Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – The Fortuna woman accused of the drunken hit-and-run deaths of her daughter and daughter’s girlfriend has filed a claim to divert guilt for the fatal collision to government agencies.
One of suspect Marci Kitchen’s lawyers submitted the paperwork Jan. 5, blaming the deaths on poor road conditions that the City of Fortuna, Humboldt County, Caltrans and the State of California failed to rectify.
The damages sought by Kitchen, 39, stand “in excess of $10,000” for medical costs, “the loss of the care, comfort, and companionship of the decedent [Kiya Kitchen], loss of household services, as well as property loss and/or damage and other damages” unspecified.
Attorney Patrik Griego of the Eureka law firm Janssen Malloy LLP compiled a list of 27 reputed maintenance and engineering “failures” by government entities. The claim states that these created a “peculiar risk and trap” that led directly to the death last July of Kitchen’s 14-year-old daughter Kiya, at a location .2 miles south of Kenmar Road on Eel River Drive on Fortuna’s outskirts.
According to Griego, the unproven failures include poor lighting and striping, an unsafe road surface and speed limit, too few signs, signals and guardrails, poor roadway shoulder design and “geometry,” an inadequate median barrier and missing pedestrian directions concerning the “dangerous” location.
He further states in the six-page complaint that the governments or agencies in question failed to warn motorists adequately of the dangerous and unsafe conditions at the accident scene; failed to respond to complaints about those conditions; failed to provide or to revise road construction; and failed to “reconstruct Eel River Drive properly to an overall width of thirty-six feet, with six-foot-wide paved shoulders and twelve-foot traffic lanes.”
Kitchen’s claim does not acknowledge the death of the other girl, Faith Lorraine Tsarnas, also 14. Kitchen’s 2015 gray Jeep Wrangler allegedly careened into both of them.
California Highway Patrol investigators said the Jeep was southbound on Eel River Drive, proceeding at an undetermined rate of speed. Kitchen allegedly fled the scene, headed eastbound on Drake Hill Road.
Local news outlets reported this weekend that Kitchen’s legal counter-action will be rejected. The Times-Standard, Lost Coast Outpost and John Chiv’s Words Worth variously reported that Fortuna and Caltrans will dismiss the claim on grounds that the accident occurred on a county road out of their respective jurisdictions.
The county Board of Supervisors was reported to have received attorney Griego’s paperwork separately. Its response is pending.
Kitchen’s ex-husband, Joe, father of Kiya, reportedly filed a similar claim faulting road conditions as a factor in the alleged hit-and-run.
Marci Kitchen’s claim against government entities ignores the state’s case against her (the preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 20.) She is free on $750,000 bail and has not appeared in court since her arraignment Sept. 15. She pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Count 1 accuses her of the gross vehicular manslaughter of both girls, plus “special allegations” under the same count of fleeing the scene and inflicting “great bodily harm” to Tsarnas.
Under Count 2, she is accused of drunken driving causing injury “with [a] special allegation of great bodily injury” to her daughter Kiya.
According to law enforcement, Kiya suffered a brain injury that left her comatose and paralyzed and she died the next morning, July 13, in an Oakland hospital.
A second special allegation under Count 2 charges Kitchen with causing “great bodily injury or death” to Tsarnas, who was dead at the scene.
Following execution of a search warrant, Kitchen’s Jeep was recovered by detectives on July 13, in the fenced backyard behind a gate at Kitchen’s residence on Becker Lane in Fortuna, about a mile from where the hit-and-run occurred.
Initially, the California Highway Patrol named Kitchen’s reputed boyfriend, Joshua Wren Pearlston, a second “party of interest” wanted for questioning. The patrol belatedly informed the press last fall that “Ms. Kitchen and Mr. Pearlston were contacted at the scene of the collision the night that it occurred [July 12],” but has never explained why no arrest was made then and there.