Who’s to Blame for the Carnage at 10th and San Fernando?

By now, everyone knows about the awful car crash that left a 15-year-old girl dead, and members of her family injured. On July 13, after allegedly running a red light, Bernardino Cuebas sped away from a CHP cruiser, eventually colliding with another vehicle. According to reports, the 15-year-old girl was ejected from the car that Cuebas hit, and died at the hospital the next day.

The Mercury News reported that Cuebas had a felony warrant, and was on parole for drug felonies, charges of stealing a car, and fleeing from police. “I’m on the run,” Cuebas is quoted as saying to the police after the crash.

The tragedy has caused many to question whether or not the police (in this case, the CHP) should engage in high-speed pursuits in residential areas. Anyone familiar with this section of downtown San Jose knows that there’s almost always a busy mix of cars, bikes, and pedestrians moving through the area at different rates of speed. Should the CHP officer have initiated a fast pursuit of the suspect? Could he have taken down the car’s plates and then followed up later? Could other officers have intercepted the suspect further down the road? These are all questions that need to be answered.

In a letter to the newspaper, Cathy Heape of San Jose wrote: “I am alarmed at the apparent reckless disregard for human life that the patrol officer had when pursuing a…violator through the bust streets of downtown San Jose. Would we like to see this repeat offender off the streets? You bet. Is he responsible for the tragic death of a young, innocent girl? I’m not so sure.”

It’s hard to measure and judge this. Even if the CHP Officer had ended his chase very early on, the suspect might still have sped through the streets and hit the victims’ car, or another car. Still, to my mind, the suspect bears nearly all of the blame for the girl’s death and the injuries suffered by her family. If the event took place as described in the newspaper, then Bernardino Cuebas set in motion the sequence of actions that resulted in this tragedy.

Should the CHP and police re-evaluate their policies? Yes. Should there be an investigation to determine if all of the officers involved followed established guidelines, obeyed orders, and considered other options? Yes. However, the answers to these questions won’t bring back the dead. What a waste.


  1. To urban economics to public safety, the Pundit of the shifting middle has one guiding principle, take a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  Make a point blaming the CHP and the culprit and then don’t.

    An investigation?

    How about a trial!


  2. Chasing a man for BS drug charges ending in the death of a young lady… that is at least half the CHP’s fault and the officer should be fired.

    Chalk this down to another death laid at the feet of Nixon, Reagan, and the rest of them for this stupid un-winnable war on drugs. If the black market had not made drugs so profitable would people be robbing and stealing and inflicting needless harm on the innocent because of them?

    I doubt it. What a tragedy.

  3. after allegedly running a red light, Bernardino Cuebas sped away from a CHP cruiser

    Is this true?  The paper said he made a right turn at a “No Right Turn On Red” intersection.  That is a not running a red light.

  4. This is why we need to lock these fools up or ship them back to where they’re from. The police are trying to do their job and you want to blame them because a criminal ran from them and killed someone? Put down the Kool-Aid people. This is another reason I LOVE the three strikes rule. Now if we could only execute more murderers, we’d have even more space to house them all. I think we should do what Sheriff Joe Arpaio did in Arizona and set up a tent city prison. “I’m on the run?” Shut up moron, get your a$$ in jail and start doing some community service. You can “run” up and down the freeway picking up trash if you want to be “on the run.”

  5. The officer weighed the risk and made a decision to pursue the criminal, the officer should not be faulted.  Mr. Bernardino Cuebas should be tried for murder.  If Mr. Bernardino Cuebas is found guilty he should receive life in prison with no chance of parole.  Let him think about what he did, 24 hours a day, for the next fifty years.

    The family of the girl should receive compensation for suffering from the state insurance fund.

    • Be that as it may, the cops probably would have nailed this genius some time in the next few weeks anyway, if the CHP officer had exercised better judgment, and a 15-year old girl would still be alive.  Seems like a better outcome that locking him up in prison for life without parole (which, realistically, is almost certainly not an option), as a mere response to the fact of her death.

