Online Exclusive

Paralyzed Calif. Girl Gets $4.5M Settlement From CHP

May 25--The California Highway Patrol paid a 6-year-old Bakersfield girl $4.5 million Tuesday as part of a settlement stemming from a car crash that left the girl paralyzed in 2006.

Bakersfield Attorney Daniel Rodriguez, who represented Katrina Martinez in the lawsuit, said the settlement will provide Katrina with medical care and technology and equipment to assist her for the rest of her life.

The settlement was reached in February, Rodriguez said, but the money was paid out Tuesday.

Katrina was 20 months old on April 7, 2006 when her ordeal began. That's the day Bakersfield resident Thomas Lee Holt Jr. stole a truck. When Bakersfield police chased Holt, he refused to stop.

The truck Holt was driving slammed into a Geo Prism driven by 17-year-old Lisa Rosas at Fairfax Road and Lexington Avenue. A patrol car driven by a Bakersfield police officer also hit the Geo.

Rosas died in the crash and Martinez was paralyzed. Holt was sentenced in 2008 to 18 years in prison.

Rodriguez argued in the lawsuit that the CHP officer who removed Martinez from the car didn't provide proper support to her neck and spine, making her injuries worse.

"According to witnesses at the scene, the baby's head was moving like a windshield wiper," Rodriguez said Tuesday.

The officer did the right thing by pulling the little girl from the wreckage, he added. But, unfortunately, he did not follow basic safety procedures, the attorney said.

A photograph from the scene shows the officer holding the child in his right arm, and paramedics at the scene testified they were concerned with the way the officer was holding Martinez.

One paramedic said he didn't want to touch the girl because he he was concerned about being held responsible for any spinal injuries, the court documents said.

Now nearly 7, Katrina attends first grade but must use a wheelchair to get around, Rodriguez said. She has limited use of her arms and hands, has no control over her bowels and uses a urinary catheter.

More tragically, she is coming to realize she will never skip and run like other children or walk on a beach, Rodriguez said.

The case almost didn't make it to a settlement conference.

A Kern County judge threw out the case, but the 5th District Court of Appeal decided last year the lawsuit against the CHP had merit and should move forward.

The appeals court said the plaintiff's evidence supported the conclusion that after the officer removed Martinez from the wreck, he should have tried "to immobilize her spine by placing her on a flat surface as soon as possible or at least to adequately support her neck and spine while carrying her."

The California Highway Patrol declined to comment on the settlement Tuesday.

But in court filings, the CHP had argued that the officer removed Martinez from the car because she was hanging by her neck from the shoulder belt of the car and "appeared to be in physical distress."

The CHP also said an ambulance crew didn't have the right size equipment for Martinez and directed the officer to carry her to them.

The crash led to the Bakersfield Police Department implementing a comprehensive review process for officer-involved incidents that leave people seriously hurt or killed.

In the Martinez incident, the review board found that the Bakersfield police officer who hit Rosas' car approached the area too quickly.

The Martinez family declined to comment on the settlement Tuesday.