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Nevada Juvenile Road Accident Kills Six, Settles for $3.5 Million

Six Nevada teenagers in a juvenile offender program working to pay off fees and restitution in lieu of doing time in a detention center were struck and killed in March 2000 as they picked up trash on a freeway median near Las Vegas. The families of those teens have agreed to a $3.5 million settlement with Clark County. The agreement was reached in Nov. 2001.

Anthony Smith, 14; Scott Gardner, 14; Alberto Puig, 16; Maleyna Stoltzfus, 15; Rebeccah Glicken, 15; and Jennifer Booth, 16, were killed when they were struck by Jessica Williams' minivan. Williams had reportedly fallen asleep.

Randall Mainor, one of the attorneys representing the 13 parents of the dead teenagers, blamed the county for placing the youths in harm's way. "If the kids had not been on the highway during this we would have (just) had Jessica Williams rolling her van in the middle of the desert. Somebody is responsible."

Kevin Eppenger Sr., the county employee who supervised the work crew program said the teens were sent out to collect the garbage on the freeway because "the trash was there." He also acknowledged that the median of the interstate is a dangerous area. "It was pretty obvious," Eppenger said.

Despite the obvious danger, state inspectors in June 2000 determined that the youth offender program violated workplace safety laws. And an investigation into the accident found numerous violations of state and federal regulations for failing to provide the youths with training and safety equipment.

Investigators determined that protective equipment, such as warning signs, orange cones and trailers designed to absorb rear-end impacts, had not been provided, though these items are commonplace for professional crews. The program was discontinued just days before the state announced the violations.

The settlement came after the families had reached confidential settlements with Republic Services and Specialty Transportation Services (STS). STS trucks were responsible for hauling the trash that the teens were picking up at the time of their death. Robert Murdock, another attorney for the families, said they are also pursuing civil damages against Williams, even though she is serving 18 to 46 years in prison.

Had the federal judge assigned to the case allowed the families to sue for civil rights violations, Clark County would have been liable for more than the $50,000 in damages allowed by Nevada state law; hence the incentive for the county to settle. The county's insurance carrier would pay $2.25 million with the remainder coming out of county revenues.

Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal

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