Thursday, July 21, 2011

Solano County jury awarded $29 million to Highway 12 crash victims

       A Solano County jury awarded $29 million Monday to the victims of a November 2006 head-on crash on a section of state Highway 12 that did not have a median barrier.
       The jury deliberated over three days before awarding
$29,277,391.12 to the  victims: Jordan Collison, now 15, who was paralyzed; Kenya Hutchinson, the mother of two boys who died in the crash, Demari Hutchinson, 12, and Immanuel Collison, 7; and Regina Jackson, 47, of Suisun City, the driver of the Toyota Corolla that was struck head-on by a Lexus SUV driven by Nicola Bucci.
       Bucci, 37, of San Francisco, was convicted of second-degree murder and causing great bodily injury to Jackson and Jordan Collison. He was sentenced to 23 years to life in prison.
       The Brandi law firm in San Francisco and the Bennett and Johnson firm in Oakland filed a civil suit against the State of California for the absence of a median barrier and against Bucci for negligently passing another vehicle and striking the Toyota on state Highway 12 between Suisun and Rio Vista on Nov. 17, 2006.
       The plaintiffs contended the state was aware of problems with
improper passing accidents and head-on collisions on the highway since 1994, attorney Thomas J. Brandi said in a news release.
       Brandi said the Hutchinson boys were the 45th and 46th people to die in such accidents on the highway between Suisun and Rio Vista, and that there is still no median barrier on that stretch of the highway.
       During the 21-day civil trial, the state admitted it had the money to install a barrier, widen the road's shoulders and fix inadequate sight distances, Brandi said.
       Caltrans employees testified they did not consider a median
barrier on that section of the highway until March 2007 when two more crossover accident deaths triggered public outcry and eventual repairs, Brandi said.
       The state placed a median barrier on Highway 12 between Suisun and Shiloh Road but left the two-lane area from Shiloh Road to Rio Vista without a barrier, Brandi said.
        A Caltrans spokesperson did not return a call for comment this
        "If the state employees simply did their job, this accident never
would have occurred," Brandi said.
        "These boys and over 20 others would be alive if a median barrier was placed from Suisun to Rio Vista," Brandi said.
        Regina Jackson's attorney Richard Bennett also called for the
State to install a median barrier.
        "I have represented other families injured on this road and
hopefully the State will finally act so no one else goes through another
tragedy," Bennett said.
        Bucci, a sous chef at Google Inc.'s headquarters in Mountain View, was driving a Lexus SUV eastbound on Highway 12 at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 17, 2006.
        Witnesses said he pulled into the westbound lane in a no-passing zone on a hill to pass a semi-tractor trailer. While attempting to pass a second trailer, he hit the westbound Toyota Corolla.
         There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol in Bucci's system. Bucci claimed he had fallen asleep because of exposure to carbon dioxide fumes in a freezer at Google 3.5 hours earlier.
         Prosecutors claimed Bucci acted deliberately and did not appear to have been asleep when he pulled into the wrong lane on the hill. They said he had not been driving erratically and was lucid and logical at the scene of the accident. Prosecutors also said there was plenty of time for the alleged fumes to wear off.
         Brandi said the civil jury found the State 35 percent at fault and
Bucci 65 percent at fault.

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