  6. At what point does CHP or PD call off a pursuit?  Literally as soon as the suspect flees?  That is what some people seem to be saying, and that’s not what most law-abiding people want.  Most rationally people and law enforcement undoubtedly believe that if someone flees, then they are running from a serious charge or recent crime. 

    No doubt this is an extreme tragedy, but the short answer to the question is that the suspect is solely and completely responsible for his actions.  LE is not to blame.

  7. Unless the police are in hot pursuit of some guy who’s just stabbed a child or something like that, no, I don’t think there’s any reason they should be conducting high-speed pursuits in residential neighborhoods.

    I suspect even if we enact a policy, or pass law to that effect, the police will ignore it, and substitute their own personal will for the rule of law in this regard.  And you can’t entirely blame them, because they know they will be permitted to get away with it.

    On the lighter side, why do felons on the lam run red lights?  How stupid is the criminal class these days?  That guy should be castrated, and his testicles disposed of at a toxic waste site, in order to ensure he never has offspring.

  8. I’m sorry for posting this here Pete but since there is NO Rants and Raves section I am posting here.

    On Monday, my neighbor was arrested because he admited to molesting his 15-month-old son. Two things happened, following his arrest that has been very disturbing to me. The first is how Domestic Violence Shelters handled her request for help, and the second was the continued misinformation the jail gave us on his detention.

    After his arrest, CPS took his son into protective care. (CPS has done an EXCELLENT job on this case!) This man lived with his Mother and girl friend in the apartment upstairs from me. When the girl friend found out his Mother was going to bail him out, she asked if she could stay with me.

    I consulted CPS about her staying with me and was advised that because I lived downstairs from the “alleged” molester, and because the girl friend reported the molestation, they said it was probably unsafe for her to stay on the property. That made a lot of sense to me so I helped her call several Domestic Violence Shelters.  After being told they had no room, I called a friend who works at the County. They contacted someone who works in the Domestic Violence area, and she got her into a safe place hotel that works with the shelter through a voucher.

    It is very concerning to me that at no time did anyone tell this young woman vouchers for hotels like this exist. If I hadn’t known a few people who could help, where would she be? I think knowing about a voucher when shelters are full could mean the difference between life and death if victims of Domestic Violence have nowhere else to go! 

    Secondly, we were advised to call the jail on a daily basis to find out whether he was still being held in custody, so that we all could protect ourselves when/if he was released. To my astonishment, we were told that he was on an Immigration Detainer, AND that he was still in custody even though he was in court after being bailed out of jail!

    Even AFTER he came home with his Mother, the jail continued to tell us he was still being held there. When we explained that he was just on the property, and asked them to please make sure they had the right person, they maintained he was still in jail. When my fiancé pointed out that he was out, the person at the jail told him to,” Call the Police if you have a problem with this person!” 

    This is so irresponsible of the County Jail I just can’t believe it. Do they not get that victims of violent crime depend on them for accurate information, or is it that they just don’t care, or is the way they update information so antiquated that they missed the fact that he was bailed out?

    • Sorry Pete. Your space has been hijacked for “The Airing of Grievances”!


      Your story reminds me of a recent experience we had dealing with the San Jose Animal Shelter. You think the local government 9 to 5ers are apathetic about human beings, imagine how casual they are when it comes to stray dogs.
      I’ve often been taken to task for being angry, vitriolic, and “anti-Government” but it’s hard to ignore the evidence, both firsthand and anecdotal, that our public agencies exist primarily for the benefit of their taxpayer funded employees and any benefit the public might gain from their existence is purely incidental.

      PS- What is the immigration status of this “alleged” child molester? How about his mother?

    • Honorable Assembly Member Beall, Mayor Reed, Council Members, Chief Davis, and Lt. Kihmm,

      I am writing you today to bring to your attention the outstanding work done by the following Lt., Detectives, and Officers who were called out to my residence, Monday, 7/19/2010, and Thursday, 7/22/2010, following a report to the Police of child molestation.

