In Room H7 at Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach this morning, a prosecutor will ask a judge to dismiss charges against a driver who was arrested in the 2017 death of a jogger who was training for his fifth Ironman triathlon.
Or, perhaps the Orange County deputy district attorney will have been swayed to stick with the case thanks to pressure from the late man’s wife, who was continuing to seek justice in the hours before this morning’s scheduled pretrial hearing.
“Due to the public outcry, I had a meeting today with Todd Spitzer,” said Christy Clark Thursday evening of Orange County’s newly sworn-in district attorney.
Her late husband Scott Clark was the 55-year-old triathlete who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time about 6:20 p.m. Jan. 25, 2017. A Mini Cooper collided with a Mercedes-Benz near the intersection of Niguel Road and Alicia Parkway in Laguna Niguel, where the Benz then struck Clark, who suffered major injuries.
He died at Mission Hospital on Feb. 8, 2017, leaving behind his wife of 30 years and two grown children. Scott Clark had been a Capistrano Unified School District teacher for 20 years, with his last assignments having been at Truman Benedict Elementary School in San Clemente and then Laguna Niguel Elementary School.
When he was laid to rest, mourners were asked to consider making donations to Mothers Against Drug Drivers. That’s because, on the night of the collision, sheriff’s deputies arrested then-34-year-old Jamie Nicole Mulford on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon (the Mini Cooper) and felony driving under the influence.
It marked Mulford’s fourth DUI-related incident, and the second that resulted in the death of a pedestrian. That happened on the 10 freeway in Los Angeles County early in the morning of June 17, 2010, but prosecutors said they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim, who had been walking along a freeway lane, died as a result of Mulford driving under the influence of alcohol.
The night of the tragedy, Christy Clark says, deputies informed her that her husband was “absolutely legal in the crosswalk,” but that the case against Mulford, who was “very well known to law enforcement,” would be “very complicated. … I remember thinking, ‘How complicated could it be?’ This is a woman with three prior offenses!”
But deputies were on to something. Tests came back as “negative” for intoxication.
Prosecutors offered a new legal theory in the fall of 2017, alleging that Mulford had engaged in a road rage incident in the moments before Scott Clark was struck. She was arraigned in December 2017 on felony manslaughter with gross negligence. The toxicology reported rendered her past DUIs inadmissible.
After a year of pretrial hearings, Christy Clark says she met in December 2018 with Deputy District Attorney Brian Orue, who proposed dismissing the case against Mulford. “Of course, I was outraged,” she says, “not because I am a widow, but because he could not offer a clear explanation as to why the charges would be dropped.”
She had brought her own attorney under Marsy’s Law, the California Victims’ Bill of Rights of 2008, whose Legal Affairs director had been none other than Spitzer, a state assemblyman at the time. Clark’s attorney, Rick Welsh, “voiced concern and the decision to dismiss was postponed for further consideration,” she recalled.
On Wednesday, Clark was informed that Orue would indeed seek a dismissal today. Then came her meeting Thursday with Spitzer. She did not know heading into today’s court hearing how things will land. She has gathered friends and family to attend.
“If the case is dismissed, I will plan rallies for justice and safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists as there have been far too many deaths as a result of reckless behavior,” Clark vows. “I believe that they thought I would go away quietly. I’ll admit that I’m sad and devastated by my loss, but I’m very concerned that a road rage incident like this will go unpunished.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.