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L.A. County sheriff's deputy in fatal crash will not face charges

Ventura County prosecutors said Tuesday that they will not pursue a criminal case against a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who killed a man when he drove his SUV into a Fillmore Starbucks.

The deputy, Michael Cedarland, suffered a seizure at the wheel and lost consciousness before crashing into the coffee shop on Dec. 13, 2011, said Kim Gibbons, the deputy district attorney handling the case.

His blackout would “mandate an acquittal,” Gibbons said, because it stemmed from a sudden illness rather than from a voluntary action such as excessive drinking.

Sergio Mendez, a 30-year-old Marine veteran who served in Iraq, was drinking coffee and talking on a cellphone with his mother in Florida when Cedarland’s vehicle burst into the Starbucks off Highway 126  about 7 p.m. The vehicle pinned him against a wall; he died in surgery four hours later.

The vehicle veered across two lines of oncoming traffic, jumping three curbs and two planters. Its “very, very straight” path suggested to investigators that the driver could have been unconscious because he made no moves to stop or to avoid obstacles.

Seven months before the crash, Cedarland nearly fainted at work and was sent to physicians for diagnosis. Although the “near syncope” did not occur while Cedarland was driving, a doctor who suspected epilepsy notified the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which suspended the deputy’s license in June, Gibbons said.

After further testing, doctors concluded the May 2011 incident was an aberration and Cedarland’s license was reinstated the following November.

Gibbons said investigators found no evidence that Cedarland was involved in accidents elsewhere, as Mendez’s relatives have contended.

Cedarland is still working as a deputy but his job at a Los Angeles County jail does not involve driving and he told investigators he has not driven since the crash, Gibbons said.


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-- Steve Chawkins

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