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County Expected to Pay $120,000 to Sunbather Injured by 4-Ton Tractor

Times Staff Writer

When a 4-ton beach tractor ran over Catherine Ford in 1986--cracking her pelvis, fracturing several ribs and bruising one lung as it jammed her into the Redondo Beach sand--fortune seemed to have turned against the young Lawndale woman.

Today, however, life is good again for the 22-year-old Ford. She returned to work about 8 months after the accident and is now a supervisor at a department store.

She is married and has a baby daughter. And she plans to buy a house with a $120,000 settlement the County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve Tuesday to resolve her $2-million lawsuit against the county.

“I’m still having some back pains, but otherwise my life is going on as normal,” Ford said this week.

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Ford says she recognizes that things could have been much worse. And her attorney, Walter Wabby of Encino, declares his client “very lucky, blessed. She has very few complaints left from the accident.”

‘Good Recovery’

John Collins, the lawyer representing the county, said: “It’s been a very good recovery from what could have been a very sad situation.”

Just how a Department of Beaches and Harbors tractor driver failed to see Ford as he was moving lifeguard towers at Redondo Beach’s Esplanade remains unclear. But county officials have said that hardly anyone was on the beach that overcast April afternoon. The young woman’s skin, lightly tanned after a winter away from the beach, also may have blended with the color of the sand.

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Three weeks after the accident, while recovering at her mother’s home in Hawthorne, Ford recalled the scene. She said she was lying on a beach towel, eyes closed, when she suddenly heard a loud rumbling noise.

“Before I could do anything, it was on top of me,” she said. “I don’t remember what else happened. I was in too much pain.”

Dean Smith, chief of administrative services for the beach department, said Ford “just sank into the sand. Generally, when that happens the sand gives, the person gives and the tire gives.”

Accident at Zuma

In a similar accident 6 years ago, a girl at Zuma Beach in Malibu was unhurt after being run over by a tractor, though a rake attached to the tractor “banged her up. She had cuts and bruises,” Smith said. The county settled the girl’s claim for $35,000, he said.

Since then, Smith said, the wide tires the county once used on its beach tractors have been discontinued. “Those tires would always flatten out, but they stopped supplying them,” he said. The tractor that ran over Ford had narrow tires.

Lifeguard trucks have hit several sunbathers over the years, but none have been injured, Smith said.

After Ford’s accident, she was hospitalized for 10 days with fractured ribs and small cracks in her pelvis.

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Under the settlement agreement recommended to supervisors last week by the county Claims Board, Ford will receive $120,000, about $20,000 of which is compensation for medical bills and lost wages, attorneys said.


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