Expert: Greyhound driver’s glasses in his pocket

An optometrist testified Monday that a Greyhound bus driver likely had his glasses in his pocket when he plowed into an overturned SUV on Highway 99 in Fresno — a collision that killed six people in July 2010.

Bryan Eidal, who was testifying on behalf of three families who have sued Greyhound for wrongful death, told a Fresno County Superior Court jury that he came to his conclusion after inspecting how the metal frames were bent.

“The glasses were folded together when the frames were damaged,” the Reedley optometrist said.

Eidal’s testimony was in direct conflict with that of CHP Lt. Rob Krider, who testified that Jewett was wearing his glasses when the crash occurred. Krider came to the conclusion, he said, after examining how Jewett’s eyeglass frames were bent.

The difference between the men’s testimony was outlined in court: Eidal testified that he has fixed hundreds of glasses that have been bent in car crashes and other mishaps. Krider doesn’t have that experience.

The predawn crash on July 22, 2010, killed Sylvia Garay, 18, of Dinuba; Vanessa Gonzalez, 19, and Stephanie Cordoba, 20, both of Fresno. They were occupants of an overturned Chevrolet TrailBlazer. Greyhound driver James Jewett and two bus passengers also were killed.

After a weeklong break, the lawyers for the families of Garay, Gonzalez and Cordoba picked up Monday where they left off, advancing their claims that Greyhound caused the deadly collision, contending Jewett was speeding in the fast lane and wasn’t wearing his eyeglasses when he plowed into the overturned SUV. They further contend the bus had bad brakes.

The lawyers face an uphill battle because the CHP has blamed the deadly crash on Garay, saying she was drunk when she overturned the SUV near the McKinley Avenue offramp. The CHP also contends Jewett did nothing wrong because he couldn’t see the dark undercarriage of the SUV when he slammed into it.

Over three weeks of testimony, Fresno attorneys Stuart Chandler, Jason Helsel, Mark Vogt and John Fowler have called witnesses who have testified that Gonzalez was driving when the SUV overturned. Gonzalez had no alcohol in her body, court records say.

The lawyers also contend Jewett could have avoided the SUV since witnesses have testified that motorists missed the TrailBlazer and had stopped to help the three women and left their lights and emergency flashers on.

Monday, Eidal said he had “no doubt” that Jewett’s glasses were folded when they were damaged. If Jewett was wearing his glasses, the frames would have been bent in the middle near the bridge of the nose. The frames were bent toward the ends on the front part of the frame and on the ends of each arm.

Therefore, the frames were likely in Jewett’s pocket, Eidal told the jury.

But on cross-examination, Eidal admitted that he was being paid $500 an hour for his expert opinion and that he came to his conclusion by looking at photographs of the bent frames; he had never actually touched Jewett’s glasses. He also told Greyhound lawyer Dana Alden Fox that he didn’t know if Jewett had pockets on his shirt or pants when the crash happened.

Eidal also said it was possible that Jewett was wearing his glasses, but they were knocked off his face sometime after the collision, and then folded in place automatically. But the families’ lawyers said that scenario was highly unlikely.

After Eidal’s testimony, Alan Smith, director of safety and security for Greyhound, returned to the witness stand to complete his testimony that began Feb. 19. He testified that Greyhound didn’t do an independent investigation. Instead, it cooperated with the CHP investigation.

Smith has testified that Jewett was required to wear glasses and undergo a physical every two years. He told the jury that Jewett didn’t pass his eye exam in 2005, but passed it in 2007 and 2009. In 2007, the doctor giving Jewett’s exam was on probation, Helsel pointed out to the jury.

The rest of Monday was devoted to videotaped depositions of bus passengers who said Jewett announced that he was running late, but was going to make up the time.

Tuesday,the families’ lawyers plan to call Sylvia Garay’s mother, Olga Garay, before resting their case. Fox will then call witnesses on Greyhound’s behalf.

Jewett was making a run from Los Angeles to Sacramento when he arrived in Fresno at 1:45 a.m. About the same time, Garay, Cordoba and Gonzalez were wrapping up a night celebrating a friend’s birthday.

Both sides agree that the TrailBlazer was traveling north in the far right, or slow lane, just after 2 a.m. CHP investigators say skid marks indicated that it swerved away from an exit sign at the McKinley off-ramp and veered into the center median. The vehicle rolled, and then came to rest on its side in the left lane, or fast lane.

After the Greyhound struck the overturned SUV, it careened down the highway more than 400 feet before going down an embankment and plowing into a eucalyptus tree, killing Jewett and bus passengers Epifania Solis, 60, of Madera, and Tomas Ponce, 79, of Winton.