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May 29th
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Home News Latest Multimillion dollar tort claim filed with county over fatal crash involving deputy

Multimillion dollar tort claim filed with county over fatal crash involving deputy

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LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – A tort claim seeking damages in excess of $10 million has been filed with the county of Lake by the family of a woman killed in a crash involving a sheriff's deputy last October.

Santa Rosa attorney Jeremy Fietz filed the claim with the county, which received it on Jan. 8, on behalf of Gloria Garcia Gamino and Jose Daniel Rivas Cruz, parents of Gabriela Rivas Garcia.

In the claim document, Fietz noted that the scope of the financial losses to the family aren't yet known and ultimately are up to a jury to determine.

He said that it's his clients' belief that the damages they've suffered exceed $10 million.

On Oct. 3 the 26-year-old Garcia was killed in a head-on collision with Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Lewis on Highway 29 half a mile north of Diener Drive.

Just after 6:20 a.m. that day Garcia was driving from her home in Clearlake to work at a local vineyard in the Kelseyville area.

Lewis was heading to Lower Lake to join the pursuit of alleged home invasion suspects when, according to the initial California Highway Patrol report, his 2009 Chevy Tahoe patrol vehicle crossed into the northbound lane – and directly into the path of Garcia's 1995 Honda Civic.

Garcia died at the scene. Lewis sustained serious injuries and had to be flown to an out-of-county trauma center.

The CHP's Clear Lake Area office requested the assistance of the CHP Northern Division's Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team, or MAIT, which is conducting a joint investigation into the crash along with the Lake County District Attorney's Office.

MAIT goes through a lengthy process of collision reconstruction that takes months. CHP officials and District Attorney Don Anderson told Lake County News that they don't expect the report to come out until sometime in March.

Garcia had come from Mexico to the United States, where she had made her home and had been working for several years.

“She was supporting her parents in Mexico and sending money home every month and obviously they don’t have that any more. They don’t have their daughter,” said Fietz, adding that Garcia's parents were dependent on her.

Because Garcia had no children or spouse, her parents are filing the suit, Fietz said. California's wrongful death statute allows for such filings, and also permits people who are not United States citizens to bring suit.

The Board of Supervisors discussed the tort claim in closed session on Tuesday, according to the board agenda.

County Counsel Anita Grant said the tort claim is being handled by the George Hills Co., the county's third party liability administrator.

The administrator has up to 45 days to deny the claim, after which Garcia's family has a six-month window to file a civil lawsuit, Grant said.

She said the lawsuit that's expected to be filed will not be handled by her office. Instead the county's liability insurance coverage will hire a legal firm to deal with the case.

Fietz said he's already been contacted by the George Hills Co. and informed that it will deny the claim. “That's to be expected,” he said.

He said he is confident that Lewis – who he said was driving between 80 and 120 miles per hour – was at fault in the crash.

“It seems pretty obvious that the deputy crossed over the center line and hit our client head-on,” said Fietz.

He also questioned the use of an SUV, which Lewis was driving because he's very tall. Fietz suggested it was not the best pursuit vehicle on Lake County's winding roads.

Fietz said he doesn't plan on waiting for the MAIT report to come out before filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the county, which he expects will neither admit nor deny liability in the case.

He said the lawsuit won't include a total of damages sought. “The general rule in California is that you do not ask for a specific amount,” he said, adding that it's up to the jury to decide the damages.

Rather, the suit will demand an amount to compensate Garcia's parents for their loss, Fietz said.

Fietz has experience in wrongful death cases like that involving Garcia's family.

Last year, he won a record-setting $10.6 million verdict in Sonoma County in a suit filed by the family of Santa Rosa resident Maria Juana Flores, who was killed in a crash on Highway 116 in February 2009.

While most of that amount wasn't paid because the driver responsible was dismissed from the case, Caltrans was ordered to pay Flores' family $3 million due to dangerous road conditions at the intersection where the crash occurred, according to media reports.

Email Elizabeth Larson at . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.

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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by a guest, February 02, 2014
If common knowledge admits an SUV 'is not the best pursuit vehicle', why should a deputy be driving one at excessive speeds on public roads? Seems a deadly disregard for public safety...(in the name of public safety).
written by a guest, February 02, 2014
Why was mission 101 comment deleted
one more thing
written by mission101, February 02, 2014
County Counsel Anita Grant said the tort claim is being handled by the George Hills Co., the county's third party liability administrator.

