cash, water, light snacks and a cell phone.
There is no indication anyone else was on the ride with him.
When Marin failed to return by 3 p.m., Arista began calling or texting his cell phone every 15 minutes, but did not get an answer until 5:14 p.m., her lawyers said. Marin told Arista he had fallen from his bike and was injured.
âDuring this conversation, Marin seemed disoriented and confused,â the lawsuit says.
Arista called the Trabuco Ranger Station, believing it was the closest source for help, but got no answer. She called the Cleveland National Forest Service but could not reach a live operator, then called 911.
Corona police came to the family home at 6:30 p.m., and Arista told them what she knew, gave them photos of Marin and copies of the route maps for his ride. But it was Riverside County sheriffâs personnel who took command of the incident at some point, with personnel arriving at the family home at 8 p.m., the lawsuit says.
There was a light but steady rain that evening. The National Weather Service did not record the temperature atop Santiago Peak, but it got down to 39 degrees on nearby Pleasants Peak, about 1,800 feet lower in elevation.
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