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Greyhound not to blame for 2010 Fresno bus crash that killed six

Fresno jury finds that Greyhound is not to blame in a 2010 bus crash that left six people dead

A Fresno jury ruled Tuesday that Greyhound was not to blame for a July 22, 2010, bus crash that left six people dead.

After deliberating for about 1-1/2 hours, jurors decided 10 to 2 that Greyhound was not negligent when one of its buses plowed into an overturned SUV on California 99 before sunrise, according to a spokeswoman for Fresno County Superior Court.

"The verdict completely exonerates Greyhound and its driver, James Jewett," the company's attorney, Dana Alden Fox, told The Times.

"At the same time, there are no winners in a tragedy like this."

The crash killed three young women inside the SUV: Stephenie Cordoba, 20, and Vanessa Gonzalez, 19, both of Fresno, and Sylvia Lopez Garay, 18, of Dinuba.

Jewett, 57, the driver of the bus, whose 32-year career with Greyhound was without incident, also died in the crash, along with two of the 36 passengers on the bus: Epifania Solis, 60, of Madera, and Tomas Ponce, 79, of Winton.

The families of the three women in the SUV filed a lawsuit against the bus company, claiming the driver was operating at an unsafe speed, was not wearing his glasses, and made an unsafe lane change about the time of the crash.

Greyhound disagreed, citing a California Highway Patrol report that confirmed Jewett was wearing his glasses and couldn't have avoided crashing into the SUV.

Garay, whom the CHP identified as the driver of the SUV, had a blood-alcohol level between 0.11% and 0.14%. Garay struck a median, causing the SUV to overturn, the CHP concluded.

During the 20-day trial, attorneys sparred over the veracity of the CHP's report and whether Garay actually was the driver, the Fresno Bee reported.

Garay's family sought about $2 million in damages, while an attorney representing Cordoba and Gonzalez asked jurors to award both families about $10 million, which would be split among them.

"Obviously, the jury rejected those arguments," Fox said.

The fatal crash led to several suits, including one against Garay's estate filed by Greyhound. The bus company also sued the CHP, alleging that the agency's response to the overturned SUV was negligent.

While inputting information about the crash, a CHP dispatcher didn't note that the SUV was blocking lanes -- so the incident was assigned to a unit based out of the more-distant Fresno jail rather than the officers based closer to the crash site, according to court documents.

Both the trial and appellate courts rejected Greyhound's claims against the CHP, ruling that the agency had no special duty of care to the bus passengers, according to the Jan. 23, 2013, appellate ruling. 

Several passengers and the bus driver's family also filed claims against Garay's estate. The cases settled before a negligence trial began Feb. 9, Fox said. As part of the settlement, Garay's estate paid Greyhound $100,000 because of property damage incurred in the crash. 

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

5:59 p.m.: This post has been updated throughout with additional details.

This article was originally posted at 4:39 p.m.

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