Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tort claims pending from bus collision

Accident victims seeking more than $5 million in damages


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Two tort claims totaling more than $5 million have been filed against Mountain Rides Transportation Authority as a result of this accident on Feb. 23 north of Hailey. Four people were injured in the accident and required treatment at St. Luke’s Wood River. Express file photo

Two tort claims totaling more than $5 million are pending against Mountain Rides Transportation Authority because of a bus accident in February that sent four people to St. Luke's Wood River for treatment of injuries.

Both claims were also filed against Mountain Rides' funding partners, including Blaine County and the cities of Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley.

The claims, filed in mid-May, are alleging damages from physical injuries and hospital and doctor care from the accident on Feb. 23 about two miles north of Hailey on state Highway 75. According to a Blaine County Sheriff's Office report, the accident occurred when Mountain Rides driver Pamela Vasquez, 59, who was northbound, crashed the bus into the rear end of a gold 1999 Toyota Camry, driven by Kathleen E. Welch, 49, of Bellevue. Welch was stopped on the highway waiting for a vehicle ahead of her to turn left when the accident occurred.

Both Welch and her son, 33-year-old James Welch, who had to be extricated from the vehicle by Wood River Fire & Rescue, were injured and transported to the hospital.

Also injured and transported were bus passengers Michael D. Burrell, 46, of Bellevue, and Joshua Cobb, 37, no address available.

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Following investigation, the Sheriff's Office cited Vasquez for following too closely. According to court records, Vasquez, who is still employed with Mountain Rides, pleaded guilty to the charge in March and was fined $88.

The largest tort claim was filed on behalf of Kathleen Welch and James Welch by Boise attorneys Scott M. Ludwig and Scott A. Tschirgi. The Welchs are seeking damages "of not less than $5 million," claiming that both required and still require extensive medical attention for injuries sustained in the crash.

The tort claim alleges that Vasquez was driving in an "unsafe, careless, inattentive and imprudent manner" when the accident occurred.

The second claim was filed by Hailey attorney Douglas Nelson on behalf of bus passenger Burrell, who is seeking at least $50,000 in damages resulting from the accident. Burrell's claim states that he was injured when he was "thrown around the interior of the bus, impacting objects within."

The claim alleges that Vasquez "was engaged in conversation with a passenger of the bus" and did not have time to react when she came upon the Welch vehicle.

Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller said Monday that neither claim has been settled and both have been turned over to Mountain Rides' insurance carrier, OneBeacon Insurance Group.

Idaho law requires that a potential lawsuit against a governmental entity first be filed as a tort claim to give the entity the opportunity to settle without litigation. By law, public entities have 90 days to respond to a tort claim before an actual lawsuit can be filed.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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