Family of crash victim sues driver, city

An attorney for the family of one of two men killed in a head-on collision on Laguna Canyon Road has sued a driver who survived the wreck, a witness and multiple cities and public agencies.

Attorney Otto Haselhoff, who represents the family of Alberto Casique, levels allegations ranging from driver negligence to poor road maintenance in his Jan. 21 Orange County Superior Court lawsuit.

Among the defendants is Robert McFarland Pettis, 48, a Laguna Beach physician whose Tesla Model S sedan collided with the Honda Accord sedan driven by Casique, 47, at 6:45 a.m. April 2. Armando Gonzalez, 38, a passenger in Casique's Honda, also died.

Pettis faces two felony counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and one felony count of driving the wrong way on a divided highway, causing death. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting a March 13 pretrial hearing.

Casique and Gonzalez, who lived in Anaheim and Santa Ana, respectively, were headed south on the state-operated highway when Pettis allegedly veered his Model S Tesla into oncoming traffic and hit the Accord, killing both men at the scene.

An attorney representing Pettis could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit also names as a defendant Dekker Nolan McKeever, who was driving a Mercedes.

Haselhoff alleges Pettis and McKeever may have been speeding alongside each other before the wreck, some 200 feet north of the El Toro Road-Laguna Canyon Road intersection.

Despite the lawsuit's allegations, McKeever is listed only as a witness in the police report and authorities did not seek charges against him, Laguna Beach police Sgt. Louise Callus said in an email.

McKeever did not return two calls seeking comment.

In addition to Pettis and McKeever, the lawsuit names as defendants several public agencies, including the cities of Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel and Irvine, the Laguna Beach County Water District and Caltrans.

Haselhoff, whose practice is in Santa Monica, claims the government entities are partly responsible for the collision based on Laguna Canyon Road's condition and signage.

The road is maintained by Caltrans, but the lawsuit does not single out which government agencies are considered negligent for what specific alleged problems. Instead they are grouped together.

"Apparently, prior to be being changed, northbound Laguna Canyon Road was one lane of travel for approximately 2 1/2 miles prior to the intersection with El Toro Road, with the right travel lane being right-turn only," the lawsuit says. "The intersection changed to a two-lane straight, one lane right-turn only, where vehicles traveling northbound have a passing lane and merge within an approximately 630-foot distance."

Haselhoff alleges the government, presumably the state, "breached their applicable duties of care" by removing a warning sign prior to the intersection advising vehicles not to pass, lanes merging in a very short distance after a traffic light, failing to put in a center median, failing to place a center guardrail and lack of a shoulder."

Untrimmed foliage blocking the lane-merger sign, poor sign placement and speed limits too high for conditions are also alleged.

The government agencies failed to make remedial road improvements, despite notice of prior accidents, according to the suit.

Haselhoff is also critical of the Laguna Beach and Irvine police investigations, alleging a delay in receiving traffic reports.

"It is believed [police], employed by defendants [cities of Laguna Beach and Irvine], may have ignored the testimony of eyewitnesses and/or improperly discounted them to protect defendants and/or changed the scene post accident," the lawsuit alleges.

Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig said the city doesn't comment on pending litigation.

"We'll look into allegations and defend the city appropriately," he said.

Haselhoff is seeking a jury trial and is asking for unspecified monetary damages for medical and funeral bills, pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of earnings and support, legal fees and costs, and property damage.

Casique is survived by his wife, son and three daughters.

"[Family members] are entitled to compensatory damages from defendants and each of them," according to the lawsuit.

Attorney Allan Davis, who is representing Gonzalez's family, filed a separate civil suit and is awaiting approval from Orange County Superior Court.

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