FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - Greyhound is not responsible for an accident that killed six people in 2010 when its bus ran into an overturned SUV and then struck a second vehicle, a jury ruled Tuesday.
"We are very pleased with the verdict. We believe it's the right verdict. We believe the verdict is well supported by the evidence," Greyhound attorney Dana Alden Fox, of Los Angeles, told Courthouse News.
"The jury had a lot of information to process and obviously came to the right result. That said, there are no winners in this case. This was a tragic accident that resulted in the deaths of six people, including the driver of the Greyhound bus, who was a 32-year employee with an unscathed record," Fox said.
The accident happened in the early morning of July 22, 2010 on Highway 99. The crash killed the three occupants of the SUV: Sylvia Garay, 18, of Dinuba; Vanessa Gonzales, 19; and Stephanie Cordoba, 20, both of Fresno.
Also killed were the bus driver, 57-year-old James Jewett, and two passengers - Epifania Solis, 60, of Madera, and Tomas Ponce, 79, of Winton.
The California Highway Patrol determined that Garay lost control of her Chevy Blazer and then overcorrected, crashing into the concrete median barrier.
The young women were trying to get out of the car when the Greyhound smashed into it two and a half minutes later.
The Highway Patrol issued a final report in 2011, stating that Jewett did not have time to take evasive action to avoid hitting the SUV. The CHP put the fault on Garay, who they say had been driving the SUV while under the influence of alcohol.
The CHP also determined that the bus driver could not see the SUV until seconds before impact.
The families of Garay, Gonzales and Cordoba sued Greyhound for negligence, claiming that Jewett was driving at an unsafe speed in the fast lane and was not wearing his glasses. They also said that Greyhound's bus had bad brakes.
Stuart Chandler, one of the attorneys for the women's families, told Courthouse News that he felt the evidence demonstrated that the driver was approaching a familiar area "where he should normally slow down," that "there were several cars pulled over with lights and flashers on to warn of danger," and that "he never hit the brakes - despite the overturned SUV being a visible hazard for at least 400 feet, and more likely 600 feet."
But in a 10-to-2 decision, jurors found that Greyhound was not to blame for the accident, according to a spokeswoman for Fresno County Superior Court.
Chandler, who said he is "very disappointed in the verdict," believes the jury followed the suggestion made by Greyhound's lawyer that if the SUV had not been blocking the freeway, the bus accident would not have happened.
"While that is true, the analysis should start with the bus driver's negligence, and once established then move on to the comparative fault, if any, on the part of the SUV driver. Although the wreck was so long ago, there was so much publicity about the SUV driver being at fault, being underage, being intoxicated, that it is almost of an established fact that she was to blame," Chandler said.
"Whether or not local media played a role in how jurors looked at the case, the fact pattern still presents a story that many people will accept. That the entire analysis starts and stops with underage drinking and driving. I know that is not the whole story, but unfortunately for my clients the jury simply did not see things the way we feel they should have," he said.
Fox gave credit to the plaintiffs' attorneys, saying that both sides tried "a very good and fair case."
"The judge allowed all parties to present their evidence and have their day in court," Fox said. "The facts led to the right result. The bottom line is Mr. Jewett, the bus driver, did not do anything wrong or anything that caused or contributed to this drunk-driving accident. Tragically, he lost his life through no fault of his own."
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