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Friday, July 10, 2009

Suit Filed In Death of CA Tow Truck Driver

Here's the Press-Enterprise story:
By DUG BEGLEY
The Press-Enterprise

The family of a tow-truck driver killed last year on Interstate 215 near Moreno Valley has sued Caltrans and a construction company, claiming design failures led to the fatal crash.

The lawsuit, filed June 17 in Riverside Superior Court, claims poor design of the truck lanes where I-215 and Highway 60 split near Moreno Valley and a lack of barriers between the truck lanes and the main route of I-215 from the freeway contributed to Gregory Gerbing's death on June 13, 2008, as he was kneeling on the side of the road.

The section of freeway, part of the larger 60/91/215 interchange project that snarled traffic from downtown Riverside to near Moreno Valley for more than five years, had recently opened. Overhead signs directing drivers had been up for less than a week when the wreck happened.

Gerbing, a tow-truck driver, was by his truck on the shoulder of the truck-only lanes leading to southbound I-215 kneeling as he prepared to tow another vehicle when he was struck by a pickup that careened from the main lanes, thinking he had missed the exit to I-215 southbound. The pickup's driver, Oswaldo Lopez, 29, of Moreno Valley, was later arrested and charged with driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter.

Caltrans spokeswoman Rose Melgoza said Tuesday the lawsuit had not been served to the agency's legal counsel, and was unaware of the filing. Melgoza said a claim seeking damages for the accident -- a precursor to a lawsuit -- was filed with the district office in San Bernardino.

She said Caltrans would not comment further on pending lawsuits.

Though Lopez was drunk according to police, the lawsuit filed on behalf of Gerbing's widow and teenage daughter cites a lack of concrete medians or barriers that could have kept Lopez from shooting from one set of lanes to another.

Caltrans had been warned the confusing truck lanes, followed by other lanes leading to the southbound I-215, would lead to disaster, the Gerbings' lawyer, Kathleen Alparce, wrote in the lawsuit.

Some even criticized Caltrans publicly before the accident. Tom Owings, general manager of Raceway Ford, located close to where the accident happened, warned state workers a median was needed and better signs would help drivers understand the best route.

"The fact is, everyone knew that the lack of a median and proper signage would end with someone being killed," Owings wrote in an e-mail after the accident. "I hope the Caltrans managers that made the decision to ignore their own common sense can sleep at night."

Melgoza said officials do not have any plans to modify or add barriers at the intersection.

Reach Dug Begley at 951-368-9475 or dbegley@PE.com

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