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Year in Review: Speed a common factor in fatal crashes

Posted: December 21, 2012 6:18 p.m.
Updated: December 21, 2012 6:18 p.m.

A sheriff's investigator works the scene of a fatal crash on Soledad Canyon Road west of Camp Plenty Road in Canyon Country on July 10.

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If local traffic collisions this past year could be summed up in two words, they would have to be: speed kills.

Speed, according to traffic investigators, was a significant and noted factor in the deaths of at least three people who, at the time of their deaths, had been passengers in cars.

Excessive speed was also a factor in the deaths of at least six motorcyclists who died in 2012 in the Santa Clarita Valley.

In the case of passenger deaths, prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office sent a message to motorists that speeding will not be tolerated.

Criminal charges were filed in each of the three passenger fatality cases, including the arrest of a man accused of having killed his brother.



The year got off to a sad start when one of two 19-year-old friends from Canyon Country, traveling in a car, ended up dead.

On the night of Jan. 10, Dakota Demott died when a Ford Mustang crashed into a tree on Sand Canyon Road.

The driver, identified as Colt Sean Doherty by traffic investigators, survived the crash and remained on life support at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital for at least a week.

For four days, Doherty remained in a medically induced coma at the hospital. Although he suffers persistent injuries, he recovered and was released from the hospital.

In August, local traffic investigators, who noted in their report that speed was a factor, recommended prosecutors proceed with criminal charges against Doherty but also against the driver allegedly racing him that night.

The District Attorney’s Office, however, took it one step further and filed second-degree murder charges in the case against both drivers.

Doherty and Thomas Joseph Vensko, 20, both of Canyon Country, were arrested Aug. 8 on suspicion of vehicular homicide in Demott’s death.

Bail for both accused men was set at $1 million.

Vensko posted bail, but Doherty remains in custody.

The District Attorney’s Office called the two men “road racers” in news releases reporting the direction prosecutors were taking.

The two men are scheduled to appear in San Fernando Superior Court late next month.



In July, traffic investigators again noted speed as a factor in their investigation of a fatal crash that claimed the life of passenger Luis Castillo Jr.

On the morning of July 10, a white compact car heading westbound on Soledad Canyon Road left the roadway near the bridge just west of Camp Plenty Road and veered into the center divider, sheriff’s officials said at the time.

It came to rest pinned against a tree in the center divider.

It ended with one man dead and another clinging to life in a hospital.

Killed in the crash was passenger Luis Castillo, 20, of Canyon Country.

His brother, Anthony Hernandez, 24, of Canyon Country, was driving the vehicle, said Sgt. Darren Harris at the time.

Hernandez remained in a coma at Henry Mayo for at least two weeks.

On Oct. 9, prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed a misdemeanor complaint of vehicular manslaughter against Anthony Hernandez, court papers show.

They allege in their complaint that on July 10, 2012, Hernandez “did unlawfully, and without malice, kill Luis Castillo while driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, but without gross negligence.”



On Aug. 19, a month after the Castillo fatality, traffic investigators were called to a crash on McBean Parkway in front of Henry Mayo that claimed the life of 19-year-old Tugba Elbirlik, of Turkey, visiting Valencia on a work visa, court papers show.

Detective Jeff Maag, a traffic investigator for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, said he calculated the speed of the vehicle at the time of the crash was about 90 miles per hour.

In December, he recommended prosecutors proceed with criminal charges against the driver.

On Dec. 4, county prosecutors — despite having no expectation the case would ever go to court — charged 20-year-old Musa Mis, now believed to be in Turkey, with vehicular manslaughter in Elbirlik’s death, court papers obtained by The Signal show.

Elbirlik and Mis had been living in Valencia for the summer and were working at Six Flags Magic Mountain on work visas.

“A high rate of speed is what caused these deaths regardless of what they hit,” Maag said, reflecting on all three cases.

“All are just ridiculous rates of speed.”



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