City rejects claims of neglect in canyon deaths

The Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday rejected claims filed by attorneys on behalf of two men killed in a head-on collision several months ago on Laguna Canyon Road.

Lawyers for the families of Armando Garcia-Gonzales and Alberto Casique-Salinas allege that the men's deaths in April were a result of "neglect, design and maintenance of Highway 133 [Laguna Canyon Road], near El Toro Road," a staff report said.

The city's claims adjuster had recommended that the council reject the claims.

Garcia-Gonzales, a 38-year-old Santa Ana resident, and Casique-Salinas, 46, of Anaheim, were in a Honda Accord heading south on Laguna Canyon Road at about 6:45 a.m. April 2 when a Tesla swerved and struck them head-on, Laguna Beach police said at the time. They died at the scene. The Tesla driver survived.

Gary Moorhead, the lawyer for Garcia-Gonzales' family, names several defendants in his claim, including the cities of Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills and Laguna Niguel, the Laguna Beach County Water District, and Caltrans. The claim was filed in Orange County Superior Court.

"We're not sure who owns the corner of Laguna Canyon and El Toro roads, who was responsible for putting up the merge sign and who maintains the shrubbery that covered the sign," Moorhead said in a phone interview.

A sign alerting drivers heading north on Laguna Canyon Road that the two lanes merge into one just past El Toro Road was "obstructed by a tree owned and or maintained by the respondents," Moorhead's claim says. "The design and maintenance of the roadway at the scene potentially caused and/or contributed to the collision with the vehicle [Garcia-Gonzales] was occupying, as well."

The road remains one lane for less than a mile before expanding into two again.

Authorities have not released the names of the Tesla driver or the driver of a white Mercedes sedan, which police said was in the lane next to the Tesla, citing the pending investigation.

"We are awaiting [the Orange County district attorney's] review of the case for the possibility of filing criminal charges," Laguna Beach police Capt. Jason Kravetz wrote in an email.

Laguna Beach City Attorney Phil Kohn declined to comment on the claim. He said if a lawsuit is filed, the city's claims administrator and city manager will decide on a defense counsel for the city.

Attorneys for Martinian & Associates Inc., which represents Casique-Salinas, could not be reached for comment.

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