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People v. Copass

December 14, 2009

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT
v.
STEVEN ALLAN COPASS, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



(San Luis Obispo County Super. Ct. No. F414044). Ginger E. Garrett, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbert, P.J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Here we consider the interaction between Vehicle Code sections 2800.1 and 2800.2.*fn1 An officer must activate a red light when in pursuit of a traffic offender who attempts to flee. We conclude the officer may deactivate his red light during the period he momentarily loses sight of the offender.

Steven Allan Copass appeals a judgment following conviction of evading a police officer with a willful disregard for the safety of others (count 1), and driving with a suspended or revoked license (count 2), with findings that he served two prior prison terms within the meaning of Penal Code section 667.5, subdivision (b). (§§ 2800.2, subd. (a), 14601.1, subd. (a).)

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On February 16, 2008, California Highway Patrol Officer Chris Warren flew in a surveillance airplane over the Whitly Gardens area of Highway 46. The highway is a designated "safety corridor" due to the many roadway accidents and traffic deaths occurring there. Warren watched motorists for speed and other traffic law violations, and informed California Highway Patrol Officer Scott Koolman of the violators. Koolman patrolled the highway in a marked patrol vehicle.

That afternoon, Warren saw a motorcyclist traveling westbound at high speed. He notified Koolman that the motorcyclist was approaching him. Koolman had stopped along the highway to issue a citation to another motorist.

Koolman estimated that the motorcyclist was traveling at 90 miles an hour. He activated his radar and received a reading of 91 miles an hour. As the motorcyclist approached, Koolman motioned to him to drive to the shoulder and stop.

The motorcyclist, later identified as Copass, nodded, slowed, and drove to the shoulder. As Koolman walked toward the motorcycle, Copass "just took off . . . at a rapid acceleration" without signaling. Koolman returned to his vehicle, activated its lights, and pursued Copass at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour.

Koolman lost sight of Copass when the highway dropped away toward the Estrella River. He turned off the emergency lights as he drove and looked for the motorcycle along side roads. Koolman also notified Warren that he lost sight of Copass. Although he was driving without emergency lights, Koolman stated that he "was still in pursuit of the vehicle, still actively looking and in fresh pursuit." He also stated that police emergency lights sometimes endanger other motorists because the lights cause "panic stopping."

Within five minutes, Warren saw Copass driving along River Grove Road and notified Koolman. Immediately, Koolman drove to intercept Copass. He saw the motorcycle stop at a stop sign prior to entering the highway. Koolman delayed activating his lights and siren because he did not want to alert Copass that he was nearby. Koolman stated that he intended to "get on top of [Copass's] vehicle and have a better chance of him not ditching me again."

Copass suddenly turned right onto the highway, forcing an oncoming vehicle from its lane of travel to avoid a collision. Warren saw the turn and described it as a failure to yield to oncoming traffic. Koolman activated the emergency lights and siren, and pursued Copass who was travelling at 90 miles per hour. Near the crest of a hill, Copass turned left across a double-yellow line. Warren observed the turn from the airplane and stated that the turn was dangerous because of limited visibility of oncoming traffic.

Koolman turned his patrol car in front of the motorcycle, blocking its path. Copass dismounted his motorcycle and surrendered.

At the time he evaded Officer Koolman, Copass's driver's license had been revoked following his third conviction for ...


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