Jessica "Eca" Mohorko, 18

Oxnard, California

Jessica "Eca" Mohorko thru the yearsJessica "Eca" Mohorko in our Hearts. Memorial Page on Facebook.

An Excerpt from draft copy of Candy's narrative nonfiction, "Fifteen"


I noticed Jessica Mohorko’s shiny, dark chocolate hair and olive skin. An 18-year-old from Oxnard, she could almost pass for Kristie’s older sister. I didn't know yet that Jessica has an identical twin sister, Sisy.

Jessica was celebrating her spring formal with her boyfriend, Christopher Haynes. The young woman’s cheerful face drew me into her family. I suspected that maybe I walked in tandem with her parents and twin sister through the unrelenting sorrow they would endure and for the future, they would no longer enjoy with Jessica.

I muffled my cries, thinking about Mrs. Mohorko’s endless pain much like my own. Pursuit crashes killed our daughters a mere two months apart. I easily visualized her trying to decipher newspaper accounts of the chase. She would no doubt question why two California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers, a husband and wife team, hadn’t considered the danger that lay ahead on a busy street with stoplights at dangerous intersections. The male officer had hit the gas until he barreled into the teens’ car, going at least 85 mph in a 45-mph zone, without lights or sirens to catch another driver who had run a red light. Jessica died at the scene; her boyfriend suffered severe injuries. They never caught the traffic violator.

The CHP claimed their policy required officers to deactivate lights and sirens when passing other motorists. The officer driving in the pursuit had followed this rule but failed to reactivate the warning signals once it was appropriate to do so.

Of course, this time, law enforcement had to be more careful when speaking to the press. It could not hide behind California’s immunity shield because it had been the officer—not the fleeing driver—who had smashed into the innocent bystanders. A little over a year later, the Mohorkos had settled their wrongful death lawsuit for $1.4 million, but Jessica’s father remained frustrated that the CHP refused to talk to him about changing their policy.

“What is it going to take for them to review their policies?” Edgar Mohorko asked. “One of their children to be killed by a law enforcement agency? All I’m trying to do is protect their families.”

Mr. Mohorko’s words about protecting families were my own. Jessica and Kristie had both died due to out-of-control police pursuits. No one knew whose loved ones could be next. Most people were unaware that this danger existed, or—if they were aware—thought it would never happen to them.

Ventura County Star
Editorial

The Ventura County Star Editorial Board urged support, citing in its headline that “Pursuit Law Is Long Overdue.” After the 2002 death of Jessica Mohorko, 18, an innocent bystander in the Star’s service area, the Editorial Board had asked, “What will it take to change police pursuits?” The California Highway Patrol’s response to this question was, to quote CHP spokesman Tom Marshall, “There’s nothing wrong with our policies.”

The board’s editorial, written a day after the 2004 California Senate hearing on Kristie's Law, returned to the city's tragedy in 2002: “Jessica Mohorko’s death and the tragic deaths of hundreds of other innocent victims of high-speed police chases belie that coldhearted, arrogant response. Thankfully, police and their lobbyists’ threats do not intimidate someone in a position to do something about it. […] Sen. Aanestad’s law would create a statewide pursuit standard and implement common-sense provisions […]. Law enforcement and the public should embrace this proposed law for no other reason than that it will save innocent lives.”

Commentary on the death of Jessica Mohorko:

 

"The CHP regularly reviews its policies on high-speed chases. Those policies will not be changed."  ..."We're very sorry this happened. It was a tragic, regrettable incident, and if we could do anything to bring that girl (her name is Jessica Mohorko) back, we would. But there's nothing wrong with our policies."

—CHP Spokesman Tom Marshall, November 19, 2003

The CHP cruiser, driven by husband and wife team Jack and Christina Raughtons, was following an alleged speeder and was traveling roughly 90 mph without lights or sirens when it slammed into the passenger side of a car driven by Christopher Haynes. Jessica Mohorko, 18, was in the passenger seat and died at the scene. 

--Reporter Tamara Koehler
Ventura County Star
November 19, 2003

In trying to explain the trend, Erlanger Police Lt. Kevin Gilpin says, "It's funny because when you first get in the job you think it's going to be neat to run down the street with the lights and sirens on, because when you watched it on TV, you didn't think about it. You just go, 'That looks like that's fun.' And to a certain extent, it is fun -- that rush of adrenaline.  But it takes a toll on you. -- because the guy trying to get away from police doesn't care about people in the roadway. So we have to. What's the old saying? 'You may win today's battle, but you're not going to win the war.' " November 8, 2003.

Ventura County Star
Letter to the Editor

Compassion Lacking

Re: Your Nov. 19, 2003, article, "Teen's family, CHP reach $1.4 million settlement":

December 3, 2003—I just read the article on the California Highway Patrol's settlement with the Mohorko family. I was again looking for some sign of compassion for the family, some kind of admittance of wrong, something that would give me a sense of respect for law enforcement again.

Even after the accident, I still believed that in the end they would say how sorry they were and that they would try to do whatever it takes to keep this from happening to another family. I was wrong.

I was sickened by the lack of compassion shown by the spokesperson for the CHP, Tom Marshall. After everything that has happened, there is still no sign of the CHP taking any responsibility for what happened. They attempted to put the blame on an innocent man, Chris Haynes, Jessica Mohorko's boyfriend. If any one of us had tried to blame someone for a crime we did not commit, we would have been arrested.

I think it is time for law- enforcement agencies, which are supposed to "serve and protect," to stop killing innocent people and saying, "Oh, we're sorry, it was an accident," and then continue to let this kind of thing happen over and over and over again.

There need to be changes made so that this never happens again. I am not willing to lose one of my children like this.

The life of a beautiful young woman was taken, a family was devastated, and a whole lot of young people lost a good friend. Their lives will never be the same. We will never forget, and those of us who loved Jessica will see to it that the CHP and its officers never do either. The CHP must rethink its policies on pursuits, take responsibility for what happened and stop putting the blame on others.

God has another angel in heaven, but we sure could have used her here just a little bit longer.

—Debbie Estrada, Oxnard