Accused killer of Jim Swarzman arraigned in San Diego, currently facing relative slap on the wrist

The accused hit-and-run driver charged with killing Encino cyclist Jim Swarzman has pleaded not guilty in San Diego Superior Court.

According to multiple reports, Joseph Ricardo Fernandez was arraigned Wednesday on a single count of hit-and-run causing death.

That’s it.

No charges for DUI charges or killing another human being, whether carelessly or deliberately. Just running away like a coward and leaving a crumpled body behind.

Fernandez faces up to four years for taking the life of another human being – less than Dr. Christopher Thompson received for attempting to injure two riders in Mandeville Canyon.

Hopefully, the case is still under investigation; it’s always possible that additional charges may be added later.

The description of the collision suggests that the driver was either asleep or extremely drunk when he hit Swarzman, as witnesses reported the truck drifting from lane to lane before swerving over to hit Swarzman’s bike.

Witness descriptions also suggest that the driver was fully aware that he hit something, despite Fernandez’s reported comments when he turned himself into police that he thought he may have hit something over the weekend.

By all accounts, the collision was extremely violent. People on the scene, including Swarzman’s fiancé, say his bike exploded on impact and that he was hurtled through the air before crashing to the roadway; the driver then sped away from the scene.

And yes, Swarzman was riding exactly where he should have been on the roadway, and was lit up like a Christmas tree in the North County San Diego darkness.

It plausible that Fernandez was so drunk — or yes, so tired — that he couldn’t remember it the next day.

But I find it impossible to believe that he did not know, at the moment of impact and the minutes that followed, that he had hit someone or something, and made the decision to run away rather than stop and be held accountable for his actions.

Of course, I have no way of knowing if Fernandez had been drinking. My speculation — and at this point, that’s all it is — is based strictly on the late hour and the witness descriptions of the truck’s actions before and after the collision.

Although if I had to make a bet, I’d lay everything I own on it.

And that shows the failure of our current laws regarding hit and run. As it now stands, California law actually encourages drivers to flee the scene if they’ve been drinking, because the penalties for drunk driving are much stronger than the penalties for hit-and-run.

If he was in fact intoxicated, the smartest decision Fernandez made that night — as least as far as his legal prospects are concerned — was to run away until he could sober up, then turn himself in once the booze and/or drugs were out of his system and a DUI charge was off the table.

And that has to change.

At last report, Fernandez was still being held on $100,000 bond. His next scheduled court appearances are a readiness conference on May 5th, and a preliminary hearing on May 10th in the San Diego Superior Court, North County Regional Center, case number CN290834.

I’m not mad yet. But I’m getting there.

Correction: Originally, I had written that Fernandez had pleaded guilty. That was a typo; the plea was not guilty, as I’ve corrected it above. Thanks to Dj Wheels for the catch.


  1. TQ says:

    The inequity is astounding. Among the five charges in the hit-and-run collision committed by Fire Captain John Hines are two violations of the penal, not vehicle, code. These charges are enhancements for inflicting great bodily harm. Yet in the homicide of Jim Swarzman, no such enhancements were attached.

  2. Opus the Poet says:

    Part of the issue is because he left the scene, any drugs or alcohol that might have been in his system were gone by the time he turned himself in. Absent drugs or alcohol many of the charges against the Fire Captain can’t be applied to the death of Jim Swarzman. If only there was some kind of information about where he was prior to the wreck, like credit card receipts or video of him staggering out of a bar…

  3. Biker395 says:

    There was a statement made by a supposed relative of Mr. Fernandez in reply to an on-line news article to the effect that he was working that evening and just left some establishment after spending some time with friends. I can’t find the post anymore, but it sure would have been a good idea to talk to this relative, find the establishment, and interview others who were there at the time.

    I too strongly suspect that Fernandez was either drunk, distracted, or both. And you right … the point is this:

    California law should be changed so that either the penalties for hit and run are commensurate with those for the same collision under DUI circumstances, or simply so that the accused is *presumed* to be driving DUI if they flee the scene. It’s total bunk that California law currently encourages intoxicated drivers to flee.

    Jim was a personal friend of mine, and I am still having trouble getting my arms around this whole sorry episode.

    • bikinginla says:

      Sorry for you loss. I only met Jim once, and then only briefly, but I liked him.

      And I would bet everything I own that Fernandez was drunk at the time of this collision. I only wish there was a way to prove it.

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