Marcos Breton

April 6, 2014

Marcos Breton: Tragedy hits humble family, but justice isn’t likely

The enduring tragedy of a fatal Antelope car crash claiming the lives of a young father and his daughter is that a humble family will never gain justice or remotely fair compensation for their loss.

Marcos Breton

Connecting the dots on issues, people and news in the Sacramento region

The enduring tragedy of a fatal Antelope car crash claiming the lives of a young father and his daughter is that a humble family will never gain justice or remotely fair compensation for their loss.

Guilty verdicts and maximum sentences for the accused won’t bring back 35-year-old Jose Luis Barriga-Tovar and his 14-year-old daughter Anahi, both killed instantly on Antelope North Road on Wednesday when a stolen pickup truck collided with their Kia.

The two boys accused in this crime – 19-year-old twins, Ruslan and Roman Glukhoy – will be prosecuted in criminal court to protect society at large.

Meanwhile, the Placer County sheriff’s deputies who chased the twins before the crash will likely be protected in civil court from negligence and liability damages because their right to engage in high-speed chases has been upheld in the courts – also to protect society at large.

In this case, everyone’s interests are protected except those of the victims.

Through no fault of their own, a family has been devastated in practical and emotional terms – and that’s it.

The primary breadwinner of the family is dead.

How is the widowed Anahi Corona-Tovar going to pay the rent in a few months’ time – or buy food and clothes for her two surviving children? One is a 6-month-old baby boy who will never know his father. And there is a 9-year-old daughter, still little more than a baby but old enough to understand, who is trying to be brave for her mother.

“They were my everything,” Corona-Tovar said of her lost daughter and husband, as 9-year-old Andrea fixed a stoic gaze in her direction. And then the child was gone from the room.

“She is going to cry,” her mother said to no one in particular, as other relatives sat nearby or slept on the floor in physical and emotional exhaustion. I tried to avert my eyes from a mother’s unbearable expression of loss. But all around a cramped apartment, there were only haunted looks of disbelieving grief.

Jose Luis Barriga-Tovar, like so many immigrants before him, knew only work and family. He toiled for so long that he had not seen his own parents for 15 years.

“People such as this family are invisible for the vast majority of Sacramento,” said Carlos González-Gutiérrez, the Mexican consul in Sacramento. “I see these types of cases frequently. It’s one of the worst parts of my responsibilities.”

The consul and Omar Gonzalez, a personal injury lawyer retained by the family, are part of an infrastructure of local help and support for Mexican immigrants in the Sacramento region. They will assist the family as they seek services and the essentials of life.

But aside from Gonzalez, a child of Colusa farmworkers who put himself through Sacramento State and UCLA law school, there were no long lines of lawyers forming to help the Barriga-Tovar family. This is because the courts – both state and federal – have largely upheld almost blanket immunity for law enforcement in high-speed chases.

A Sacramento case was hugely significant in maintaining such immunity.

In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously sided with Sacramento County Deputy James Everett Smith – who had been sued by the family of a teenager killed in 1990 as he was being pursued by Smith at high speed.

Moreover, former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness said that curtailing high-speed chases can come with its own mortal consequences.

In 1995, McGinness said, Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies aborted the chase of a released felon because it was deemed too dangerous.

Soon after, McGinness said, the man they had stopped chasing went on to murder Frank Trejo, a Sonoma County deputy.

“I resist the conclusion that if you let them go, it makes us more safe,” McGinness said. “You don’t know what they will do next.”

After being star wrestlers at Mira Loma High School, Ruslan and Roman Glukhoy had gotten into trouble with the law. Roseville police questioned the two after several cars were burglarized in 2012.

As recounted in a story in Saturday’s Bee: “Ruslan Glukhoy eventually led police back to the vehicles he had burglarized and told police that he was a heroin addict and that he stole to support his habit.”

“Roman Glukhoy later was arrested in May 2013 and charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of stolen watches, wallets and sunglasses, court documents indicate.”

Were the twins fleeing from law enforcement in support of a drug habit last week?

The answer will matter a great deal to brothers now under 24-hour suicide watch in Placer County jail – and to those of us who want to be protected from dangerous people.

The Barriga-Tovar family will find little comfort in the answer because they have only questions with no good answers.

“What are we going to do now?”Anahi Corona-Tovar said on Friday.

Nobody in her family could think of what to say.

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