SANTA PAULA, CALIFORNIA – A Santa Paula volunteer reserve police officer has been arrested on suspicion of felony DUI and vehicular manslaughter after an off-duty car crash Sunday night killed another officer.
Christopher Blankenship, 44, of Santa Paula, was driving a 1984 Jeep Wrangler east on South Mountain Lookout Road when he apparently lost control and crashed. He was later booked into Ventura County jail, authorities said.
Kimberley Hemminger, 33, a five-year veteran of the Santa Paula Police Department, was partially ejected and pinned under the Jeep. Hemminger, of Oxnard, was pronounced dead at the scene.
“It’s real tragic,” said Santa Paula Mayor Robert Gonzales, the city’s police chief before he retired in 2005. “She was a good police officer.”
Hemminger’s death was the second for the department recently, he said. In February, an off-duty reserve officer died in a car accident in the Ventura area. David Bartlett, 42, was killed in a single-vehicle crash on Highway 126 in Ventura.
“It really takes a toll on our organization,” Gonzales said.
Police officers are tightknit, he said. They socialize together and rely on another on the job. Although they deal with such situations regularly, accepting them is still difficult, he said.
“They, too, are human,” Gonzales said. “They hurt just like everybody else does.”
Officers responded to the single-vehicle crash about 9:15 p.m. Sunday on South Mountain Lookout Road near Coyote Canyon Road, the California Highway Patrol reported.
The driver apparently failed to negotiate a right-hand curve and lost control of the Jeep, officers said. It spun out and rolled over.
Two other women in the Jeep, ages 38 and 19, suffered minor injuries. One had a minor cut on her knee, and the other had bruises and neck pain, authorities said.
None of the four people in the Jeep was wearing a seat belt, according to the CHP.
Seat belts save lives on all types of roads, but they are not required on private roads such as South Mountain Lookout, said CHP spokesman Steve Reid.
Hemminger’s brother, Jason, said his sister was with friends Sunday. He didn’t know Blankenship well but said he thought the two officers were friends.
Jason, a successful tournament fisherman, and Kimberley moved into an Oxnard home together after moving out of their parents’ house about nine years ago, he said. She graduated from Oxnard High School and Ventura College.
When Kimberley Hemminger was younger, she was a cadet for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office in Camarillo. She later went to the police academy to become an officer.
“She loved her job,” Jason said.
A patrol officer, Kimberley also was a member of the Ventura County mounted unit and received commendations for her work in Santa Paula, said interim Police Chief Ish Cordero.
“She was a well-liked person, very professional,” and always was lending a hand, he said.
When Hemminger wasn’t working, her life revolved around her horse, Scooby, and her dog, Cammie, Jason said.
“She was my only little sister,” he said. “Everybody loved Kim.”
Blankenship, who was not injured in Sunday’s crash, has been a part-time volunteer reserve officer for more than 10 years, Cordero said. He has been placed on administrative leave.
In addition to volunteering with the Santa Paula police, Blankenship has volunteered at the Ventura County Police & Sheriff’s Reserve Officer Academy, said Bryan MacDonald, an academy instructor and retired Oxnard assistant police chief.
Blankenship has not worked at the academy for several years after leaving in good standing. His regular work commitments increased, and he no longer had the time, said MacDonald, an Oxnard councilman.
Blankenship, who could not be reached for comment, was released from jail Monday morning on $50,000 bail, the Sheriff’s Office reported.