Santa Rosa to pay $335,000 for crosswalk death

Santa Rosa has settled for $335,000 a lawsuit brought by the family of a 20-year-old Santa Rosa Junior College student struck and killed in a darkened Santa Rosa Avenue crosswalk in 2009.

The case raised questions about the safety of the city's streetlight reduction program and whether the city does enough to detect inoperable streetlights.

Edgar Perez-Lopez, a graduate of Elsie Allen High School, and his cousin were walking to a nearby bookstore at 8:36 p.m. when they began crossing Santa Rosa Avenue at Court Street.

Perez-Lopez, who was retrieving email on a cellphone at the time, was struck and killed by a southbound Ford F-150 pickup driven by Richard John Gonsalves, 66, of Santa Rosa.

The family alleged in its lawsuit that the streetlight at the east end of the crosswalk was out at the time of the accident, and several other streetlights in the immediate area had been turned off by the city to save money.

The driver "couldn't see Edgar until it was too late" because he was emerging from the darkened east end of the crosswalk toward the only working streetlight in the area, said family attorney Jeremy Fietz.

Neighbors in the area claimed the light had been out for more than a year, and city did nothing to try to discover the outage, Fietz said.

"The City of Santa Rosa has no program to detect outages," Fietz said.

The city denied that the unlighted streetlight caused the accident and claimed it had no legal duty to maintain the lights.

After the city was unable to get the case dismissed, it turned around and sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which owned a malfunctioning transformer at the intersection, Fietz explained.

Ultimately, PG&E settled the case with the city, paying for both the city's legal costs and the settlement amount to Perez-Lopez's family, according to a written statement from the city attorney's office.

Perez-Lopez's mother, Marina Robledo, is of modest means who works at a local taqueria. Her son was not covered by health insurance, and the emergency room bills alone were nearly $40,000, Fietz said.

"It's a reasonable result under the circumstances," he said.

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