News

Lawsuit settled in cyclist's death on Alpine Road

Truck driver had been involved in two other fatalities but found not at fault

Dave Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

A settlement is at hand in a wrongful death lawsuit over the November 2010 death of Los Altos Hills 47-year-old bicyclist Lauren Ward after her collision with a tractor-trailer truck at Alpine Road and Interstate 280, according to an attorney with the county counsel's office in San Mateo County.

There are a few details to be worked out, but "there's a confidential settlement between the trucking company and the family," Deputy County Counsel David Levy told the Almanac.

The county was involved because Ms. Ward's family had sued the trucking company, Randazzo Enterprises Inc. of Castroville, and Randazzo had turned around and sued San Mateo County and the state Department of Transportation on the grounds that the intersection was unsafe, Mr. Levy said.

Pending is the county's motion for a summary judgment -- a resolution that would bypass a trial -- and Randazzo withdrew its suit, Mr. Levy said. "There's no way this case should be heard by a jury," Mr. Levy said. "They settled and they agreed to cut (the county and Caltrans) loose. We were likely to prevail."

While the state of California is responsible for the design of this intersection, the county is responsible for its upkeep, including striping and pothole repair, Mr. Levy said. "There was absolutely zero evidence that there was any problem with the surface of the roadway," he said.

The Ward family had filed its own suits against the county and Caltrans, but had no objection to the summary judgment -- in effect withdrawing their suits when Randazzo did, Mr. Levy said.

Such lawsuits tend to go after defendants with deep pockets, Mr. Levy said. The county fought back, in part to burnish its image. "We didn't cause this accident. We don't want people to keep on suing us, (to get the impression) that we're a soft touch."

Driver's record

The man driving the truck, 44-year-old Gabriel Manzur Vera, had been involved in two other fatal accidents in which he was found not to be at fault.

In December 2003, a woman died after her vehicle crossed the center line on Highway 1 near Moss Landing and collided head-on with Mr. Vera's truck, according to a California Highway Patrol account.

In August 2007, a bicyclist died as a result of a collision with the right side of Mr. Vera's truck as it was making a turn at an intersection in the city of Santa Cruz, according to another CHP account.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ladera Cyclist
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on May 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Note that although Mr. Vera was found "not at fault" in the August 2007 accident, his company did end up agreeing to a $1.5 million dollar settlement for that accident. See the link here:

Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Ladera Cyclist:

people not at fault often agree to settlements as it is cheaper to settle than to fight the lawsuit. Settling doesn't imply he did anything wrong. In fact, it is tyical in settlements that the language of the settlement indicates there is no acknowledgement of fault on either side.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Editor -
One angle of this story needs to be followed up on.
18 months after the accident, why hasn't this intersection been re-striped to create a bike lane that starts at the stop sign just east of the overpass? As I remember, this was proposed as a solution to the problem of bikes heading up Alpine having to cross over the merge lane for traffic wanting to take the southbound 280 exit.
I ride this route twice a week and never know whether I should hug the right side of the merge lane until I have to move into the thru-traffic lane just past the overpass or if I should move into the thru-traffic lane ASAP. Putting a bike lane here would make it clear where bikes should be and that cars need to move around them if they are taking the exit.
Why has it taken so long for CALTRANS to have made this improvement, which I believe was decided on after the investigation of this tragic accident.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dave Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on May 24, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Dave Boyce is a registered user.

As to why nothing has been done with respect to the design and striping of this intersection, it's possible that the agencies involved were told not to proceed until the legal issues were resolved.

Both the county and the state agencies were being sued.

The county has not yet responded to requests for an update on the status of proposed changes to the design and/or striping of this intersection.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PVer
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on May 24, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Just last week, an excellent bicycle lane installation was finished at the intersection of I280 and Stevens Creek Boulevard at the Santa Clara-Cupertino . Day-glow green paint with a gritty surface finish covers the entire lane, with dotted lines on either side, leaving no doubt that there is a bicycle lane. See the photo at
Web Link

This bicycle lane might serve a a model for the I280-Alpine Road intersection.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ladera Cyclist
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on May 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Menlo Voter -

I was merely reporting a fact that is relevant to the article published by the Almanac. The article should have mentioned the fact of the earlier settlement, just like it mentioned the earlier accidents.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Livelong Cyclist
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 26, 2012 at 5:16 pm

(edited for clarity)
Regarding the Stevens Creek bike lane design:

These bike lanes positioning cyclists between two lanes of fast moving traffic are death traps. This is exactly where the victim was killed. And I had my share of scary moments in these kind of lanes too.

Nobody would make pedestrians cross an intersection like that, with huge speed differences to fast moving vehicular traffic.

This kind of bike-lane design may be suitable for slow moving inner city traffic, but is unsuitable for highways and their longer high speed merge lanes.

I for a fact will never use such a lane. I will cut over where the lane makes a sharp turn towards the off ramp. Drivers have to slow down there and pay extra attention where they are going. Much safer.
I might have to slow down and even wait my turn, but will be much safer.

I would suggest the responsible authorities take a lesson from bike lane design in Europe.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Curious
a resident of another community
on May 28, 2012 at 2:56 am

Isn't there a bike path on the other side of Alpine Rd from where the accident happened? There are crosswalks across the ramps for pedestrians. Maybe cyclists could do as they were taught years ago - dismount & walk the bikes in the crosswalk when crossing busy streets?
Oh, I forgot, they'd "lose momentum", which is their excuse to run stop signs. But they would be safer. Hmm. Tough choice.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tricyclist
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 2, 2012 at 8:29 am

This guy has been involved in three separate traffic accidents resulting in the deaths of three other people? How many of you have been involved in one traffic death, let alone three? Determining legal "fault" is a very subjective exercise. But here the facts speak for themselves. There is a common element in all three of these deaths, and it's time for him to be taken off the road.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 2, 2012 at 10:06 am

Tricyclist:

there is nothing subjective about another driver crossing into your lane and crashing into you head on which is what happened in one of the deaths the driver was involved in.

There is nothing subjective about a cyclist running their bicycle into the side of your vehicle. In front of witnesses. Which is what happened in the second death.

How you can say in either of these cases the fault was "subjective" is beyond me.


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