Family of Jehovah’s Witness sues Azusa police, CHP

[Original publication date: January 5, 2001]

The family of a Jehovah’s Witness who died after an auto accident last year is suing the Azusa Police Department and California Highway Patrol, claiming officers improperly handled the accident which led to the victim’s death.

Published Thursday, August 5, 1999WO200410000105006AR
By Justino Aguila
Staff Writer

Fullerton-based attorney Evan L. Ginsburg said the family of 55-year-old Jadine Russell, who died March 8, 1998, after a drunken driver hit a car that slammed into her while she stood on the side of a road, is seeking monetary damages they’ve suffered since her death.

According to Ginsburg, the officers involved could have prevented the accident from happening by having better control of traffic.

The victim had been talking to officers from the CHP and the Azusa Police Department after a minor accident took place moments before Cook crashed.

Later, at the hospital, Russell followed her faith as a Jehovah’s Witness and refused a blood transfusion.

In March, Cook, a twice-convicted drunken driver, was sentenced to 10 years in state prison in the death of Russell.

The civil lawsuit, dated Jan. 26, was filed in Pomona Superior Court by the victim’s husband, James Russell, now of San Dimas, and their children, Jennifer Russell, Jara Ramas, Jana Hefti and Joy Russell. Jadine’s son Jeffrey asked to be dropped from the suit earlier this year.

Israel G. Melendez, who was involved in a minor crash with Jadine Russell moments before Cook crashed, also was named in the suit but was dropped from it after his insurance company settled for $15,000. Cook was also dropped after his insurance also paid the Russells $15,000.

Russell’s lawyer said he hopes mediators can resolve the problem in private before seeking other options, said.

If mediation doesn’t work, “I’ll take this to a jury,” Ginsburg added. “This could be an issue for 12 people and not for a judge if we get that far.”

The unincorporated stretch of Sierra Madre Road, sandwiched between Azusa and Glendora, was repaved by the Los Angeles County Public Works Department about a month after the accident occurred.

It had been at least 15 years since the road was worked on, but the accident didn’t trigger the work, officials said.

Even so, after Jadine Russell’s death, county officials did a routine investigation, which they say is standard anytime an accident of that degree occurs on county property.

“The findings were that all appropriate traffic controls were in place,” said spokesman Dennis Morefield. “And no additional traffic controls were needed.”

Here are later updates to this story:
CBS News (12/4/1998): “A Matter of Life, Death and Faith”
APN News Archive (12/19/1998): “No Murder in Jehovah’s Witness Case”

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