MARTINEZ -- A Contra Costa jury ruled at a coroner's inquiry Tuesday that a Clayton man, killed in September when the stolen car he was driving smashed roof-first into a tree, died by accident.

Weston Tanner, 21, was leading Contra Costa sheriff's deputies on a high-speed chase on Marsh Creek Road when the green Lexus he was driving left the roadway and collided with a tree. Tanner was pronounced dead at the scene. His two passengers, hospitalized with major injuries, survived.

Coroner's inquiries are held in Contra Costa County after every law enforcement-related or in-custody death. The jury is asked to decide among four manners of death -- natural causes, suicide, accident or at the hands of another not by accident. There is no assignment of civil or criminal liability.

Contra Costa sheriff's deputy Erik Steele testified that on the morning of Sept. 27, he was dispatched to the Los Vaqueros Reservoir on Walnut Boulevard near Brentwood to check on a suspicious car. As he approached, he was advised via radio that the car was stolen. Steele said he then drew his gun and asked the three men inside the vehicle to raise their hands, and for the driver to drop the keys out the window.

Instead, he testified, the car sped away.

Steele said he pursued the car as it raced north on Walnut, then turned west on Marsh Creek Road. A second sheriff's deputy eventually joined the chase. Both deputies testified the stolen car was traveling the two-lane rural road at speeds up to 70 mph.


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After approximately 10 minutes, Steele said, the car veered into the eastbound lane of Marsh Creek Road, veered back into the westbound lane and then left the roadway, striking a tree in front of the Clayton Regency Mobile Home Park.

Aaron Ross, a senior inspector for the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office, testified that both passengers in the car were interviewed. One, he said, suffered a head injury and had little recollection of the incident.

Ross said the other passenger, Logan Czujko, said that the three men had spent the previous day hiking around Byron Hot Springs before falling asleep in the car around 3 a.m. According to Ross, Czujko said that shortly before the car crashed into the tree, Tanner said, "We're done. We're done."

The CHP, which did its own report on the crash, found nothing mechanically wrong with the car.

Dr. Ikechi Ogan, a forensic pathologist, testified that during an autopsy he found Tanner had abrasions, contusions and lacerations, as well as fractures of the extremities. Ogan said the fatal injury was a transected aorta that caused "massive blood loss."

Tanner tested positive for therapeutic levels of opiates, Ogan testified, as well as slightly elevated levels of sedatives. The combined effect of those drugs, the doctor said, would be to make a person "drowsy, confused and sleepy."

The jury took just minutes to reach a unanimous verdict.

Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.