TEMECULA — The Tennessee man who stole a big rig and then crashed it, causing chain-reaction crashes on Interstate 15 that left numerous people injured, pleaded guilty Monday to charges of assault with a deadly weapon, hit and run causing death or injury, and vehicle theft.
The man, Jerimiah Clyde Hartline, told authorities he drove erratically, swerving the rig back and forth, to shake off zombies that he feared were clinging to the side of the strawberry-laden trailer.
Hartline, 29, accepted a plea deal offered by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office to plead guilty to the three counts and one allegation of causing great bodily injury, court records show. In exchange, prosecutors dismissed four other charges, including reckless driving with injury.
He could have received a sentence of up to 12 years, four months had he been convicted of all seven counts following a trial, District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall stated in an email. Instead, Hall said, the agreement specifies a prison sentence of up to five years. Hartline is scheduled to be sentenced on June 24.
According to the California Highway Patrol, Hartline stole the rig from the commercial truck scale south of Temecula around 6 p.m. April 6.
As he got near the Temecula Parkway interchange he started driving erratically, hitting multiple vehicles and causing chain-reaction crashes.
The big rig eventually crashed, spilling the load of strawberries.
Much of the load was undamaged following the crash and the strawberries were donated to local food pantries and nonprofits.