      Monday, 7/19/2010

      Sexual Assault Investigation Unit

      Det. Mark Natividad Badge #3877

      Det. Tony Fregger Badge # 3878

      Uniformed Officers

      Officer Jennifer Domenici Badge #4142

      Officer David Sanchez Badge #3650

      Officer Rory McMilton Badge # 4191

      Civil Stand By Thursday, 7/22/2010

      Officer William Pender Badge # 3276

      Officer Toshi Hata Badge # 3234


      Lt. Commander Michael Kihmm for his assistance in getting me these detectives and Officers names.

      On Monday, 7/19/2010, my upstairs neighbor admitted to his girl friend, Christian, and myself that he has been molesting his 15 month old son Michael, viewing pornography, and telling his son that he was Hitler’s nephew. We reported this to the Police, and the above detectives and Officers, along with CPS responded immediately.

      Not only was I impressed by their timely response, but the manner in which they treated all of us, including the perpetrator, with respect, and compassion. They took great pains to explain everything that was being done, gave out helpful information, and ensured the safety and protection of the little boy Michael and his Mom.

      On Thursday, 7/22/2010, I was asked by a CPS Worker to get the Mother and Michael’s belongings out of the perpetrator’s home. The Mother is in a safe shelter, and Michael is in foster care and needed personal belongings. Since my neighbor was out on bail, I requested a Civil Stand By while my roommate and I packed up their things.

      The two Officers who were called out on the Civil Stand By were extremely helpful, kind, and compassionate to both of us. I cannot tell you how difficult it was to be in that apartment after hearing what had gone on in there. These two Officers made a very horrible situation tolerable enough to get through it.

      I honestly believe all of these detectives and Officers deserve recognition by you because they have a job that you couldn’t pay me enough to do, and they truly do exemplify professionalism, and compassion to we citizens in times of crisis.  You can be very proud of these men and women because despite the horrific things they see and hear everyday, they do an EXCELLENT job out here in the field.

      Please, take a moment to contact their supervisors and let them know how extremely grateful we are to them, and commend them for their hard work and dedication to we citizens. Also, please include Lt. Commander Michael Kihmm for taking time out of his busy day to assist me in getting these detectives, and Officers names and case numbers. His hard work is deeply appreciated as well.

      With kindest regards and deep gratitude to the above outstanding public servants,

      Kathleen Flynn

  9. Operating under assumptions is the mark of those far removed from the realities and responsibilities involved in managing dangerous, in-progress incidents. This tragedy offers a good example.

    The first assumption in this case, one evident in everything I’ve read, is that Cuebas was transformed into a public threat the moment the CHP decided to pursue him. Nonsense. At the very minimum he became a danger when HE decided to flee. But beyond even this, how can we presume that prior to his committing the violation observed he’d been driving in a safe manner? After all, it’s quite common for officers to encounter reckless drivers in the act. For all we know, Cuebas, whom I believe has a prior conviction for reckless driving, might have been out driving like a maniac all day.

    The second assumption is that the CHP officer, in deciding to pursue, was riveted on the traffic matter. Wrong! Traffic officers see and, by necessity, ignore numerous traffic violations everyday. They aren’t zealots, eager to risk life and limb chasing down an infraction. I guarantee you the officer’s focus abandoned the observed violation the moment the driver began to flee, overtaken immediately by suspicions and concerns: what is this guy really running from?… what did he just do?… what is my responsibility if he’s done something horrible and I let him go? … what is my responsibility if I let him go and he later does something horrible? While these things are running through the officer’s mind he is also straining to monitor the fleeing driver’s desperation (measured by his recklessness), concentrating on any movement in the car (is the suspect arming himself, dumping evidence, etc.), and weighing the circumstances of the chase (characteristics of area, traffic conditions, CHP policy), all the while keeping his own car under control and calling the pursuit on the radio.

    The third assumption is that after observing that Cuebas was willing to endanger the public in order to make his escape the CHP officer was suddenly elevated to the status of determiner of fate. Had the officer simply restrained himself, so the assumption goes, Cuebas, his small brain, and the two ton deadly weapon he was driving, would’ve been instantly and magically rendered safe to the public. He would have slowed his car immediately, not been panicked into reckless flight minutes later (by a passing police car, helicopter overhead, nearby siren), not gotten loaded and continued driving, not decided to show-off or display his aggression for the benefit of some fellow morons, but would instead drive safely home demonstrating a remarkable and heartwarming level of civic responsibility. Nonsense! Cuebas, who had already turned his good fortune (being released from prison on parole) into failure and desperation, is not someone about whom good assumptions can be responsibly made. Quite the contrary; about people like him the only safe assumption is that he’ll continue to break the law.