We pay Ms. Grant close to 100,000 dollars per year, why?
This woman never is able to help with any litigation. Every single time she either doesn't know the laws, or elbows the responsibility off onto a third party, ( which I'm sure costs us taxpayers as much if not more than what we are already paying ms. grant).
Seems to me we have to many uneducated ( or maybe just plain worthless) sitting in all these top positions.
From the B.O.S. to the Sheriff, to the D.A., this county is chalk full of inaddiquit people who just keep raking in the free tax dollars at the expense of the people.
As if this accident wasn't bad enough now the millions of dollars in law suits are gonna start coming.( And the family deserves every penny).
The bad part is it will be the tax payer that has to foot this bill.
Do you really think that Rivero or the cop that hit her are gonna pay out their own pocket?
No. All of US will have to pay for THEIR mistakes.
This is the way it seems to work around here. We saw it with the Dinius case, first the powers that be will try to blame it on the girl, and if that wont work they'll blame it on something stupid like the suv was to tall or the cop was to tall, c'mon people how much longer are we all going to stand for the B.S. that all the people in charge keep dumping on all of us?
written by ca215, February 02, 2014
It is NOT a typo. Direct copy-paste from the article: "He also questioned the use of an SUV, which Lewis was driving because he's very tall. Fietz suggested it was not the best pursuit vehicle on Lake County's winding roads."

H, still want to claim that the reference to height was in regard to the height of an SUV?? It is stunning that you seem to think you know what E Larson INTENDED to write but did not write. Stop drinking the Kook-Ade and please also stop saying that the confusion is due to poor reporting until you, yourself, are on staff of any reporting agency whether such reporting is done on paper or on line.

One thing you should write is an abject apology to Ms Larson.
It's not a typo
written by elarson, February 02, 2014

I'm not sure what "typo" you're seeing. There isn't one.

"He also questioned the use of an SUV, which Lewis was driving because he's very tall. Fietz suggested it was not the best pursuit vehicle on Lake County's winding roads."

I was referring to Lewis' height. Lewis is, by my estimate, about 6 feet 5 inches tall, at least. The taller deputies drive SUVs because of their height, and the attorney is questioning the use of that vehicle for pursuit.

I'm also not clear on how that is poor reporting.

Elizabeth Larson

written by Harleymech, February 01, 2014
The article was commenting on the SUV and instead of saying its tall they said he is tall.its a typo or poor reporting. Still get a clue !
written by a guest, February 01, 2014
To the comment at the top. They are not talking about how tall the driver is. It's a reference to the height of the SUV. A higher center of gravity make the SUV unstable during cornering. It is common knowledge . Get a clue !
If you are 'very tall,' drive a SUV?
written by ca215, February 01, 2014
Oh, bull. It happens I have a very tall (6'3") friend and he manages to drive Lake County's roads very well. His car is a four-door and no, he does not drive it from the back seat. It seems there is a nifty device which lets a driver move his/her seat back.
The full report about the incident is not in yet but somehow the heads of the law firm handling the case have already decided to deny the claim? Huh??
Seems I dumbly believed a television commercial in which the actor uses some special feature of his telephone to make clear what happened to cause an accident; wouldn't that help to speed up making it clear just Who did What wrongly?
But it is stated in this article that a (quote) "lengthy process of collision reconstruction that takes months." Months, when it has been pretty firmly established that the very tall driver of the SUV was travelling at 80-to-120 mph and Hello? was on the 'wrong side of the road' when the fatal event took place?
On roads or on water, it seems LEOs are dangerous to other drivers. Except for a lack of overuse of alcohol or other drugs and a lack of Tall Guy's friends hiding him out so that a Breath-a-lizer would not show he had over-indulged, this incident has an odd resemblance to another in which a deputy sheriff at the controls of a boat on the Lake struck another boat and killed Other Boat's operator. Deputy Dawg walked away whistling from that incident...
I am wondering just why it was necessary to travel at such dangerous speeds to a suspected home invasion.
Several years ago while living in Clearlake Oaks I phoned 911 to get attention to an attempted home invasion --- and the home in question was mine --- two representatives of the Sheriff's Dept arrived approximately 45 minutes after I grabbed the phone. What's odd there is that I do not think they drove at dangerous speeds; cripes the guys did not even seem to be short of breath, agitated, or any of the other signs of adrenaline-rush.
Stop. Do not reach for your computer's keyboard to chastise me for stating the length of time it took for LCSD to turn up and do nothing other than to advise me "Well if they come back just call again." I know LEOs are spread way too thinly across the County. I KNOW that there are people other than myself living here. I KNOW those other people could have had troubles worse than mine on the date and at the time of my call to 911.
I am just trying to figure out why it was necessary to jump into a SUV and Haul A** at dangerous speeds to a suspected home invasion.
written by a guest, February 01, 2014
I hope the hearing will be in Sonoma County instead of here. That way they stand a chance of winning. Here, they won't get a dime. Crooked courts, brain dead junkies for jurors.
Claim Against Lewis
written by a guest, February 01, 2014
must be filed with the county as well if plaintiff wants to proceed against him personally and his insurer.

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 01 April 2014 20:33 )