weather icon Partly Cloudy

‘I’m sorry,’ garbage truck driver tells jury in wrongful death case

While describing the collision to jurors, Julio Cortez-Solano became emotional. He needed to take a five-minute break.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry,’ 1,000 times,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Cortez-Solano was the driver whose Republic Services garbage truck struck and killed 11-year-old Jazmin Espana in 2017.

On Thursday and Friday, he testified through a Spanish interpreter in her wrongful death trial, which began Monday, before District Judge Jacqueline Bluth.

“My life has never been the same, and it never will be,” Cortez-Solano said.

During the trial, attorneys have presented Republic Services training materials that warn drivers about how dangerous the vehicles are and to look out for kids.

Instead, attorney Sean Claggett said, the company negligently kept a driver on its staff with a history of disregarding safety on the road.

Cortez-Solano had been written up multiple times in the years leading up to Jazmin’s death. He was fired and rehired.

“Things happen sometimes, and it’s a human factor,” Cortez-Solano said Friday. He now works for the company as a mechanic.

Claggett, who represents Jazmin’s mother, Encarnacion Espana, said his client should be awarded $65 million in damages.

Tragedy on the crosswalk

After school on Feb. 8, 2017, Jazmin walked with her friend Samantha Lopez to the intersection of South Sandhill and East Viking roads.

Cortez-Solano and his passenger and spotter, Darryl Bryant, pulled up next to them and smiled.

Video surveillance shows that Cortez-Solano slowed down but never fully stopped.

The traffic light turned green, and the walk signal indicated that the girls could cross the street. Samantha turned around to look at the traffic behind her, and Jazmin started to cross without her.

“At first she said, ‘Are you going to come with me?’ And I wasn’t,” Samantha told jurors earlier this week. “After, I just heard her gasp.”

The truck had turned right, hitting Jazmin and knocking her to the ground.

Cortez-Solano testified that he saw the girls on the sidewalk and looked both ways before turning. He noticed he hit Jazmin after he turned right.

“You guessed that they weren’t going to move. And you guessed wrong,” Claggett told him. “Because the girl walked because she had a walk signal.”

“I was so sure they were standing there,” Cortez-Solano answered.

Neither Bryant nor Cortez-Solano were disciplined for their actions that day, they testified. But Jazmin’s death hit close to home for Bryant, whose daughter shares the same name.

“An 11-year-old girl didn’t have a chance to experience life as she would,” Bryant testified Thursday. “That would bother anybody who has a heart.”

Despite his emotions, Bryant stood by the actions taken that day.

“We made the right turn safely,” he said. “Jazmin walked behind the truck after we made the right turn. That was her fault, not ours.”

‘Jazzy Jazmin’

Jazmin’s teacher, Karen Chester, told jurors that Jazmin, whose first language was Spanish, tried her best to learn English at school.

“I called her ‘Jazzy Jazmin,’ and she would just giggle,” the teacher testified.

After her death, Chester went to her funeral. She recalled seeing the girl in an open coffin, a veil covering her broken face.

Friends and family told jurors that Jazmin was a shy girl who loved to sing. She was a “little mom” who took care of her young niece. Every night before bed, she read a book to her mom.

“She was my mom’s baby,” said Julisa Espana, Jazmin’s older sister. “We have never felt our house so lonely.”

Their mother, Encarnacion Espana, is originally from Puebla, Mexico. On the night of her daughter’s death, the family arrived at the scene and saw a row of news reporters.

A few hours later they learned she had died.

Now, the mother blocks the world out. A family friend, Erika Benitez, said the mother keeps her room dark, with just one lit candle.

Benitez testified, “She always says it herself: ‘I lost a part of myself.’ ”

The trial will resume Monday and is expected to conclude next week.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.