A Riverside County father and son involved in a big rig crash with a Metrolink train outside Camarillo last summer are seeking $5 million each in damages from several local governments.
The father, who was driving the semi on a private road amid agricultural fields, caused the Aug. 24 accident when he failed to see the oncoming train, according to a California Highway Patrol report.
Alfred Espinoza, 63, and his son, Isaac, 25, both of Corona, each filed a $5 million claim against Ventura County and the cities of Oxnard, Ventura and Camarillo in February. Such claims are the first step in possible litigation against a government entity.
The county, Ventura and Camarillo have rejected the claims, and Oxnard plans to soon, officials said.
Isaac Espinoza said Monday morning he was unsure how many claims had been filed. The $5 million figure was determined after consultation with the family's attorney, Paul Zuckerman of Beverly Hills, he said.
Isaac Espinoza said he suffered a fractured neck vertebra, a foot-long head laceration, torn shoulder muscles and dislocated shoulders. The claim says he suffered traumatic brain injury and damage from medical expenses, lost income and loss of enjoyment of life.
Zuckerman did not return a call.
The incident took place shortly before 6 a.m. in dark, misty conditions on unincorporated land northeast of Fifth Street and Las Posas Road. Thirty passengers were on the train, which was going from Ventura County to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
Alfred Espinoza had turned north onto a private paved road and was headed toward a dirt road in a strawberry field when he crossed the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, according to the CHP report. The crossing, on a slightly elevated concrete pad, is controlled by standard stop signs with black-and-white signs below reading "Private RXR Crossing no trespassing," the report says. There were no visual obstructions.
Alfred Espinoza told officials at the scene he paused halfway across the tracks because he didn't know which way to go in the strawberry field. Suddenly, he heard the train horn.
"I tried to gas it and get all the way across, but there was no time," the report quotes him as saying.
The Metrolink engineer hit the brakes but couldn't avoid the collision.
The flatbed truck was carrying 10 450-pound canisters of a methyl bromide, an agricultural fumigant, and ended up on its side with major damage. A fuel tank puncture spilled 121 gallons of diesel, but none of the fumigant leaked.
The Espinozas and one Metrolink passenger were taken by ambulance to Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks with pain complaints and other issues, the CHP report shows.
"It could have been worse," a CHP sergeant said at the time.
The claims allege the county and cities caused the accident through negligence and are responsible for the dangerous condition of the railroad crossing.
Chuck Pode, risk manager for Ventura County, said the county rejected the Espinozas' claims because the accident site is not a county intersection. A potential litigant has six months after a rejection to file a lawsuit, Pode said. No lawsuits had been filed in Ventura County as of Monday afternoon, online court records indicate.
A Metrolink spokesman said no claims regarding the incident have been filed against that agency.
A CHP report says Alfred Espinoza caused the crash "by violating the right of way to the oncoming eastbound Metrolink train. The train was close enough to constitute an immediate hazard, and the result was the collision" between the big rig and the train.
Copyright 2013 - Ventura County Star, Calif.