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MISTRIAL DECLARED IN 138 DEATH JURY DEADLOCKS ON FELONY, BUT CONVICTS TOW-TRUCK DRIVER OF MISDEMEANOR.

Byline: KAREN MAESHIRO Staff Writer

LANCASTER -- A mistrial was declared in the case of a tow-truck driver involved in a fatal head-on collision on Highway 138 after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal on a charge of felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

The Antelope Valley Superior Court jury convicted James Herbert White of Montclair of misdemeanor reckless driving in connection with the June 2005 incident.

``It turned out that the area had just been repaved, and it hadn't had proper lines put into the road. There were no signs indicating that there was a curve ahead, and he didn't have knowledge that there was a dangerous situation until he got up next to the big rig,'' White's attorney, Stanley Bowman, said.

``He didn't see the car coming, and it was too late to avoid it. He drove off the road, but the other car did the same, and they had a collision off the road. So it was an accident. It wasn't gross negligence, which is like racing or driving under the influence,'' Bowman said.

The verdict was reached Monday. White is scheduled to appear in court in November for sentencing and to see if prosecutors will retry him on the felony count.

The prosecutor in the case did not respond to requests for comment.

Richard Pailliotet, 72, of Palmdale died from injuries in the June 10 crash that occurred when White crossed over the center line in an attempt to pass a big-rig truck and crashed into the victim's pickup truck, authorities said.

Pailliotet and his wife, Susan, who was injured, were celebrating their 42nd wedding anniversary and returning from a trip to the Grand Canyon.

Pailliotet's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in June against the California Department of Transportation, saying Caltrans should have done more to make the dangerous roadway safer.

The Pailliotets were driving west on Highway 138 in a 1998 Ford Ranger pickup truck about 2:20 p.m. when the collision occurred near Avenue W, where the two-lane highway makes one of two bends just east of the hamlet of Llano.

White was driving back to the Chino area after dropping off a car in Palmdale, Bowman said.

White's 2002 International tow truck was passing the big rig when it hit the Pailliotets' truck head-on, authorities said.

White and other motorists pulled the Pailliotets from their burning truck, a California Highway Patrol report said.

The Pailliotets, who have two grown children, did volunteer work at St. Andrew's Abbey in Valyermo, the attorney handling their civil case said.

Highway 138 at Avenue W was the site of a 1998 crash that killed a young couple and injured their 10-month-old son when their Jeep Wrangler was hit by a pickup truck that went out of control on a curve.

The young woman's father waged a billboard campaign to improve the highway, now being widened to four lanes farther west toward Palmdale.

karen.maeshiro(at)dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 5, 2006
Words:494
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