FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — In a rare move, a Central California judge has granted a new trial in a deadly Greyhound bus crash, ruling the bus driver was negligent for speeding on a highway and was not wearing his eyeglasses.
The Fresno Bee reported Monday (http://bit.ly/1HjDJE8) that Judge Donald Black ordered a new trial for families of three women killed in the accident five years ago, ruling the Greyhound driver James Jewett was negligent for speeding on Highway 99 without his glasses.
Black said in the ruling: "There is no question the (bus) driver was confronted with an unexpected object in the roadway."
Jewett, however, "failed to take any action to avoid the SUV," Black wrote. "It thus cannot be said that he took a course of action that in hindsight was not the better choice."
A new trial date is not yet known.
Greyhound spokeswoman Lanesha Gipson said in a statement that the bus company was "extremely disappointed" that the judge would "disregard the jury's hard work and its finding." She said Greyhound is considering its options for an appeal.
The jury in March decided that Greyhound was not responsible in the deaths of the three young women who were in an SUV that had overturned on a highway before the bus crashed into it. The jury never explained its verdict, deliberating less than three hours and leaving the courtroom without talking to attorneys in the case, the newspaper reported.
Retired Santa Clara County Superior Judge Eugene Hyman said he could not recall a time in California when a judge made a move like the one made by Black in Fresno Monday.
"I don't think you should ever tell a jury (they) got it wrong," he said. "You don't want to influence future juror behavior."
The pre-dawn crash on July 22, 2010, on Highway 99 killed the occupants of the overturned SUV: Sylvia Garay, 18, of Dinuba; and Vanessa Gonzalez, 19, and Stephanie Cordoba, 20, both of Fresno.
After the Greyhound struck the overturned SUV, the bus continued on the highway before going down an embankment and plowing into a eucalyptus tree, killing bus driver Jewett and two passengers.
Attorneys for the families of the three women sued Greyhound for negligence, contending the bus driver was speeding in the fast lane, wasn't wearing his glasses, and the bus had bad brakes.
If Jewett had been wearing his glasses and paying attention, he would have seen that several motorists had pulled over and turned on their emergency flashers in an effort to help the three young women after the SUV overturned, attorneys for the families told jurors in closing arguments in March.
The California Highway Patrol blamed the deadly crash on Garay, saying she was drunk when she overturned the SUV. Investigators said Jewett was wearing his glasses and did nothing wrong because he couldn't see the dark undercarriage of the SUV.
At the time of the verdict, Greyhound attorney Dana Fox said that Jewett, an experienced bus driver, was well rested and wearing his glasses. The bus's brakes were found to be in good condition, Fox said. The bus company has counter-sued, saying Garay's mother shouldn't have loaned the SUV to her daughter.
After the crash, Greyhound spent more than $3 million to settle with the two dozen injured bus passengers and with the families of the two bus passenger. But the bus company never made an offer to the families of the three young women. So the families sued Greyhound.