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June 19, 2014
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Nine riders in RFTA bus crash file lawsuit

Nine people who were riding a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus that crashed in the El Jebel area in the fall have filed a lawsuit against the public-transit agency and three other individuals.

The accident occurred in Garfield County, near mile-marker 16 on Highway 82, at about 7 p.m. on Oct. 26. In all, authorities have said there were 11 passengers on the bus, which was headed downvalley from Aspen, and that 10 were Roaring Fork Valley residents.

Seven different law firms filed the suit jointly late Thursday morning.

The nine riders are listed as: Catherine Elise Anthon, Maggie Fricke, Christina G. Andrade Guzman, Karla Marie Miller, Robert L. Pollard, Pedro Rivera, Rohan Samuels, Cecily Viall and Isidro A. Zelaya. Another plaintiff, Ryan Lee Anthon, Catherine Anthon’s husband, was not riding the bus.

At the time, the Colorado State Patrol, which handled the investigation, said the bus slammed against a concrete barrier on the right shoulder of the highway after the bus driver swerved to avoid a slow-moving tractor in the right lane.

Defendants are named as: RFTA; Jaime Nunez, the bus driver; Travis Wingfield, the tractor driver; and Theodore Potter, the tractor owner.

The lawsuit alleges numerous injuries of varying degrees suffered by the nine riders. Six of the riders were ejected from the bus, according to the suit. State police previously provided information to the media indicating that six riders were ejected.

Nunez, 55, of Glenwood Springs, was not ejected, state police have said. He was the only one on the bus equipped with a safety belt, the suit says.

“Nunez either was not looking ahead or was looking but not able to see that tractor in the RFTA bus’ line of travel,” the lawsuit states. “Upon information and belief, Nunez’ eyesight was substandard on the date of the crash.”

The suit also claims that RFTA was negligent, in that the transit agency “should have known that Nunez was unfit to be employed as a bus driver” based on poor eyesight.

RFTA attorney Paul Taddune said Thursday afternoon that the bus-transit agency hopes to hold mediation sessions soon with the plaintiffs’ attorneys and insurance companies representing the other defendants. Wingfield’s insurance company, State Farm, has not participated in any of the previous meetings, Taddune said.

“We are hoping that now that the lawsuit is filed, the one person who hasn’t attended any of the meetings will be able to participate in a prompt mediation,” he said. “The lawsuit was not filed without a number of discussions that we’ve had with everybody.”

RFTA remains “very concerned about the welfare of all of the people who were injured,” Taddune added.

The suit says that the tractor Wingfield was driving falls within the definition of a “slow-moving vehicle” under Colorado law and is required to have a reflective emblem labeling it as such.

“At the time of the crash, the tractor did not have a compliant-reflective SMV emblem affixed to it,” the lawsuit states.

On Nov. 17, District Attorney Sherry Caloia released a statement saying that her office would not pursue charges against Nunez.

“The (state police) report and other documents were submitted to the Office of the District Attorney by Colorado State Patrol for consideration of filing of criminal or traffic charges,” Caloia stated. “The District Attorney is required to prove any violations of the law under a high standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. The District Attorney does not believe that they can prove any violation of the traffic or criminal laws beyond a reasonable doubt. The DA will not be filing any traffic or criminal charges against the bus driver.”

Nunez is still employed by RFTA, but has not worked as a driver in recent months because of his own injuries stemming from the accident, RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said. His duties have been administrative in nature and he also has had paid time off through worker’s compensation, Blankenship said.

Of the nine riders listed as plaintiffs, seven reside in Garfield County, while one is from Pitkin County and another is from Eagle County, the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs are seeking monetary relief for damages and a jury trial, the suit adds.

andre@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jun 20, 2014 09:00AM Published Jun 21, 2014 10:59AM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.