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Dangerous Intersection Caused Pedestrian Death – Jury Verdict

Multimillion-Dollar Verdict Against The City Of Atwater Due To A Dangerous Intersection In Pedestrian Death

MERCED, CA – On Oct. 6, 2014, a Merced County jury comprising seven men and five women found that the city of Atwater was responsible for the December 2010 death of Delia Gonzales. The jury found that the city had a “dangerous condition” due to the phasing of its traffic signal at the main intersection located at Bellevue and Linden. “This case is a shining example of how jurors in a small community can provide justice in a remarkable fashion,” said Roger A. Dreyer, attorney for the Gonzales family.

The intersection had been signalized at the end of 2001 and within a year, a person was killed in the crosswalk where Delia Gonzales was ultimately struck. As was the case with the death of Gonzales, a left-turning vehicle struck John Toews and killed him. Within 14 months of his death, the city had determined that due to congestion at this location, the phasing of the lights needed to be changed to eliminate this type of left turn. Despite determining a solution to the problem, the modification plan sat in the city engineer’s office for six years. On Aug. 17, 2008, Winnifred Dutton was struck and killed in the same crosswalk by a left-turning vehicle.

At trial, former Police Chief Hawthorne testified that he had told all the officers on the police force of the August 2008 incident and to monitor that intersection. He admitted he had never communicated the death of Ms. Dutton to the city engineer’s office. Testimony was provided by two Atwater city police officers who denied that Hawthorne had ever told them to monitor the subject intersection. Testimony from the expert called by Dreyer at trial established that the light phasing constituted a dangerous condition and that had the city implemented its 2004 modification, Ms. Dutton would not have been killed, and neither would Mrs. Gonzales.

Delia Gonzales was 73 years old at the time of her death, had been married for 55 years to Genovevo Gonzales and was survived by their five adult children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Mrs. Gonzales was legendary for her works within the Catholic Church and the community. She had been instrumental in starting the migrant education program in the local high school. Her work in the community was “an inspiration to everyone,” testified Mayor Joan Faul of Atwater. The jury awarded the family in excess of $3.2 million for their loss.

Michelle Carrizales was the driver of the vehicle that struck Mrs. Gonzales. The Merced County District Attorney’s office had prosecuted her for vehicular manslaughter but dropped the charges at the insistence of the Gonzales family after they had discovered the history of this intersection. That decision was validated by the Merced County jury, which found that she was not negligent at the time of the incident; rather, the city of Atwater was 100 percent responsible for Delia Gonzales’ death.

“The insurance representatives for the city never engaged in any kind of meaningful discussions on this matter nor recognized the city’s responsibility, despite losing a motion for summary judgment and the overwhelming evidence that implicated the city,” said Dreyer. “Tragically, it took a woman like Mrs. Gonzales to get the city to finally change the dangerous light phasing. The family and I couldn’t feel more vindicated in our efforts by this result,” Dreyer stated. The city of Atwater, within weeks of Mrs. Gonzales’ death, implemented the 2004 phasing modification. This evidence was not allowed before the jury under Government Code Section 830.5(b). This code section prohibited the court from allowing in evidence of remedial changes by the city of Atwater. “Our mother was the most remarkable person that anyone could ever want to meet and to lose her was a loss suffered not just by my family but by everyone in our community,” said Gloria Gonzales, one of Delia Gonzales’ daughters.

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