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UPDATED: Fatal crash triggers suit

Deadly July 4 crash leads to lawsuit; 18 plaintiffs cited, including witnesses

Posted: June 21, 2011 2:44 p.m.
Updated: June 21, 2011 10:55 p.m.

The family of the woman killed in a freak car crash during the Fourth of July fireworks display last year filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Tuesday against the city, county, operator of the mall where the show was held and other businesses.

Matilda Garnica Juarez, a Newhall mother of three, was among hundreds of spectators watching the fireworks grand finale when she was crushed by a car that collided with another and went airborne into the crowd on the sidewalks of Valencia Boulevard.

Two of her sons were injured.

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in Chatsworth by local attorney Jeffrey A. Hacker.

The 18-page complaint seeks unspecified damages and names the city of Santa Clarita, the county of Los Angeles, owners of the Westfield Valencia Town Center mall and other, unnamed firms.

It was filed as Santa Clarita city officials consider a decision on how traffic management will be handled for Independence Day 2011, Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Pulskamp said Tuesday.

Traffic deputies with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station ihave put forth ideas and are waiting to hear back, Sgt. Richard Cohen said.

In all, a dozen agencies are being sued for wrongful death and negligence by Garnica’s family.

“This accident didn’t have to happen, especially when celebrating the founding of our nation. I cannot think of a more festive holiday where people come out with their families to celebrate with other families,” Hacker said. Tuesday.

“This accident could have been prevented by simply closing Valencia Boulevard to traffic while the fireworks were taking place or taking other simple precautions.”

Each year for the fireworks display, officials close a section of McBean Parkway next to the mall because of danger from spent but falling fireworks. Other roads encircling the mall, including Valencia Boulevard, have traffic restrictions but were not closed complete.

The lawsuit identifies 18 plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including the woman’s widower, Ernesto Garnica, and their two sons Eric and Joshua. Another son also is named.

Other plaintiffs were other spectators and family members who were injured and who witnessed the accident.

In addition to the city and the county being named, the suit holds several nongovernmental agencies — including the fireworks company hired by the city — also responsible for the events leading up to the fatal collision.

Among them are: Missouri-based Westfield America Inc.; California-based Westfield America Limited Partnership; Westfield LLC; Town Center Drive Association; Valencia Town Center Venture, a limited partnership; Professional Security Consultants; Professional Security Consultants; VTC Business Center LLC; Florida-based Regency Centers Corporation; Fireworks & Stage FX America, Inc. and Pyro Spectaculars Inc.

Driver not named
The driver of the vehicle that struck Garnica almost a year ago is mentioned in the complaint, but she is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

But a lawsuit synopsis of the crash says the “horrific accident” occurred when a car driven by Melissa Brown careened into the crowd of spectators at Islands Restaurant viewing the holiday festivities.

Brown pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter in February.

The plaintiffs allege the city failed to come up with a “traffic- or crowd-management plan” for last year’s fireworks show and failed also to implement any “public safety plans to accommodate, secure, safeguard, and protect the many spectators and pedestrians.”

They also claim the city reduced the number of Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies assigned to the 2010 fireworks show compared to the deployment in 2009. The suit claims 13 deputies were assigned to the detail last year as opposed to 16 the year prior.

“The city has not yet been formally served,” said Santa Clarita City Attorney Joe Montes Tuesday afternoon. “The plaintiffs have obviously elected to serve the media before they serve us.”

Commenting on a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Signal and sent by email to the city’s lawyers, Montes said: “Obviously, we will have to evaluate the complaint once we actually receive it.

“The city does not have any culpability here,” he said. “The accident was the result of Miss Brown.”

A Westfield spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday.


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