Parlier Unified School District has reached a civil settlement in the death of a 9-year-old student that will make it safer for students headed to school on foggy days, a lawyer said Friday.
Fresno attorney Nicholas “Butch” Wagner said Parlier Unified has agreed to pay $475,000 to the family of Diego Estrada, who was killed by an unlicensed teen driver on Jan. 29, 2015 while walking to school in dense fog.
A key part of the settlement, Wagner said, is a new policy that says: Parents can keep their children home on foggy days “if they have no means to safely transport (them)” and their children will not be penalized with a tardy or absence.
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In a wrongful death trial that took place in September in Fresno County Superior Court, Wagner argued that Parlier Unified’s long-standing policy forced Diego and other students to walk to school on foggy days even when school buses were grounded. That’s because students would have an unexcused absence if they didn't show up to school on a foggy day, Wagner told the jury.
The threat of an unexcused absence placed Diego and other children in an unsafe situation that led to him being struck by a pickup and killed, Wagner said.
In his argument, Wagner said Parlier Unified had an ulterior motive for urging children to walk to school on foggy days: the administration and school board trustees wanted to maximize state funding that is based on student attendance.
The new district policy says parents can keep their children home on foggy days “if they have no means to safely transport (them)” without incurring an unexcused absence.
Each school district has its own policy for foggy day schedules.
A lawyer for Parlier Unified said during the trial that the unlicensed teen driver who ran over Diego – not the school district – was responsible for the boy’s death. Fresno attorney Daniel Wainwright also said Diego was killed on a city sidewalk — not on school property.
The trial ended in a mistrial after jurors split on whether Parlier Unified should pay damages. Nine jurors are needed to reach a verdict in a civil trial. Wagner said the split was in favor of the district paying damages to Diego’s family.
Because of the mistrial, Diego’s family requested a new trial that was scheduled to begin on Nov. 27. Instead, Wainwright and Diego’s family, as well as Wagner’s co-counsel, Angela Martinez, signed the settlement agreement on Nov. 8 to avoid the second trial.
This settlement provides much-needed closure to the parents, family and friends of Diego and to the students, staff and community of Parlier Unified.
Parlier Unified news release
Diego was a fourth-grader at Brletic Elementary School, which is on the Parlier High campus. His sister was a junior at Parlier High. They were struck about a mile from school.
As part of the agreement, Wagner said Friday, from now on Parlier school officials will notify parents and students about the new foggy day policy by Nov. 1 of each school year.
The settlement says Parlier Unified “disputes and denies any liability” in Diego’s death but agreed to resolve the lawsuit.
In a news release, Parlier Unified said: “This settlement provides much-needed closure to the parents, family and friends of Diego and to the students, staff and community of Parlier Unified. The safety of the district’s students and staff are of the utmost importance, and the district takes every measure to ensure that its students are safe and secure.”