Claim: Lifeguard ran woman over

A sunbather run over by a Newport Beach lifeguard last month has filed an $850,000 claim against the city.

About 12:50 p.m. Aug. 4, Janice Cola, 55, of Orange, was relaxing in her beach chair reading a book on the sand at 54th Street and Seaside Drive, not far from a lifeguard truck, her attorney Jay Weitzler said.

As she read, a lifeguard truck nearby slowly turned right in the sand toward her and drove its front-right tire over her thighs, breaking her pelvis.

City officials don't dispute her account.

"It happened," said City Atty. David Hunt. "The city really regrets that it happened, as do the lifeguards. The lifeguard was distracted, and it did occur … the city recognizes that this shouldn't have happened and we'll make it right as best we can."

The city did not release information at the time of the accident.

According to both sides, the lifeguard was distracted by surfers in the water. There was a blackball, meaning surfboards were prohibited in the water because of conditions, in effect that day.

The lifeguard drove to the area, stopping not far from Cola, and made a public announcement for the surfers to exit the water, according to the police report.

After the announcement, the lifeguard continued on and drove over Cola.

"I'm sure he felt badly about it, and it was an accident," Weitzler said. "I'm not trying to impugn the guy. Nevertheless, I do consider it terribly negligent. I don't want to hang the guy, but what he did was grossly negligent."

Cola is asking for $850,000 in damages, which she said includes emotional trauma, a fractured pelvis and "extreme bruising." A legal claim is typically a precursor to a lawsuit.

City officials declined to comment on whether the lifeguard was reprimanded, saying it was a personnel issue.

While the lifeguard told police he made the public announcement then got out of his truck and checked the area around it before getting back in driving, at least one witness said he never got out of the vehicle, according to the police report.

Weitzler said the accident indicates lifeguards need more training when driving on crowded beaches, or at least trucks should be installed with something that warns beachgoers when they're near.

Several beachgoers have been run over by lifeguards in recent years, including three in Los Angeles County in 2005 and one in Huntington Beach in 2001, according to media reports at the time.

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