Jury awards $600,000 in 2010 crosswalk death

Sonoma County jurors have awarded nearly $600,000 to the parents of a Santa Rosa teenager who was killed in a 2010 crosswalk accident that brought attention to the dangers of the intersection.

Michelle Cordova, 15, a sophomore at Santa Rosa High, was hit Jan. 27, 2010, as she crossed West College Avenue at Link Lane. The driver, then 22-year-old Orion Swank, pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to probation.

Cordova's parents sued Swank in civil court, alleging wrongful death. After three days of trial testimony, jurors returned a finding Wednesday night that Swank was 90 percent at fault and Cordova was 10 percent at fault.

The city, which spent $360,000 to upgrade the intersection after the crash, bore no responsibility, jurors found.

The panel awarded the parents $500,000 for the loss of their child and $136,000 for medical expenses. They are expected to receive 90 percent.

The Cordovas' lawyer, Jeremy Fietz, had asked for $10 million.

Fietz said two jurors told him they were prepared to award the amount but the remainder said they didn't want the parents to "profit" from their daughter's death.

"It's a sad reflection of the jury's unwillingness to follow instructions and compensate mom and dad for losing a child," Fietz said Thursday. "They stopped short of full justice."

Cordova's death brought city action to an intersection that was long considered among the most dangerous in Santa Rosa.

Neighbors lobbied members of Congress and the governor, demanding stoplights to protect pedestrians. The project was completed last month.

While the neighborhood awaited a solution, other pedestrians were hit. Jose Manuel Nunes-Flores, 16, suffered minor injuries when he was struck by a westbound vehicle in February 2011. And a 13-year-old girl was hit in September when she crossed the street after stepping out of a bus.

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