March 1, 2006 - The Town of Marana and Pima County will pay up and avoid trial, it seems.
Attorneys for the town and county have agreed to settle out of court with Codi Lee Colvin, a Marana teenager injured during a high-speed chase and crash in April 2004.
Colvin and her mother, Catheraine Scarbrough, filed suit in March, alleging that Pima County deputies and Marana police officers acted negligently as they pursued the car in which Colvin rode.
Seventeen-year-old Gabriela Grijalva led deputies and officers on a 20-minute chase that covered about 30 miles in the Northwest. Grijalva died when she lost control of the Honda Civic, which flipped and ejected her and Colvin.
Neither girl wore a seatbelt, authorities said.
Colvin suffered back and neck injuries as a result of the crash and received treatment from several doctors, according to Pima County Superior Court records. Her medical bills totaled slightly more than $288,000.
The Pima County Sheriff's Department and Marana Police Department in 2004 completed internal investigations into the incident and their employees' actions.
Marana punished four of its officers for violating the department's pursuit policy. Two more officers not disciplined also violated policy by going to the scene of the crash without authorization from a supervisor, according to the internal investigation.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik found his deputies did nothing wrong.
However, the county will bear most of the financial responsibility, according to a settlement agreement obtained by the EXPLORER.
Pima County will pay Colvin $258,000, while Marana will give just $33,000 in exchange for having the lawsuit dismissed.
Pima County's board of supervisors and Marana's town council each have to approve the proposed settlement.
"I would prefer we not pay any amount," Marana Police Chief Richard Vidaurri declared two days after the settlement notice was filed in court.
"Our officers did the best they could under the circumstances and made minor mistakes. But those infractions did not contribute to the fatality or crash."
In fact, Marana's officers abandoned the pursuit about four minutes before the fatal crash when a second Pima County deputy took the lead.
The incident began shortly after 2 p.m. on April 21, 2004 when Grijalva sped by Pima Deputy Jordan Seeley on the eastbound Interstate 10 frontage road near Tangerine Road. The deputy clocked the car going about 100 mph, according to court records.
Grijalva failed to stop when the deputy flashed his lights and sounded his siren.
Seeley radioed Marana officers for backup. Officer Michelle Ochoa, a school resource officer at Marana High School, joined the pursuit.
She never got authorization from supervisor Officer Ray Garcia to join the chase, according to records from the police department's internal investigation. When Garcia commanded Ochoa to return to her post at the high school, she went to the site of the crash instead, according to Garcia's deposition.
At one point during the pursuit, Ochoa used her cruiser to block two lanes of traffic in an attempt to stop the girls' car.
A Marana officer since 2002, Ochoa received a one-day suspension and lost her special assignment as a school resource officer as a result of her actions.
Marana Detective Rich Palma joined the chase without permission, too. The detective went after the speeding Honda in an unmarked cruiser, another department policy violation.
A Marana officer since 1996, Palma lost his take-home cruiser for 60 days.
Ochoa and Palma also attended training sessions on ethics as part of their punishment.
Two Marana sergeants, William Hess and Steve Bejarano, also faced discipline for failing to end Marana's involvement in the pursuit.
Marana's pursuit policy states that officers will not pursue a vehicle unless a known felony has been committed.
In his court deposition, Garcia admitted that officers did not know what initiated the pursuit - in this case, speeding - until after Grijalva wrecked the car.
The town's attorneys filed a motion to prohibit all evidence relating to violations committed by Marana officers. Their actions "in no way caused the crash," attorneys argued in the motion.
Michael Cosgrove, an expert on police policy and former assistant police chief in Miami, had prepared to testify that Pima County deputies and Marana officers showed a "lack of reasonable supervision" that "was a direct cause of the crash."
Their failure to stop the pursuit only increased the danger, he noted.
Pima County Sheriff's Department officials failed to return several phone calls from the EXPLORER.
Colvin attorney Michael McNamara called the case "tentatively resolved," but would comment no further.
Tom Dugal, a Pima County attorney, said the board of supervisors will vote on whether to approve the settlement at its March 7 meeting. He would not discuss the settlement until then, Dugal said.
Marana's town council went into executive session last week to give authorization for the $33,000 settlement, Town Attorney Frank Cassidy said.
"The settlement was based purely on math," Cassidy explained.
The town's outside attorney, Marshall Humphrey - provided by the town's insurer, the Arizona Municipal Risk Retention Pool - estimated that the case could cost the town $100,000 in attorney and expert witness fees if it went to trial.
Colvin's attorney contends the case could be worth $3 million when including future losses and medical bills. If a jury determined the town to be even slightly culpable, the percentage it would pay would far surpass what it will pay with the settlement, Cassidy said.
Any litigation costs "would be sunk costs even in what we believe is the very likely event of the jury giving a defense verdict in favor of the town," he added.
Eric Beidel is a staff writer covering the Marana community. He can be reached at 797-4384, ext. 125, or at email@example.com.