A California family is suing the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, alleging that law enforcement waited a day before starting a search for injured mountain biker Andres Marin.
Marin, writes the Press-Enterprise, called his wife just before sunset on March 1, 2014. It was his birthday, and he’d spend the latter half of the day mountain biking Santiago Peak.
But he sounded disoriented, saying he’d been injured after a fall. Temperatures on the mountain were low, with rain in the forecast. Marin wasn’t equipped for an overnight stay in wet conditions.
While his wife notified Riverside deputies soon after the call, no search was immediately initiated.
Marin was found dead on a fire road the next morning, his cause of death registered as hypothermia.
The Press-Enterprise says Marin’s wife, Christyna Arista, claims that negligence played a prominent role. At the time, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department had no dedicated search-and-rescue team.
Court papers say sheriff’s deputies responded to Arista’s call around 8pm. On the scene, law enforcement seemed hapless, slinging offensive speculations and giving conflicting information.
Arista and Marin’s family spent part of the night believing deputies would organize a search, later learning that no preparations were made. To add insult to injury, Arista says she overhead a sheriff’s lieutenant suggest that Marin might be out having an extramarital affair.
Hours after law enforcement arrived, Arista learned that a search wouldn’t be conducted until morning.
When she voiced concerns about cool temperatures and the risk of hypothermia, Arista says a sheriff’s lieutenant responded by telling her that her husband was a “grown man” and could survive a night outdoors. A helicopter could be sent, the lieutenant sent, but only if Marin were a child.
“The defendants let Marin die on their watch,” alleges the suit.
Marin’s body was discovered in the morning by a Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit volunteer, who’d taken a motorcycle out onto the Santiago Trail to find the man.
According to the lawsuit, Marin’s body was found by “before ‘search and rescue’ could even finish their briefing.”
To absolve itself of responsibility, Riverside County argued in court that law enforcement had ‘no duty to rescue Marin, that it did nothing to put him in danger, nor did it prevent a qualified person from performing a rescue,’ writes the Press-Enterprise.
A county court sided with the county in April 2017.
While Arista’s first suit was dismissed by Riverside County Superior Court, it was recently revived via appeal in late November.
Per the Press-Enterprise, the appeals court made several observations about the tasks undertaken by the Sheriff’s Department on the night of Marin’s disappearance: it tracked Marin’s cell phone to Santiago Peak, collected information from his family and instructed Verizon personnel in the area to keep a look out for the missing man. Deputies were also stationed at trailheads and an incident commander was instated.
“Assuming the foregoing facts are true,” ruled the court, “Sheriff’s Department personnel, through their actions, undertook the responsibility of rescuing the victim,” including “using reasonable care not to increase the risk of harm.”
The appellate decision would move the case back to Riverside County court, which subsequently asked the state’s Supreme Court to review the case.