Amid tragedy, justice for taxpayers

A March 14, 2005, traffic accident at a bus stop near Smoke Ranch and Rock Springs roads claimed four lives and shattered a dozen others. On Tuesday, more than 21/2 years after Veronica Schmidt lost control of her SUV and crashed into a bus stop, the families of the people she killed claimed a measure of symbolic justice: a wrongful death civil judgment of $1 million.

The relatives of 14-year-old Angelica Jimenez, 16-year-old Raquel Jimenez, 16-year-old Reginald Williams and 36-year-old Samantha Allen probably won’t see a dime of that money.

The whereabouts of Schmidt, who was convicted of misdemeanor driving under the influence of prescription drugs and reckless driving, are unknown. She didn’t attend her trial, and her auto insurance policy will cover her attorney fees and likely nothing more.

The families and their attorneys recognized as much from the get-go. That’s why they also pursued a judgment against the deep pockets of the public.

The city of Las Vegas was sued because, the plaintiffs alleged, the bus stop was placed only 5 feet from the curb. If the bus stop were 8 feet away from the curb, an industry standard according to attorney Duane Frizell, it would not have been hit and the four victims would still be alive.

Suing Southern Nevada governments is normally as sure a bet as the New England Patriots. Cities, counties and state and local agencies generally settle even the most frivolous litigation with offers of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, asserting that they’re saving taxpayers money by not going through the expense of a trial.

But this time, the city decided to defend taxpayers against a dubious allegation. And lo and behold, a jury of taxpayers found the city held no liability in the crash. The public won’t be forced to pay for the criminal actions of one person.

In a case that has brought precious little justice — Schmidt spent no time behind bars — taxpayers can take some solace that the city successfully defended their interests in this case.

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