A Tennessee teen will serve four years in a California prison for stealing a big rig and crashing it into several vehicles, causing serious injuries to at least two people.
Jerimiah C. Hartline, 19, of Sweetwater, Tenn., was sentenced Monday in Riverside County (Calif.) District Court. The sentencing was part of a plea agreement Hartline entered into with prosecutors last month. The four year sentence is one year shy of the maximum allowable by law.
In exchange for his guilty plea to one felony count of assault with a deadly weapon (non-firearm) and two lesser counts of hit-and-run involving an injury and taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent, prosecutors dropped four other charges against the defendant. The dropped charges included three additional felonies, such as reckless driving and stolen vehicle charges.
In addition to time behind bars, Superior Court Judge Judith Clark ordered Hartline to pay restitution to the victims, primarily hospital costs in excess of $300,000, according to a spokesman for the district attorney’s office.
Hartline had accepted an invitation to ride with his friend, long-haul trucker Daniel Martinez, who drove his 2007 Freightliner rig from Tennessee to San Diego to retrieve a load of strawberries.
Around 6 p.m. on April 6, Martinez parked his 18-wheeler at the California Highway Patrol's Rainbow Canyon commercial vehicle compliance station just off northbound Interstate 15, near Temecula. While Martinez was outside his tractor-trailer, making adjustments, Hartline told authorities that he began to have visions of zombies coming after him. Officers with the CHP later said Hartline grabbed the wheel and took off in an attempt to escape the zombies.
He didn’t get far.
Upon leaving the weigh station, Hartline began to erratically drive the tractor-trailer in an attempt to “shake off” zombies he thought were clinging to the rig, Baer said. His swerving caused a crash with a 2001 Toyota Tacoma pickup driven by Kyle Schlosser of San Jacinto, Calif. The impact forced Schlosser’s pickup into a collision with two other vehicles – a 2006 Toyota Forerunner, driven by Anne Lennala and a 2006 Mercedes Benz, driven by Timothy Vega, both of Temecula. Lennala’s SUV and Vega’s car ended up spun out in the center divider, while Schlosser’s pickup overturned and came to rest on its roof.
Moments later, the Freightliner collided with two more vehicles – a 2009 Ford Taurus driven by Kristine Thrower of Las Vegas, and a 2008 Honda Accord driven by Dio Nomany of Lompoc, Calif. The Taurus collided with a concrete center divider while the Accord came to a stop on the right shoulder.
By that point, Hartline had lost control of the tractor-trailer combo and laid the rig down sideways, blocking all four northbound lanes of traffic on I-15.
Authorities said Hartline leapt from the semi and ran to a cleaning service van that had stopped nearby, climbing inside and attempting to steal that vehicle. The driver detained the young man until officers arrived.
Hartline was treated for minor injuries at Rancho Springs Medical Center in Murrieta and transported to jail.
The occupants of the Tacoma were seriously injured in the crash. The occupants of the other vehicles suffered minor to moderate injuries, for which they also received treatment.
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