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Santa Rosa to pay $335,000 for crosswalk death

By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa has settled for $335,000 a lawsuit brought by the family of a 20-year-old Santa Rosa Junior College student struck and killed in a darkened Santa Rosa Avenue crosswalk in 2009.

The case raised questions about the safety of the city’s streetlight reduction program and whether the city does enough to detect inoperable streetlights.

Edgar Perez-Lopez, a graduate of Elsie Allen High School, and his cousin were walking to a nearby bookstore at 8:36 p.m. when they began crossing Santa Rosa Avenue at Court Street.

Edgar Perez-Lopez.

Perez-Lopez, who was retrieving email on a cellphone at the time, was struck and killed by a southbound Ford F-150 pickup driven by Richard John Gonsalves, 66, of Santa Rosa.

The family alleged in its lawsuit that the streetlight at the east end of the crosswalk was out at the time of the accident, and several other streetlights in the immediate area had been turned off by the city to save money.

The driver “couldn’t see Edgar until it was too late” because he was emerging from the darkened east end of the crosswalk toward the only working streetlight in the area, said family attorney Jeremy Fietz.

Neighbors in the area claimed the light had been out for more than a year, and city did nothing to try to discover the outage, Fietz said.

“The City of Santa Rosa has no program to detect outages,” Fietz said.

The city denied that the unlighted streetlight caused the accident and claimed it had no legal duty to maintain the lights.

After the city was unable to get the case dismissed, it turned around and sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which owned a malfunctioning transformer at the intersection, Fietz explained.

Ultimately, PG&E settled the case with the city, paying for both the city’s legal costs and the settlement amount to Perez-Lopez’s family, according to a written statement from the city attorney’s office.

Perez-Lopez’s mother, Marina Robledo, is of modest means who works at a local taqueria. Her son was not covered by health insurance, and the emergency room bills alone were nearly $40,000, Fietz said.

“It’s a reasonable result under the circumstances,” he said.





13 Responses to “Santa Rosa to pay $335,000 for crosswalk death”

  1. Steveguy says:

    I lived on both Pacific Avenue and on Humboldt Street for years. The streetlights were needed to me. It gets dark at night in a supposedly ‘pedestrian friendly’ area. If you live out and about , never mind.

    I can’t really agree with the pay-out, as the one on foot must watch his or her way. But that does not relieve the City of it’s duty to light some streets.

    Ohh, never mind, they had to study Courthouse Square again ! Consultants before Citizens !

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  2. Reality Check says:

    Kirsten, what you say is all true, which all the more reason why this trend must be stopped. It won’t be stopped by turning on street lights. Attorneys will simply find another “flaw” to exploit, and there will always be one. No park, street, school, sidewalk, etc., is ever perfectly safe.

    People, whose negligent behavior is often the primary cause of an accident, cannot be allowed to demand that a property owner meet all conceivable safety standards. We must restore some common sense here.

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  3. Kirstin says:

    Reality Check, we must deal with reality though. As I said, lawyers look for deep pockets in liability suits. The city has a big target on it for that reason alone. Frankly, liability suits are far too common (as we all know, people sue at the drop of a hat as well as in legitimate situations), and I’d certainly like to see some better judgment shown on all fronts — by lawyers, government, and individuals. But it is what it is at the present. This transference is not a new development; it has been happening for a long time now.

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  4. Reality Check says:

    Kirsten, this is not about street lighting, at least not in the long run. It’s about legal liability and the issue of responsibility.

    I don’t differ with you that street lighting improves public safety. However, a city must live within a budget, and the political process decides which items if needed are trimmed. The people we elected decided to trim street lightening.

    That decision should not transfer financial liability for the consequences of negligent behavior by a pedestrian and a driver unto taxpayers. If this kind of a decision stands it will spread and put taxpayers at risk for every accident on public property . . . . . no matter how many street lamps are lighted.

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  5. Kirstin says:

    Not true, Reality Check. I have been concerned about low streetlight lighting previous to this. I think the city is wrong in its current policy. I don’t want to surrender to those who sue; I do want the city to adopt policies that are best for all of us. The fact is that low street lighting is a danger to those who want to move around the city at night. And if the city does not change it, there could be more accidents — some of which may be more attributable to that factor than to any individual irresponsibility.

    Safety is never 100% guaranteed of course; anyone who thinks so is kidding themselves. But the city didn’t install those dark streetlights for nothing originally. They need to be turned back on. And the city needs to be more attentive to burned out bulbs (and leaning streetlight poles too).

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  6. Taxpayer says:

    Say no to more taxes. Yes to public safety pension /compensation reform.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  7. Reality Check says:

    Kirstin,

    You would have the city surrender to those who want to transfer responsibility from those responsible to those who can pay.

    In the end, there is no street as safe as it could possibly be, if only the city did this or that. Attorneys will always have some grounds with which to appeal to juries sympathetic to a victim. And, after all, it’s the insurance company that pays. No, in the end we all pay for this, and it’s wrong.

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  8. Kirstin says:

    Reality Check — of course, individual responsibility is vital. Every person should always take reasonable precautions since we are all often our own last,best defense.

    But the reality is that when there is an accident in which a party sues, the lawyers as a rule of thumb go after a respondent with deep pockets. Now, the low street lighting surely was not the only (or perhaps even the main) reason for this unfortunate loss of life, but nevertheless, the city ended up paying out $335,000 of our money. So, to avoid a repeat of that, the city should recognize that low street lighting can contribute to accidents and should review and change that policy.

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  9. Reality Check says:

    If the city should exercise common sense in the use of tax dollars and providing for public safety, and it should, how about its citizens?

    Would one describe walking across a busy street at night while staring into a cell phone anything other than foolish? As to the driver, who knows why he didn’t see the pedestrian? But I can say that I drive down all kinds of streets at night with poor lighting without hitting people crossing the street.

    The end zone of expecting government to protect us from all risks is a government that becomes all powerful. Government should do for people what people can’t reasonably be expected to do for themselves. Walking safely across a street is not expecting too much, I believe.

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  10. Kirstin says:

    The city should reconsider its current policy of darkened streelights. It is much safer for all who travel (whether by foot, bike, or car)) for the streetlights to be on and to use reasonable levels of light. Now that we are getting into the time of year when it gets dark earlier, the streetlights are even more important.

    The city is responsible for reasonable safety measures such as street lighting. It is also the steward of our taxex. We should not read about tha tax money having to be paid out in settlements such as this. Policies which cause public money payments such as this must be changed.

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  11. Reality Check says:

    It’s hard to believe that the driver, who’s car presumably had working headlights, or the victim, who was crossing a street while retrieving email on his sell phone, don’t have some responsibility here.

    Why is it all the fault of the city or PG&E? Because they have deep pockets. That is, this about going after the money. Justice? I don’t think so.

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  12. Snarky says:

    No money for street lights.

    No money for potholes.

    No money for K-12 public schools.

    No money for maintenance of the streets.

    BUT LOTS AND LOTS OF MONEY FOR THEIR PUBLIC PENSIONS.

    Vote “NO” on the several ballot requests to raise taxes. If they have money for their public pensions, they have all they need.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  13. James Bennett says:

    We could buy a lotsa ‘lectricity for $335.K

    ICLEI sense.
    Or.
    Common sense.

    I like common sense better.

    So would Perez-Lopez’ family.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 2

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