    Lastly, the days of cops assuming that a description and a plate number from a fleeing car will lead them to their man are all but over. The roads are full of illegal aliens—many of them dangerous criminals, driving cars not registered to them, while thugs of all persuasions are carrying out their dope deals and drive-bys in stolen cars—many of them jacked at gunpoint, and these people don’t stop for red lights and sirens. These facts were no doubt well known to the CHP officer that day. Also of no doubt is that he is today haunted by the tragedy that followed his decision to pursue. He is probably second-guessing every one of the second-by-second decisions he made during the minute-long chase, wondering if he should’ve seen the tragedy coming or should’ve been able to tell that Cuebas wasn’t the fleeing rapist, robber, or killer of his worst fears.

    That officer wanted to make the right decision that day, chose the right course of action to protect the public, have things turn out right like they’d always done before. But since he works in a world where decisions can influence but never dictate results, not always getting the desired result from a difficult, on-the-fly decision becomes a near certainty after so many decisions, so many years doing that very tough job. The only defense against that certainty is to see no evil, and do we really want that from our law enforcement?

    I can only hope this officer be able to put this tragedy in the proper perspective and get back to work.

    • Recently I spotted a car with license plate FINFAN1. I think it was a Corvette or a Viper. Anyway it was staying in the far right hand lane and proceeded along at a conservative pace- obviously a skillful and responsible driver, I thought to myself. Suddenly though, just as the police station came into view, he swerved into the lefthand lane and drove recklessly and irresponsibly for awhile. Once the police station was out of sight again he resumed his good driving habits and stuck to the extreme right hand side of the road for the remainder of the time that I observed him.
      I wonder what would account for this erratic behaviour. Any ideas?

    • Sure, this guy should have been taken down BUT it could have been handled a lot differently. As soon as the suspect was fleeing the first thing the officer should have done was call in air support.  Once air support was on him, the officer could back off and let the air support follow him till he runs out of gas or stops.

      • Do you think the copters are just flying around all day waiting for a call to action?  By the time the pilots pre-flighted the chopper, started it, warmed it up, and took off this guy would have been in Nevada.

        • As a matter of fact…

          In April of this year we had a scuffle at my night job at the 7 Bamboo, little karaoke bar on 4th and Jackson.

          Within 5 minutes of calling 911 the SJPD copter was shining it’s spotlight in our parking lot.

          So why yes, yes I do believe that.  100%

  10. Every day, many of us have to deal with difficult folks. yet we know when to engage and when to let it go.
    I lost a very dear friend 42 years ago to just such a chase in the Taylor street area of San Jose. We had just gotten out of work at then FMC on the late shift.
      My friend Pete never made it home. He was taken out as he went across the intersection, by kids that were bring chased by a San Jose Cop. I have lived with this all of my adult life. Pete was getting ready to retire. He was a warm compassionate man that loved to fish and spend time with his grandchildren.
      Over the years I have lost the anger from that incident. Now as I am as old as Pete was and value my grandchildren , I can only empathize with the concious of that police officer that got the kid , but lost a gifted talented human in so doing. I hope that he made amends for his choices. A cops life is very difficult to endure as night falls and sleep does not come.. My son was to be a cop, until he was assulted by three thugs and left for dead. Now he and I have come to understand that concience is either a blessing or our own living Hell!
      Who of us can consol the parents of this 15 year old child. Which of us can help to aleviate the pain of the family. Which of us can help that CHP officer live the rest of his life with his choice to persue. If there is to be a common spirit, it has to start wih forgiveness. by all concerned.
      Pete is there waiting for others that met the same fate as He.
      Willy Nelson sang, Mamas Don’t let your sons Grow Up to be Cowboys”. Give that CHP a horse for the rest of his term. He might just learn some horse sence!
      The Village Black Smith

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