A Fresno County jury has ordered a Fresno tour bus company to pay $1 million to the children of a 40-year-old woman who was run over and killed in a crosswalk – a death captured by a store surveillance video camera.
Cindy Alias was headed to a Dos Palos grocery store when she was hit by a bus owned by Best Tours & Travel and pinned under it, said Fresno attorney Daniel Baradat, who represents Alias’ two daughters. The girls were 6 and 7 years old when their mother was killed.
Dos Palos police said the incident happened around 5 p.m. March 3, 2015, on Highway 33, the main north-south artery through the city, at Blossom Street. A video shows the bus making a left turn when it struck Alias. When police arrived, Alias was pinned beneath a front wheel and pronounced dead at the scene.
The bus was carrying about 30 passengers returning from a trip to a local casino. The driver, John Jessie Plasencia, was later convicted misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, and sentenced to 45 days in jail.
Though Alias’ death happened in Merced County, the wrongful death civil trial happened in Fresno because Best Tours & Travel is based in Fresno.
Before the trial, Best Tours & Travel admitted its driver was at fault and that Alias was not negligent, court records say. The only issue before the jury was how much the company should pay the children in damages for the loss of their mother, Baradat said.
Jurors had a difficult task because evidence revealed Alias loved life and her children, but also had a methamphetamine habit, Baradat said. She also didn’t live with her children; they were being raised by their father in Dinuba.
In addition, Alias had methamphetamine in her system when she was hit by the bus.
Baradat, however, argued Alias was a good mother who frequently visited her children and typically spent several days with them. He also said the video shows clearly that Alias was well into the crosswalk when she was hit. In addition, a bus passenger yelled out that someone was in the crosswalk before Alias was hit.
“Meth had nothing to do with her death,” Baradat said Monday. “The bus hitting her and crushing her caused her death.”
Best Tours & Travel tried to minimize the monetary damages by bringing in a pathologist who testified Alias had five to 10 years left to live because of her drug habit. Baradat countered by bringing in two pathologists, including the doctor who conducted Alias’ autopsy. Baradat said his experts said methamphetamine did not play a role in Alias’ death and that “you can’t predict when a person will die.”
Jurors deliberated three days in Judge Jeffrey Hamilton’s courtroom before reaching the $1 million verdict Thursday. Prior to trial, Best Tours & Travel offered to settle the case for $350,000 but Baradat declined.
Telephone calls to Best Tours & Travel and to its lawyer, Lori A. Schweitzer of Emeryville, were not returned.