Santa Paula Times

Reserve to be arraigned in rollover death of SPPD Officer Hemminger

July 27, 2012
Santa Paula News

Christopher Blankenship will be arraigned Friday in Ventura Superior Court on suspicion of felony DUI and vehicular manslaughter in the death of a popular Santa Paula Police Department officer in a mountainside rollover.

Kim Hemminger, 33, of Oxnard, a SPPD officer since July 2008, was killed when the 1984 Jeep Wrangler she was riding in overturned Sunday, July 22 at about 9:15 p.m. on the private South Mountain Lookout Road. Hemminger was ejected from the vehicle and partially pinned when it went off the road. 

Hemminger died of blunt-force neck injuries. The driver, 44-year-old Christopher Blankenship, a Santa Paula Police reserve officer who had been dating Hemminger, was arrested for suspicion of felony DUI and manslaughter.

Blankenship apparently was traveling too fast when he approached a right hand curve. “He failed to negotiate a curve in the roadway and lost control of the Jeep,” said CHP Officer Steve Reid.

The Jeep “spun out and overturned, partially ejecting the right front passenger,” Hemminger, who like Blankenship was not wearing a seatbelt and she died at the scene. Seatbelts are not legally mandated on private property.

According to an emergency responder who responded to the remote area, another vehicle was with Hemminger and Blankenship that held two women, Tonia Allen, 38, of Camarillo and 19-year-old Cynthia Juarez of Santa Paula. They received minor injuries - one a minor cut on her knee and the other bruises and neck pain, as did Blankenship, when they tried to extricate Hemminger. 

Those involved in the incident reported the accident using cell phones. It took almost an hour for emergency personnel - including Santa Paula Fire and Police personnel - to locate the vehicle in the mountainside area cut with steep, windy roads and no lights except for the communication towers at the top of the mountain. 

A Ventura County Sheriff’s helicopter was also dispatched to aid in the search that included the CHP and other agencies. When Santa Paula Police and Fire personnel located the vehicle they found a fellow public safety officer, the SPPD’s only sworn female officer, had been killed.

Reid said, “Blankenship was determined to have been driving under the influence of alcohol at the time of the collision. He was arrested and booked into the Ventura County Jail for felony DUI and vehicular manslaughter.”

Blankenship was released from jail Monday morning on $50,000 bail. He became a SPPD Reserve Officer in November 1997.

The SPPD has had a tragic and at times tumultuous year: in February, popular Reserve Officer David Bartlett was killed in a solo accident on Highway 126. Many SPPD officers went to the scene to offer comfort to his family members who happened upon the accident.