Jury: RFTA bus driver is most responsible for crash
December 19, 2015
The bus driver, a man driving the slow-moving tractor that the bus driver swerved to avoid and the tractor's owner all were negligent in the crash of a RFTA bus more than two years ago, a jury decided Friday.
However, jurors did not find each man equally negligent in the accident, in which the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority Bus slammed into a concrete barrier and overturned, ejecting six of 11 passengers.
The jury of four women and two men decided that the bus driver, Jaime Nunez, 57, was 50 percent responsible; the tractor driver, Travis Wingfield, 37, was 45 percent responsible; and the tractor owner, Ted Potter, was 5 percent responsible.
"I accept the verdict," Nunez said afterward. "Everything is in God's hands. God set this up."
Lawyers for the only two passengers present in the courtroom after the verdict declined to allow their clients to be interviewed because another trial will be held to determine monetary damages based on the percentage of responsibility decided Friday.
The crash occurred on Highway 82 near El Jebel in October 2013 when Nunez came upon the tractor, which was driving in the right lane about 20 mph while pulling a mower. Nunez was going between 60 and 65 mph and testified that he didn't see the tractor until the last second, when he swerved into the left-hand lane and successfully avoided hitting it.
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However, the left side of the bus ended up in the median, and Nunez overcorrected to the right while trying to get the bus back on the highway, then hit the concrete Jersey barrier. One passenger ended up under the bus, while another became entangled in a wildlife fence.
Lights on the tractor were at least partially obscured by the mower, and the tractor did not have a reflective emblem identifying it as a slow-moving vehicle. Two other drivers ahead of the bus also nearly hit the tractor.
District Attorney Sherry Caloia declined to pursue criminal charges against Nunez.
During the two-week trial, lawyers for the nine passengers and the husband of one passenger who filed the lawsuit attempted to convince jurors that each of the three defendants — RFTA and Nunez were considered one defendant — were equally responsible for the crash.
"It would not have happened but for all three," said attorney Ken Badon, who represented the woman trapped under the bus.
In turn, RFTA and Nunez's lawyer tried to blame Wingfield and, to a lesser degree, Potter. Potter's lawyer tried to blame Nunez, as did Wingfield's.
The next trial has not yet been scheduled.