Jury says county not responsible for 2005 drowning
by Jonathan Partridge | Patterson Irrigator
Apr 21, 2011 | 1871 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Crossing arms lower and lights flash when Eastin Road at Orestimba Creek is flooded, warning drivers not to proceed.  A Stanislaus County jury determined that the county was not at fault in early 2005 when an inebriated Crows Landing resident drowned in Orestimba Creek after the car his daughter was driving was swept into the water. --photo by Elias Funez/Patterson Irrigator
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A jury ruled 10-2 on Thursday, April 14, that Stanislaus County was not responsible for the 2005 death of 41-year-old Crows Landing resident Hector Alvarez after a car driven by his daughter was swept into an un-barricaded portion of Orestimba Creek near Newman.

Members of the Alvarez family had asked for $32 million from the county, saying that the New Year’s Eve accident could have been prevented if the waterway had been blocked off. Alvarez had been drinking heavily that evening, and though he was not behind the wheel, attorneys contended that he might have survived if he had been in a sober state.

“While we’re sympathetic to Mr. Alvarez’s family’s situation, we’re certainly grateful for the jury and its ruling and decision in favor of the county,” Jack Doering, Stanislaus County counsel, said this week.

Last week’s verdict followed four years of hearings and motions and a jury trial that lasted several weeks. David Renteria, the attorney representing the Alvarez family, did not return calls seeking comment this week.

Alvarez died after his daughter Brisa Alvarez’s 2001 Kia, traveling northbound at about 50 mph on Eastin Road, hit four feet of floodwaters, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The car came to rest in the creek, and the fast-paced water disabled the car and pushed it eastward. Brisa Alvarez called family members on a cell phone, and the family called police. While she escaped, her father was swept away and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Following the accident, in July 2007, the county installed solar-powered automatic crossing arms along the creek at Eastin, Jorgensen and Bell roads between Newman and Crows Landing. When the creek reaches a certain level, the arms are lowered and a signal flashes, according to Gary Hayward, the county’s road superintendent. The county public works staff also receives instant notification via a transmitter when the crossing arms come down, and staff members head out to take a look, he said.

Yet even those precautionary measures are not foolproof, Doering said. He noted that a man drowned in the creek in January 2010 after he apparently drove around the crossing arms while they were down.

Despite the county’s victory in court last week, no one gloated about the jury’s decision.

“We all are mindful that the accidental drowning of Mr. Alvarez was a terrible loss to his family, and we’re very sympathetic with their loss,” Doering said.

Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187 or jonathan@pattersonirrigator.com.

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